Bee Downtown CEO: Sustainability is GWCCA's "Beesness"

Every once in a while, you meet someone that “gets it.” Someone that truly gets the importance of using business as a force for environmental good. Last year I was working to expand my North Carolina-based business Bee Downtown with our first forrays into Atlanta. At Bee Downtown we install and maintain beehives on corporate campuses and those hives are used to facilitate year-round employee engagement and leadership development at our partnering businesses while simultaneously helping rebuild healthy honey bee populations.

Our business, or “beesness” as we like to call it, is different from the average startup. Pitching to someone about installing beehives on corporate campuses isn’t always the easiest sell, as I’m sure you can imagine. Entering a new market, we honestly weren’t sure how Bee Downtown would be received in Atlanta, but we believe so strongly in the mission of our company that we were bound and determined to try.

One of our first meetings was with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA). At the time, I was 24–years-old and was terrified when walking into to the Georgia World Congress Center because I knew these first few meetings would set the tone on the potential success or failure of our expansion into a new city.

That’s when I met Tim Trefzer, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility for the GWCCA. That meeting is when I knew Bee Downtown would not only survive in Atlanta but would thrive. It would thrive because of people like Trefzer and organizations like the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. After just one short meeting I could see there was a deep understanding of the power of corporate environmental stewardship and the need for it in our world today.

Right then and there in my meeting, Trefzer said the Authority would help us expand into Atlanta. I had walked into the meeting so worried he wasn’t going to “get it,” but by the time I left it was so clearly evident that he did.

Bee Downtown founder and CEO Leigh-Kathryn Bonner speaks during the GWCCA bee hives’ official unveiling Aug. 17, 2018. Photo by Ashley Gilmer, GWCCA Multimedia Specialist.

By August of 2018, the GWCCA’s downtown Atlanta campus was buzzing with three hives of its own, located in the pocket park at the corner of Northside Drive and Joseph Boone Blvd.

In addition to maintaining the hives, Bee Downtown has provided exclusive, one-of-a-kind leadership training opportunities to GWCCA team members.

The GWCCA’s 60,000-plus honey bees hibernated during winter, but the cold season wasn’t detrimental to the hives and there was a 100 percent success rate coming out of winter – the national average success rate of overwintering hives is 60 percent.


Infographic by Ikram Omar, GWCCA Communications Assistant.

Almost every business now understands the importance of taking care of our Earth, but all too often we see businesses are still not willing to actually invest in helping heal and preserve their planet. Georgia World Congress Center Authority is one of the corporations we will look at years from now and think: “they got it.” They led the way in challenging how we determine success in the corporate world because it’s not only about profit. It’s about leaving the world and our communities in a better place than how we found them. It’s a triple bottom line approach to business where people and planet are just as important as profit.

My favorite word is cultivate. It’s an agricultural word, which is why I think I love it most, but if you look at the root of the word, it means a deep sense of adoration. What if every company could be like our partners who have hives with Bee Downtown, such as Delta, Invesco, Cox Enterprises, GWCCA, Georgia Power and more? What if it was the expectation, not the exception, to build companies, and run companies, to operate with a deep sense of adoration for their world? What if instead of continually taking from the Earth, our people, and our communities instead we tried to cultivate them, to nourish them?

With a heart full of joy and gratitude, we are about to begin our second year of partnership with Georgia World Congress Center Authority. The City of Atlanta “gets it” too. The largest and most influential businesses in Atlanta understand what happens when they each do their part to collectively leave the world in a better place than how they found it. Spring is here in Atlanta, and this city is buzzing with possibilities for a sustainable future.