Contribution of honeybees towards the net environmental benefits of food

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Feb 20;756:143880. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143880. Epub 2020 Dec 3.


Beekeeping provides honey, protein-containing drone broods and pollen, and yield-increasing pollination services. This study tested the hypothesis that beekeeping can result in net-positive impacts, if pollination services and protein-containing by-products are utilised. As a case example, Finnish beekeeping practices were used. The study was performed using two different approaches. In both approaches, the evaluated impacts were related to climate change, land use, and freshwater use, and were scaled down to represent one beehive. The first approach considered honey production with pollination services and the replacement of alternative products with co-products. The impacts were normalised to correspond with planetary boundary criteria. The second approach evaluated the impacts of the different products and services of beekeeping separately. In the first approach the honey production system moved towards a safe operational space. Freshwater use was the impact category with the largest shift towards a safe operational space (39% shift). The second approach caused a global warming potential of honey production of 0.65 kgCO2-eq kg-1, when pollen and drone broods were considered as by-products and the influence of pollination services were not included. When honey, pollen, and drone broods were considered as co-products and pollination services were included, the impacts regarding land use and climate change were net-positive. The impact of freshwater use was relatively small. For honey, the impacts on the climate change, land use, and freshwater use were -0.33 kgCO2-eq kg-1, -7.89 m2 kg-1, and 14.01 kg kg-1, respectively. The impact allocation with co-products and pollination services was conclusive. A lack of consideration for the impact reduction of pollination led to beekeeping having a negative impact on the environment. Based on these results, beekeeping enhances food security within planetary boundaries, provided that pollination services and protein-containing by-/co-products are utilised.

Keywords: Beekeeping; Food system; Insect; Life cycle assessment; Netpositive; Planetary boundary.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beekeeping*
  • Bees
  • Climate Change
  • Honey* / analysis
  • Pollen
  • Pollination