If the planet’s fate is intertwined with that of bees

Guerlain has been working to strengthen its support to the world’s main pollinator species. The brand champions bee conservation by acting on traceability, environmental responsibility and female entrepreneurship

Guerlain for Bees Conservation Programme

Protecting biodiversity and preserving the planet’s health have been the principles behind Guerlain’s efforts. The brand, in fact, has contributed to the conservation and safeguard of bee populations since 2011. In the last decade, Guerlain’s responsibility towards the species that first inspired its creation has grown with consistency. The program Guerlain for Bees Conservation Programme was, in fact, born.

Guerlain will also launch a worldwide fundraising act destined to fuel its Bee Conservation Programme. It will take place between the 20th and 22nd of May 2021. These dates represent World Bee Day and the International Day for Biological Diversity. The plan, which will raise up to one million euros, will donate twenty percent of Guerlain’s global sales. Further, it also features the donation of twenty euros for each social media repost of images tagged #GuerlainForBees and #WorldBeeDay to its program.

Ninety percent of wild flowering plants, more than three-hundred-thousand species, need pollinators for pollen to be transferred between flowers. These insects are bees, wasps, butterflies, ladybirds, spiders, birds and mammals. The process allows the completion of their reproductive cycle.

The diversity of these plants and their pollinators is the foundation on which the functioning of ecosystems, biodiversity and habitat preservation depends on. As this directly impacts our economy and production, it is closely tied to human survival.

The impact of bees on economy and human survival

The Hymenoptera order, where bees, bumblebees and wasps belong, is responsible for forty-eight percent of total pollination. It guarantees the reproduction of seventy-five percent of flowering plants on the planet alone. The superfamily Apoidea is the vastest and most relevant family within the order. Eighty-four percent of plant life and seventy-six percent of European food production depend on its activity as a family of pollinators.

14.2 billion euros per year is the estimation of its economic value. In agriculture, over seventy-five percent of crops benefit from animal-led pollination in terms of productivity, yield and quality. These include fruit, vegetables, fuels, and fibers, such as cotton and linen. Among pollinators, the Apis genus – that is, the honey bee – is the largest, counting tweet-thousand species worldwide.

Apis mellifera, known as the European honey bee – despite originating from the Asian and African continent too – is the most common and well-known. One of the first insects to be domesticated for its pollinating activity and its honey, beeswax, propolis and royal jelly production, the European honey bee’s relationship with humans can be traced back to the 2400 b.C., thanks to the presence of iconographic sources belonging to the Stone Age and the Holocene. 

2020 report on the decline of bees and pollinators

But the wealth, health and diversity of wild and domestic pollinator species has been sharply deteriorating. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessments indicate that sixteen-and-a-half percent of pollinators are threatened with extinction. With an increase to thirty percent for island species.

In Europe, nine percent of bee and butterfly species are threatened. Populations are declining for thirty-seven percent of bees and thirty-one percent of butterflies. According to the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research’s (ISPRA) 2020 report on the decline of bees and pollinators, this is due to the increasing destruction, degradation and fragmentation of their habitats. All of them are attributable to human causes. Chemical and physical pollution, intensive agriculture, climate change, the diffusion of invasive species, parasites and pathogens, and exposure to damaging pesticides are all direct anthropogenic drivers that threaten pollinator populations.

2016 report on the impact of pesticides

A report published in 2016 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) evidenced how being vulnerable to pesticides makes bees and pollinators more susceptible to memory loss, issues in brain development and a weakened immune system. Also causing them learning and orientation difficulties, hindering their journey to and from the hive. This results in a lack of pollination of harvested botanical species, which humans grow as food, of spontaneous species, maintaining a habitat’s biodiversity as well as in the depopulation of nests.

Neonicotinoids is a type of insecticide introduced in the nineties. Its employment is on the increase. It is now used in over one-hundred-and-twenty countries, accounting for thirty percent of the world’s insecticide market. It has lethal and sublethal effects on honey bees and pollinators, negatively impacting their capacity to pollinate. The European Union established a ban on outdoor usage of neonicotinoids in 2018. A 2020 investigation conducted by Unearthed has found that, during a two-year span, EU countries have issued more than sixty-seven emergency authorizations for their use. 

Guerlain supports the development of women-led apicultural practices

Behind the birth of Guerlain’s Abeille Royale skin care 

Guearlain believes in the protection of bees by supporting and partnering with projects fostering sustainability as well as raising awareness around the decline of bees and pollinators. But the link between the Maison and what came to be its symbol – the bee – dates back to 1953. In this year, in fact, the brand’s founder, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, created the Eau de Cologne Impériale for Empress Eugénie de Montijo. His aim was to celebrate her marriage with Napoleon III.

Pochet & du Courval, Parisian artisans of glass-making, were in charge of the bottle’s design, which they adorned with a bee motif – also featured on her majesty’s crest – and festoons inspired by Place Vendôme’s column, erected by Napoleon Bonaparte to commemorate the Battle of Austerlitz. The Maison’s founder soon became Fournisseur de l’Impératrice, acquiring popularity across European royal courts. Pochet & du Courval’s ateliers still produce Guerlain’s Bee Bottle to this day. It is sold in a customizable, refillable and recyclable format.

Guerlain’s Abeille Royale skincare line is based on the healing, regenerative and repairing properties of honey for human skin. Behind its birth was the discovery of the island of Ouessant. A fifteen-square-kilometer protected ecosystem to the west of Bretagne, classified by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve together with the Atlantic islands of Sein, Molène and its archipelago.

The island is home to the black bee. A small, tough native species. Scientists have investigated its honey for its properties. Subsequently the Maison selected it as the key ingredient in the Abeille Royale collection. To protect the island’s black bee population, Guerlain has been supporting the association for the conservation of the black bee (ACANB) since 2011. It has also become a patron to the organization by providing financial, research, promotion and communication assets.

Guerlain’s partnership with OFA

In 2015, Guerlain set up a partnership with the French Observatory for Apidology, known as OFA (Observatoire Français d’Apidologie). Founded by Thierry Dufresne in 2014, OFA’s activities aim at conducting scientific research around the mortality and wellbeing of bees, focusing on the species’ role in the sustenance of plant and human life globally. The non-profit organization furthers its commitment by raising awareness through campaigns and educational programs. It also provides professional training for beekeepers in collaboration with the Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricoles, Hyères, and Avignon’s ISEMA Business School.

Further, with the help of OFA, in 2018 Guerlain kickstarted the Bee School. An awareness-raising program for primary school children, based on teaching them the importance of the bee population for the health of our world as well as the reasons behind the necessity to protect it. The project will expand its borders to the international community between Summer and Fall 2021. 

Guerlain Women for Bees

Guerlain Women for Bees is the Maison’s entrepreneurial program supporting the development of women-led apicultural practices. The brand launched it in 2020 in partnership with UNESCO and OFA. The program promotes the establishment of an international network of female beekeepers in connection with UNESCO’s natural reserves.

The five-year project will launch in June 2021 with a training program held by OFA on its premises, Saint-Baume’s mountain ridge in Provence. The brand will give participants the tools and support necessary to grow and maintain bee colonies autonomously. They will become pioneers in the endorsement of sustainable beekeeping, as well as social and environmental responsibility.

Within the first two years from the start of the project, Guerlain will extend the program’s reach to areas such as Iroise in France, Sila in Italy, Central Balkans, Kozjansko and Obsotelje in Bulgaria, Katunskiy in Russia, Tonle Sap in Cambodia, Kafa in Ethiopia, the Volcanoes National Park in Ruanda and Xishuangbanna in China. By 2025 twenty-five different UNESCO natural reserves will host two-thousand-and-five-hundred beehives. The aim is to increase the bee population of one-hundred-and-twenty-five million units. While boosting each location’s biodiversity by encouraging the welfare of endemic species, generating sources of income in rural areas.

GoodPlanet Foundation and ELYX Foundation

In the same year, Guerlain extended its engagement with – and support to – two other projects. The first is the GoodPlanet Foundation, founded by photographer and filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Its mission is to provide spaces and resources to educate people on the significance of bee tutelage.

The second is the ELYX Foundation, launched in 2018 by Yacine Ait Kaci. Its activities promote and share the goals of the United Nations through a focus on human rights, sustainable development goals, climate action, life on land as well as below water. The foundation enhances the socio-cultural impact of the UN’s programs by increasing their accessibility to the public.

Guerlain’s objective for 2026 is to source the totality of its raw materials from UEBT certified traders, and to reach full traceability for all of its formulas within 2030. The Maison’s traceability and transparency standards have become publicly accessible from 2019 via Bee Respect. A digital platform developed with Switzerland-based company specialized in traceability, Product DNA. Bee Respect sheds light on the brand’s use of ingredients and the lifecycle of its products. These include their formulas, packaging, manufacturing, suppliers, and carbon footprint.

Guerlain x UNESCO

UNESCO and Guerlain have launched a state-of-the-art female beekeeping entrepreneurship programme, Women for Bees. The program is implemented in UNESCO designated biosphere reserves around the world with the support of the French training centre, the Observatoire Français d’Apidologie (OFA). It will have actor, filmmaker and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie for a Godmother, helping promote its twin objectives of women’s empowerment and biodiversity conservation.

Veronica Gisondi

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.