National Consumers League

Are honey bees our canaries in the coal mine?

For the past five or more years I’ve read with sadness and trepidation about the reduction in pollinating bee populations. This startling news seemed like the ultimate canary in the coal mine warning. Bees are dying out because of something awful we are doing to our environment, but what is it that we are doing? 


Recently, I was reading a newsletter by Trillium Asset Management, a socially responsible investment company whose board I once served on. Through this newsletter, I learned about the hardware and home improvement store, Lowe’s, phasing out neonicotinoids  (or otherwise known as “neonics”) to help preserve the bee population. Ever heard of them? I hadn’t either. But apparently, neonics are a pesticide that has sped up the decline of bees. Neonics are used in pesticides and affect the central nervous system of insects, which results in paralysis or death. Past studies have identified the neonicotinic residues from these pesticides can accumulate in pollen and nectar of treated plants and may pose as a risk to pollinators, including bees.

Trillium says they are a leading contributor to the global decline of bees. To its enormous credit, Trillium forced Lowe’s hand by introducing a shareholder resolution and having discussions with the company starting in 2013. Trillium withdrew the resolution when Lowe’s came to the table to talk about eliminating neonics from its retail stores.

Lowes agreed to a six-point plan of action, including educating consumers through in-store distribution of EPA and Pollinator Partnership pesticide brochures and the placement of product tags, which explain the importance of bee populations to our ecosystem.

We all owe Trillium Asset Management and Domini Social Investments for their exceptional work and ability to leverage investor concerns and passions about the environment in order to help maintain the balance of our ecosystem to protect all creatures.