DENSO and sustainability: The Honeybee Project

03 May 2021 | Article

At DENSO, we don’t do things by halves. You’ll already know DENSO’s reputation for manufacturing high-quality, efficient parts for the automotive industry. But did you know that our sustainability mission extends more widely than our products – it also includes activities such as sustaining the honeybee population?

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At DENSO, environmental and social sustainability is at the heart of our corporate values and management strategies. Since DENSO caters primarily for the automotive industry, it’s our responsibility to understand the impacts vehicles have. While cars generally act as a safe and comfortable means of transport that millions of people rely on across Europe, they do have adverse impacts such as CO2 emissions and pollution.

 At the heart of DENSO’s inception was a mindset that transport can – and should – be safe, comfortable, convenient, and eco-friendly. During DENSO’s founding, our management created an electric car, the “DENSO-GO”, which embodied our ambition to keep advancing vehicle technology and make cars cleaner.

 This was followed by an ambition to create more employment and contribute to the development of local communities around our manufacturing bases in the 1970s. We applied the technology we developed for the automotive industry and used it in the fields of factory automation and agriculture to address new social issues such as food and labor shortages.

 Today, sustainability is a large part of who we are – it’s in our DNA. We owe our growth as a company to embedding a sustainable, socially responsible approach in everything we do. From this mentality to which we owe our success, we formulated the DENSO Group Sustainability Policy, which you can read more about here

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But what do bees have to do with all of this? The answer lies in the Honeybee Project, which DENSO employees oversee at the DENSO factory in Japan. It is just one example of how we are transforming our facilities to work in harmony with the planet. It came about through our acknowledgement of the emissions our factories produce, and subsequent drive to make them work in harmony with their local ecosystem.

Biodiversity can be negatively affected by changes in the environment. On a global level, one of the most worrying changes today is decreasing honeybee populations. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) carried out a report in 2011, issuing a warning that collapsing bee colonies will affect food production in the future.

Put simply, we need honeybees for farmers around the world to grow crops. There are 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world with food, 70% of that pollinated by bees. Most of the fruit and vegetables we enjoy, such as strawberries, apples, carrots, and onions, are grown with help from honeybees. Without them, many types of fruit and vegetables will not grow and reproduce, affecting a large proportion of humans’ calorific intake.

The survival of honeybees is linked to our own survival. More than that, honeybee populations make great ‘bioindicators’: their health is an effective way to measure how an entire ecosystem is performing and how it is being affected by human activity.  

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The Honeybee Project was started in 2015 by Terumitsu Kondo from the DENSO UNITY SERVICE CORPORATION. A self-confessed novice at beekeeping, Kondo’s appreciation for bees came from childhood, reading about honeybee main characters in comic books. However, transitioning that appreciation towards beekeeping on the rooftop of the DENSO factory brought about enormous challenges. Kondo said, “I bought a hive for beekeeping. After a while, the queen bee disappeared, but I was not even aware of that at first.”

The challenges continued: regular disappearing queen bees, getting stung, the need to exterminate parasitic mites while being careful not to crush honeybee swarms. Eventually the hardships were overcome, and his knowledge of honeybees gradually deepened so that he could involve other DENSO colleagues.

Kondo added, “After gaining an understanding of beekeeping, we expanded our activities by recruiting volunteers from our employees. Some people have been working with us as volunteers for several years, and more people are now becoming familiar with beekeeping. Finding a queen bee among tens of thousands of bees is much easier with volunteers.

Masayuki Kamiya (DENSO UNITY SERVICE CORPORATION), another cofounder of the Honeybee Project, said the practice has changed his perceptions despite being a struggle initially. “One bee only produces a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. I began to think that humans are being given a surplus of precious honey that bees produce over a lifetime. Now, I know I have to appreciate honey when I eat it.” 

Kondo has become more aware of the environment around him. He said, “I started to notice flying honeybees on my way to work. The way I observe my surroundings in my daily life has changed. The beekeeping is affected by the weather, so I started to check the weather forecast every day. In addition, I became very sensitive to climate change.”

DENSO is keen to embed sustainability in our everyday work, not just being a commercial enterprise but a force for development and change. Formulated and driven by DENSO employees, the honeybee project is just one small part of DENSO’s mission to improve the surroundings in which we work, helping future-proof our operations and support ecosystems.

Read more on Terumitsu Kondo’s experiences in beekeeping and the Honeybee Project here.

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