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The Economics Support Bee Campus USA Certification

Guest blog by Jerrod Penn and Wuyang Hu

Since spring 2015, when Southern Oregon University was certified as the first affiliate of Bee Campus USA, the program has rapidly expanded to nearly 120 university and college campuses. Yet, with over 19 million students attending 4,000 colleges and universities throughout the U.S., ample opportunity remains to expand pollinator habitat, education, and outreach on campuses. Even as awareness and adoption continue to grow, barriers to certification may still exist. While pollinator conservation activities may create value, administrators and campus managers may have less enthusiasm than students, citing concerns related to little tangible revenue generation or cost-savings relative to the resource commitment. Our work seeks to alleviate these concerns by using benefit–cost analysis, a tool from economics, to assess Bee Campus USA implementation and providing dollars and cents evidence, tangible as well as intangible (such as ecosystem services), to university leaders. Our conclusion is that certification is a worthy investment.

The critical challenge is measuring the value members of a university place on pollinator conservation. Whereas spending $1,000 on a smartphone tells us the worth to a person, no such tradeoffs are readily observable for on-campus pollinator conservation, so we must instead rely on surveys

Our evidence stems from work at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Ohio State University (OSU), large land-grant universities that are not currently certified Bee Campuses. We conducted a survey of each university’s students to measure whether they would vote for or against individuals paying a one-time fee between $5 and $20 to help fund the expenses of becoming a Bee Campus. Prior to answering, students received a full description of the Bee Campus USA program’s requirements and benefits. 

Fig. 1 Survey administration team on the Louisiana State University campus. Photo by Jerrod Penn.

Students greatly supported the measure, with 71% of LSU students and 76% of OSU students stating they would vote for a one-time fee (once in four years assuming students are participating in a four-year college program) to support their university becoming a Bee Campus. Moreover, student support exceeded 95% for both universities if universities funded Bee Campus certification costs without implementing an additional student fee. These outcomes can be translated into a monetary value known as Willingness to Pay (WTP), a preferred measure among economists of how individuals and society value environmental improvements incorporating both tangible and intangible benefits. While the values vary depending on student ethnic background and gender, as well as attitude and perceptions towards bees, student feedback resulted in a mean WTP per student at LSU of $44 and $65 at OSU. Each value multiplied by each school’s student body size generates aggregate economic benefit exceeding $1 million for LSU and nearly $3.5 million for OSU.

Table 4. Percentage of students who support the following on-campus pollinator-related initiatives.

We then wanted to determine the estimated four-year cost (corresponding to the one-time fee each student may pay) of Bee Campus implementation by using existing information and interviews with sustainability coordinators, facility and landscape services administrators, and other related outreach or teaching units at each university. The two campuses stated very different methods of implementing Bee Campus requirements, resulting in different cost estimates and budget line items. The LSU plan focused 90% of the estimated budget ($450,000) on additional pretreatment and mulching for the campus Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan and associated labor and materials, with the remainder allocated to annual education, outreach events, signage, and reporting requirements. The major focus for OSU was for a full-time IPM coordinator, representing about 65% of the calculated 4-year budget of nearly $369,000.

In short, the monetary benefits exceed the costs, and both schools are economically justified to become a Bee Campus. Based on the total benefit and cost outcomes and appropriate discounting, the resulting benefit–cost ratio shows that for each dollar spent, there are almost $3 in benefits at LSU and almost $10 in benefits at OSU. Critical components for these outcomes are the relatively high annual costs at LSU and the exceptionally large population size at OSU, exceeding 50,000 on their Columbus campus alone. Our further investigation using more conservative estimates of benefits still provide consistency; the economic benefits to students of becoming an affiliate of Bee Campus exceed the costs. While our current work focuses exclusively on the students, future investigation can also include staff and faculty in the analysis.  

Even with these promising outcomes, challenges remain. These results may not apply to the thousands of colleges with relatively small campuses and student populations, but the requirements of Bee Campus are quite flexible and allow colleges to consider their own unique needs. In our experience, having examples of proven pollinator conservation can help alleviate the uncertainty this flexibility may cause. A critical next step is to document the wide array of strategies used by current Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates to demonstrate that first steps of becoming a Bee Campus have minimal expense. 

*Note, this work is based off work published in Penn et al. (2020), The Buzz about Bee Campuses: Student Thoughts Regarding Pollinator Conservation (American Entomologist). The outcomes of the benefit–cost analysis, including benefit and cost estimates per school, are under review, but subject to potential changes.

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