Saving the Bees with Cecile Willems

Cecile with the Bees

If you are a Cisco employee based in the RTP offices, you may have heard the buzz around campus about the Connected Bees initiative, (pun intended). This sustainability project, headed by Cecile Willems, Cisco Marketing Director, and Jordan Hart-White, Energy and Sustainability Manager at Cisco, in partnership with Bees Downtown, has brought three bee hives to the Cisco RTP campus. More importantly, this project has raised awareness about the importance of honey bees to the local community, and the impact they have on the environment as a whole.

Bees are the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. According to the FDA, “About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds.” However, honey bee populations have been sharply declining, by nearly half the entire population in some countries. By bringing bee hives to the RTP campus, Cecile and the team are helping to rebuild healthy honey bee populations, that in turn, will help rebuild agriculture and native crops to the North Carolina region.



I had the opportunity to sit down with Cecile to learn more about the Bees in RTP. During our discussion, Cecile explained the three pillars that really contributed to the project's success: Cisco's Corporate Social Responsibility values, strong partnerships, and employee engagement.

1. Corporate Social Responsibility

From the beginning, Corporate Social Responsibility has been an important Cisco value, with the CSR mission to “accelerate global problem solving to benefit people, society, and the planet." Part of this mission has been helping to protect endangered species. In 2015, Cisco launched it’s Connected Conservation project with Dimension Data to protect critically endangered rhinos in Africa, using technology and innovations to track down poachers.

Protecting the role that each creature and living organism plays in the environment, including the honey bees, is an important element to Cisco’s CSR mission. Although much smaller in size, Cecile explained, honey bees needed Cisco’s help just as much as the rhinos in Africa. In 2018, Cisco set a goal for the RTP campus to achieve 100 percent renewable energy, water neutrality, and zero waste. The Connected Bees project is helping Cisco work towards this goal.

2. Partnerships

At the heart of Cisco’s values is the People Deal, the manifesto that outlines who Cisco is as a company. An important aspect of the People Deal is winning together, and the Connected Bees project illustrated this value perfectly. When speaking with Cecile, she explained that this project wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership of many other teams. The Legal and Risk teams, Green team, and Work Place Resources all worked together to bring the Bees to RTP in a safe and effective way. This project also wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Bee Downtown, the North Carolina based company that helps corporations install bee hives on their campuses. Bee Downtown is responsible for the active management of the hives, and works alongside the Cisco teams to promote the benefits of honey bees on the local environment. By embracing the value of partnerships, the Bees in RTP initiative was able to come together to raise awareness and visibility into this important and powerful sustainability mission.


3. Employee Engagement

Finally, the project relied on employee engagement to bring this idea to life. Cecile explained that this really began with the Green Team, a group of Cisco employees that are passionate about sustainability and helped spread the word about the Connected Bees. From the initial Webex Team’s space that had 35 people, this movement and space grew to include over 300 individuals that wanted to be involved in the project and create some positive “buzz.” Cecile explained that educating and engaging with the community was key, and she was most pleasantly surprised by the RTP communities willingness to learn about the importance of bees impact on the environment, food production, and native plants.

This project provides the opportunity for Cisco employees to get involved with an important sustainability initiative that is helping the environment in their local community. At the end of the day, Cecile explained, she hopes that this project will inspire people to be more thoughtful and curious about the relevance of nature to all of our lives. This particular project involves protecting the honey bees in RTP, but the bigger sustainability initiative includes so much more than that- from the bees, to the trees, to the oceans.

Although Cisco offices are currently empty, the RTP bees are hard at work, pollinating throughout the Triangle area. Stay tuned for activities to stay engaged with the RTP Bees, including virtual honey tasting classes, hive tours, and bee-keeping classes. Learn more about the honey bees role in agriculture from the FDA here. Learn more about RTP’s Connected Bees, featured in the May issue of Cary Magazine!



The Cisco Store has even joined the cause, with a special edition Save the Environment series that encompasses the holistic sustainability message of the Save the Bees project. Featuring pins, patches, water bottles and notebooks, this collection was created to raise awareness to Save the Bees, Preserve our Oceans, and Protect our Forests. 

Fill it Forward

The Cisco Store has also partnered with Cupanion Water bottles and the Fill it Forward campaign to encourage the use of reusable water bottles and reduce single use plastic waste. Each Cupanion water bottle purchased from this collection includes a Fill It Forward sticker and app access. Simply scan the Fill It Forward sticker in the app every time you reuse your bottle. Each scan contributes to the completion of a charitable project in developing communities. Show your support for protecting our natural environment and shop the Cisco Store’s CSR collection here.


Cupanion bottles


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