Small company, big impact
A US-based natural candle maker shows that business size is immaterial when it comes to putting people and the planet first.
Customers who buy Colorado-based GoodLight Natural Candles products aren’t just buying candles to create a cozy home ambiance or to add a festive spark to the holidays, they are literally supporting sustainable palm farmers and orangutan rescue halfway around the world.
David Callicott, along with two friends, founded GoodLight in 2010 to make “mission-driven candles” – a cleaner, safer alternative to paraffin-wax candles that champion social and environmental causes.
Made with biodegradable palm wax and pure cotton wicks, these affordable, plant-based candles contain no additives. Unlike paraffin-wax candles, they do not emit soot or toxins. GoodLight’s scented candles are infused with blends of pure essential and botanical oils. The company is plastic-free, using recycled and recyclable paper and plant-based inks for their packaging.
In the early years, the company’s decision to use palm wax meant going toe to toe with the anti-palm oil advocates. After researching issues plaguing the palm oil industry, GoodLight believes market-driven change is the only way to positively impact the palm industry. The company took on the mission to educate consumers whilst promoting the sustainability movement within the industry.
Because GoodLight uses relatively small quantities of palm oil derivatives to make the wax for their annual candle production, the company opted to buy Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) credits through RSPO’s PalmTrace Book-and-Claim system.
Through their RSPO membership, GoodLight teamed up with Wild Asia to promote sustainable palm oil production among smallholder farmers. They pay the farmers a premium for their sustainable harvest, improving the farmers’ livelihoods and boosting the shift towards sustainability.
Today, GoodLight is helmed by David and his wife, Sarah. The company has four full-time employees and primarily sells their candles within the U.S. GoodLight contributes to 1% For the Planet by donating 1% of their gross annual revenue to non-profit groups such as the Orangutan Land Trust. They also contribute to Carbonfund.org’s reforestation projects. Over the last 10 years, GoodLight has offset 1,134 metric tonnes of carbon emissions, an equivalent to 18,751 tree seedlings planted and grown for a decade. (Source Carbonfund)
GoodLight believes plugging education, financially incentivising farmers and pushing for market-driven change are the best approaches in their quest to “spread the good light.”
Wild Asia reached out to GoodLight co-founder David to learn more about GoodLight’s social and environmental impacts, and how the company runs a profitable AND responsible business.
Q: GoodLight joined 1% for the Planet in 2009, six months before your company even sold your first candle, what compelled you and your co-founders to make that commitment? What is GoodLight’s philosophy?
Our philosophy as both a business and the humans running the business has always been to have the most positive impact we can have on the planet and its inhabitants, while minimizing any negative impact.
That means offering a non-toxic alternative to a ubiquitous product that is made from petroleum and burns in people’s homes. We offer a more healthful solution that positively impacts people’s lives by means of cleaner air. Back in 2009, 1% for the Planet was a relatively new organization, and we felt aligned with its mission. By joining forces we might have a greater impact than we could if we acted alone. In terms of 1% for the Planet, we donate money to environmental organizations every year.
Q: When you were researching options for affordable, natural, clean-burning wax prior to 2010, why use palm wax instead of soy wax?
In 2009, organic soy wax was expensive and difficult for us to source. The non-organic soy seemed to be mostly, if not entirely, from GMO crops. We didn’t want to contribute to the expansion of GMO farming. Soy as a commodity has a long history of environmental destruction, not unlike palm oil. But palm oil has the advantage of being non-GMO, plus it yields so much more oil per acre than soy.
Q: From the start, GoodLight has served as a platform to educate consumers about what palm oil is (for example, from the message on your packaging). Any issues raised by concerned customers?
Almost any time we would bring up palm oil to a customer or buyer, the reaction would be negative. And for good reason. The destruction of rainforests by the expansion of conventional palm oil plantations and farms over the past few decades has been well documented in the media. Conventional palm oil’s bad reputation is well deserved.
Our response to customers has always been to educate about the deforestation caused by conventional palm oil growth, and that GoodLight is part of the movement to stop that deforestation by encouraging small palm farmers to be good stewards of the land, among other things. We sometimes still hear “there is no such thing as a sustainable palm” from someone who has read something to that effect. Unfortunately, there are so many bad actors in this sector that the good being done gets completely overshadowed.
There have been many times – think the Indonesian forest fires of 2015 – that we felt that for every one step forward on the path to sustainability, we were taking two or more steps backwards. But those of us working to advance this shift can’t give up. If we do, then the whole movement will never have a chance.
Q: It’s been 12 years since GoodLight started, do you see an increase in awareness of the sustainable palm oil movement amongst GoodLight customers?
Yes, I believe so. Still, it feels like there is so much more education that needs to happen. More than anything, we need consumers to demand that the manufacturers of the products they buy source their palm oil from certified sustainable farms or participate in the PalmTrace Book and Claim (B&C) system when a segregated, identity-preserved supply chain is not possible.
There have been many times…we felt that for every one step forward on the path to sustainability, we were taking two or more steps backwards. But those of us working to advance this shift can’t give up. If we do, then the whole movement will never have a chance.
Partnership with Wild Asia
Q: Briefly, what drove GoodLight to make the switch to buy B&C credits from Wild Asia, followed by the SPIRAL partnership?
Years ago, when I first learned that small farmers contribute something like 45% of the global production of palm oil, we realized it made more sense for a small company like GoodLight to create relationships with small farmers instead of working with the larger multinationals. We have an opportunity to have a more tangible impact on people’s lives if we work with small farmers.
When we learned about Wild Asia Group Scheme, it seemed like the perfect fit for many reasons, one of which was that our good friend Michelle Desilets (Director of the Orangutan Land Trust) knew Reza (WA executive director) and vouched for WAGS’s integrity. Our partnership with WAGS and their farmers is a model that proves small businesses and small farmers can participate in the sustainable palm movement, something that would be nearly impossible without the book-and-claim system.
Q: How do you measure the impact of this partnership?
WAGS has been helping to advance our mission since we first started the partnership. But now, with the SPIRAL program, we are realizing a vision we have hoped for since we first established GoodLight.
Q: What do you hope to see from the SPIRAL partnership?
I hope that together we can prove that permaculture-based principles can be put into place on these farms and result in, not only a more organic farming scenario that eliminates the need for toxic chemical fertilizers, but larger and healthier yields for the farmers. Those higher yields coupled with the elimination of store-bought fertilizers should make the farms more profitable, so we are adding value both financially and in terms of environmental responsibility.
I believe this program also empowers these farmers with more knowledge, and therefore independence. As this program evolves, we hope to see the neighbors of these successful SPIRAL farmers asking to jump on this sustainable bandwagon. Maybe we will finally shift the palm oil paradigm from the bottom up with this grassroots effort.
Q: GoodLight supports an exhaustive list of sustainable initiatives and non-profits. How does one run a profitable business and be responsible?
I think we have arrived at the time where we no longer have a choice – if you are going to run a business, you must figure out how to do it in the most responsible way. If you cannot figure out how to do that and be profitable, then perhaps the business shouldn’t exist.
Q: Has the COVID pandemic affected GoodLight? Any current challenges?
The pandemic affected GoodLight in many ways. More people started working from home, or staying home more in general, and they were looking for ways to make their homes warmer and cozier. So, we actually saw an increase in sales. But, like most companies, GoodLight’s supply chain was interrupted with delays in shipping, facility/warehouse closures, etc. And all those supply chain costs increased dramatically. Also, many businesses like restaurants and yoga studios, and churches that burn our candles didn’t survive the pandemic.
Q: Where does GoodLight go from here?
We would like GoodLight to become a global household brand so that we are able to contribute more to all these efforts that are central to our mission.
Q: Any advice for small businesses that aspire to take the sustainability route?
We no longer have the luxury of starting businesses that are not sustainable. In retrospect, I think we’ve learned we never really did have that luxury.
If you start a business with a sound plan that is truly responsible to people and planet, and you create a needed service or product that is healthy for people and planet, then customers will support you and stay loyal to your brand. Don’t cut corners on these important factors. Stay true to your mission, partner with and contribute to like-minded non-profits, and you will find success.