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Palm Lights founder shares her thoughts on business integrity


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Interview with Bahwna Sehra, CEO and founder of Palm Lights, a company based in Dubai creating environmentally-friendly candles.

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Palm Lights founder shares her thoughts on business integrity

  1. 1. Palm Lights founder shares herthoughts on business integrity Bhawna Sehra’s search for an eco-friendly candle lasted a long time. Every candle she ever encountered falsely claimed to be 100% organic or natural. To end her doubts and address the issue herself, she created her own Dubai-based business, PalmLights,producingunique,eco-friendlycandlesmadefrompalmwax.Bhawna shared her thoughts with us on business integrity. Bhawna Sehra ““ Bhawna Sehra After months of research, Bhawna Sehra successfully produced her first batch of hand- poured candles made from palm wax, bringing her company Palm Lights to life. The candles are produced in small batches, and all candles are unique due to a special crystalline surface finish. Individually, the candles take about 10-12 hours to make and a couple of days to cure. Handmade to perfection! Addressing a loophole Although paraffin candles are the most widely produced candles in the world, I searched for a truly eco- friendly alternative. Business 32 november Issue 11 2015
  2. 2. Bhawna’s business goal was to establish a company that not only catered to her customer’s needs, but also to their health and environment. The brand is quite specialized, and she points out that it is difficult to convince people to spend their money on something ‘eco’ against a cheaper option from a department store. But Bhawna assured us it’s not really the price factor that she has issues with. “It’s actually the lack of awareness among the masses about truly eco-friendly choices,” she says. “Many people don’t know the perils of toxic and unsustainable ingredients used in regular candles.” These ingredients she mentions, can be found in both expensive candles purchased from reputed home stores, as well as in the cheaper options from department stores. Bhawna implores the need to read labels carefully today, providing examples of particularly nasty ingredients to watch out for. “Paraffin wax is a byproduct of petroleum, and is unhealthy for your lungs,” she explaines. “Soy wax is produced from soybean oil, but uses hexane, chlorine, and boric acid in the manufacturing process.” She further explained that 95 percent of the chemicals used in synthetic fragrances, are derived from petroleum and include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and synthesizers capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions. Bhawna is fully aware that honesty is the best policy when it comes to ingredients. “Once the buyer is educated of the responsibly sourced ingredients of my candles, they don’t mind paying a bit more for quality and health,” she says. “All said and done, it’s the functional performance of the candles and its powerful mood altering properties which speak volumes.” There are of course a number of advantages associated with using natural products, whether it’s health, price, or environment. What exactly can Palm Lights customers expect? First and foremost, Bhawna’s products provide excellent value for money as they last twice as long as regular paraffin candles. Palm wax is a hard, smooth wax with a high melting temperature, therefore the candles retain their shape even during harsh summers of Dubai. “Other features of the candles like the natural crystalline finish, aromatherapy health benefits, strong fragrance, bright and soot-free flame, toxic-free, 100% bio-degradable vegan wax, and unique scents personalized to customers’ wishes, make up for an all-round pleasant buying experience,” says Bhawna, also mentioning the fact that Palm Lights is the sole producer of certified sustainable crystalline palm wax in the GCC region, which adds to the products’ exclusivity and charm. Bhawna and her naturalist beliefs have been a strong selling point for her company, by deciding not to use any petroleum- based products in the candles, or fragrance oils. While speaking about these issues, she mentioned a favorite quote of hers: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” This quote is her guiding light. Bhawna consciously created a product with no nasties after months of research and experiments. Only ethical, sustainable, planet-friendly ingredients were chosen to create a pleasurable, healthy and safe product for her customers. “I decided not to use paraffin wax because it’s a petroleum- based product that has been bleached then texturized with acrolyn, which is a known carcinogenic,” she says. “Although paraffin candles are the most widely produced candles in the world, I searched for a truly eco-friendly alternative.” Bhawna similarly avoids the use of fragrance oils, which are synthetically produced from the concoctions of chemicals, designed to mimic natural fragrances. They release microscopic particles, many of which are carcinogenic. People are also unaware that coconut, strawberry, melon, mango, cantaloupe, and pomegranate for example, are synthetic fragrances, containing phthalates, making them potentially harmful to health and environment. “At Palm Lights, I fragrance my candles with 100% pure essential oils,” says Bhawna. “Essential oils are extracted from the aromatic essences of certain plants, trees, fruits, flowers, herbs, and spices, traditionally used in aromatherapy. Though pure essential oils are rare and expensive, they blend well in palm wax and thus the aroma lasts till the very end.” Not so controversial? The looming argument that had to be brought up, was the controversial use of palm oil, which has caught a lot of slack because of deforestation issues. Organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists call upon companies that use palm oil to adopt strong deforestation-free sourcing policies, because palm oil is used in thousands of products, and is supposedly a driver of deforestation, because palm oil companies clear rainforest areas to establish their plantations. But Bhawna makes a strong case against the argument, and justifies her reasons for using the product. Palm oil uses very little water, is GMO-free, and pest resistant. She informed us that with an average yield of 4.02 tons of oil per hectare, palm oil is ten times more productive than soybean, eight times more productive than sunflower, and six times more productive than rapeseed. In other words, you can grow enormous volumes of it with relatively little land. The palm oil industry accounts for 5-6 percent of Malaysia’s total GDP, and is an essential livelihood for millions of people in the tropical countries of the world. 50 percent of packages or processed foodstuffs contain palm oil or its derivatives. Evidently a lot of people rely on the industry for their livelihood, therefore Bhawna puts up an extremist view of boycotting palm oil as a “bizarre notion”. “I believe I can make a change by supporting these regulating organizations in my own little way,” she says. “These organizations issue moratorium on the clearing of new forests, encourage sustainable plantations, certify existing areas of cultivation, formulate ways to increase the yield, protect orangutans, and follow fair trade practices.” For example, RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), ISPO (Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil), and MOPI (Malaysian Oil Palm Industry). This convinced Bahwna to use RSPO certified palm wax for her candles. While she doesn’t deny that non-regulated plantations have contributed to deforestation in the past, Bhawna believes that the positive aspect surrounding the issue today is that consumer awareness is putting pressure on growers to support sustainability. “There’s a bright and sustainable future ahead,” she says. “Nestle, IKEA, Unilever, and Carrefour are among the many giants who have announced a total conversion to sustainable palm oil in their products by the end of 2015.” Lack of infrastructure due to ongoing war and conflict has compelled Yemen to switch to solar- powered products imported from Dubai. Yemen is becoming a big market for a company in Dubai that sells solar-powered products, accounting for more than half of California Land General Trading’s sales. California Land sells lamps and fans powered by solar energy which are cost effective and easy to use. Ishrat Ali, owner of California Land set up the business four years ago after his wife told him that solar lamps were being used in India. “I went to see her cousin’s lamp and it hit me,” he said. The first item to be carried in the store was a solar lamp, which also included an electrical outlet to charge devices such as mobile phones. Four years ago the price was Dh350, but as costs for solar technology have declined, the price of the lamp has fallen to Dh210 today. However, the most popular item among Yemeni customers is the solar-powered fan. California Land orders about 1,800 fans a year in two shipments. Like the solar lamp, the price of a solar fan has fallen from US$45 to $35. If the fan is charged for between eight and 10 hours, it can run for at least 6 - 7 hours. While California Land registered a spike in Yemeni customers amid increased conflict in the country, others are using renewable energy to help refugees. There were about 20 million refugees globally at the end of last year, and data from the United Nations’ refugee agency shows that 1 million Syrians can be added to that count since January. As Dubai is growing as a champion for renewable energy in the Middle East, war-stricken countries like Yemen see Dubai as a great support to meet their energy requirements amid the political and economic turmoil. Dubai’s solar- powered products comforting conflict-stricken Yemen Business 34 november Issue 11 2015