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Archive for the ‘Soapbox’ Category

A few months ago I was contacted by Kirsten McCulloch of Sustainable Suburbia fame to see if I would be willing to contribute to a book she was writing about reducing and eliminating the toxins we take in.  That was a complete no brainer.  I said yes!

Well, Kirsten’s dream has come true and Less Toxic Living: How to Reduce Your Everyday Exposure to Toxic Chemicals – An Introduction For Families goes on sale today.  In an extraordinary act of generosity, the eBook is completely free.  Printed copies are also for sale at US$12.99.  There is bonus content available for anyone who buys the book or downloads the free version prior to Tuesday, 3rd December 2013.  Please use the code QUEENB for the special bonuses.  Yes, free and bonuses.  Who’s your mamma?!

Less Toxic Living, Sustainable Suburbia, eliminate chemicals

Yep… co-author! Going to have tickets on myself soon!

As I planned this blog post, I asked Kirsten with two questions.  Following are her responses:

1. We all lead busy lives, if you had to prioritise 10 things that someone can do for maximum impact to reduce everyday exposure to toxic chemicals, what would they be?

1. Avoid the most pesticide laden food.

Get to know the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” and the Australian version released by the Friends of the Earth last year (though it’s not based on as much research as the US version, but useful as a guide). For the worst offenders, grow your own or buy organic.

2. Remember that your skin is your largest organ and think about what you are putting on it.

Anything you wear daily, or that you use over a large area (like body lotion or sunscreen) those are your first cosmetics to consider. There are lots of safer brands (check out www.safecosmeticsaustralia.com.au for some options), or if you really want to know what you are putting on your skin, you can make your own. If you want to try that, the book contains a few easy products to start you off.

3. Open the window

Unless you live in a really polluted area, open your doors and windows. For more Australians, the build-up of toxic chemicals in your house, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde, is much higher than that outdoors. You can also grow houseplants to help reduce VOCS.

4. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter.

Again, the typical build-up of toxic chemicals in the dust, including brominated fire retardants from your mattress, couch and carpet, is fairly scary.

5. Take off your shoes

Along those same lines, take of your outdoor shoes when you enter your home. You’ll be amazed how much less dust comes in.

6. Switch to non-toxic cleaning products.

Start with one: whichever cleaning product you use the most, switch it out for something non-toxic. An all-purpose spray cleaner is really easy to make, for instance. Almost everything in the house can be cleaned with baking soda, washing soda, vinegar and soap, and again there are some easy recipes in the book to start you off.

But again, if you don’t want to make your own, there are some commercial brands that are quite good. I would choose one product and find out what the typical nasties in that one are (I cover this for a selection of products in the book, but The Chemical Maze is great for this – it even has an app now, which I have on my phone), then check your chosen “safe” brand and make sure those ingredients aren’t in it.

7. Stop eating processed “foods”

Look, I am not a purist and I don’t pretend to do everything “right” even close to all the time. The occasional processed food isn’t going to kill you. But make it occasional, not part of your daily diet. If you eat a lot of processed food right now, then choose one meal a day to cut it out.

8. Choose plastics with the recycling symbols #4 & #5.

Avoid phthalates and BPA leaching into your food and skin by avoiding those plastics. There is more detail about this in the book. Some other plastics can be okay, but those are the safest.

9. Get rid of synthetic fragrances.

That means in cleaning products, air fresheners, candles and cosmetics. Fragrances are considered “proprietary knowledge” and therefore the individual chemical components don’t need to be listed. But there are thousands of chemicals that can be included, and when the US National Institute of
Occupational Health and Safety evaluated 2983 fragrance chemicals they found that 884 were toxic.

10. Switch out your candles!

Of course, if you use a lot of candles, you must stop using paraffin-based, scented or coloured candles now! Go with 100% pure beeswax for a healthier glow!

I’m not sure why candle come in 10th given every home has them and most people use them, but that’s beside the point (and I may be just a smidgen biased in thinking that this is a BIG issue and we need to be having the conversation loud and fast given the explosion in toxic, scented, paraffin and soy sludge candles that are being sold).

and, the next most obvious question:

2. What is your background and what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been on a journey to reduce the toxins in my life, and my family’s, for a while now. Part of how that started was when I was trying to get pregnant and had been told I might miscarry a few times. I figured whatever I could do to decrease that risk would be good, and I started to really focus on what I was putting in my body.

Then having kids of course you start to think about more than just what you are putting in your body. What are they being exposed to through their toys, the water, the air they’re breathing?

Added to that, a little over 12 months ago, my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I suddenly had another motivation to take this journey a step further. She’s three week’s younger than me, and we’d both recently turned forty, and joked about how it’s all downhill from here. When my sister, and then step-father, were both diagnosed with bowel cancer a matter of months later, it was time to take action.

Did you know that 75% of the chemicals in everyday use in Australia have never been tested for human or environmental toxicity? Well, of course you do if you have read my book! And it’s just astounding to realise how many of the products on our supermarket shelves contain known and suspected carcinogens. They may be in small doses, but when they are all added together, and combined with other chemicals, how small is the dose then? And how do those chemicals interact in our bodies? The answer is, we just don’t know.

I was prompted to write this book partly by how overwhelming I found it when I started doing some solid research. I wanted to provide a way for people to start making changes without needing to feel overwhelmed. That’s why I called it Less Toxic Living, not non-toxic. There’s no such thing as non-toxic living in Australia today. But there are plenty of ways to reduce our exposure to nasty chemicals, and some of them are quite simple.

And at the same time, there’s a mass of information out there, in in-depth books, blogs and magazines. So I wanted to bring some of that together to give people some easy ways to change their lives, and some resources for where to go if they want to get more in-depth.”

 

I hope you  find the book interesting reading… certainly food for thought.

Cheers

Cate xx

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I’ve just had my third phone call for the month by a concerned customer who had been on another beeswax candle company website and was asking about whether there was chlorine in our beeswax.  She directed me to the site.  Apart from the fact that the information on the website is misleading and deceptive, the claims are fear-mongering and causes panic where there is no need for alarm.  There are enough genuine concerns for us to worry about in terms of chemicals in our lives without someone intentionally misleading people.

Amongst many other ridiculous, grandiose claims and lies, the (misleading and deceptive) website claims:

Chlorine in beeswax

Almost all candle manufacturers overlook or ignore this very crucial point when attempting to manufacture a clean fume candle.

If a candle manufacturer {beeswax or other} is not mentioning that their wax is free from chlorinated water for example, it is most probable that their wax is melted in and absorbing chlorine through chlorinated {town/city/potable} water.

“Chlorine must be avoided as the chlorine is absorbed by the wax and will be released as a toxic gas if burned in a candle” [ p69].
THE ABC AND XYZ OF BEE CULTURE, Morse & Flottum, 1990

A quick fact check reveals that the paragraph that he quotes from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, Morse & Flottum, 1990 is taken completely out of context.  This particular part of the book (which is an invaluable beekeeping reference guide) is discussing options for chemically bleaching beeswax.  The relevant paragraph reads as follows:

“We cannot emphasize too strongly that there are several dangers and precautions to be taken when processing beeswax.  For example, bleaches using chlorine, which is an excellent bleaching agent, must be avoided as the chlorine is absorbed by the wax and will be released as a toxic gas if burned in a candle.” [emphasis added]

cleaning beeswax

The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, Morse & Flottum, 1990 (pg 69)

I couldn’t agree more.  They are talking about pouring raw chlorine into the wax to bleach it.

I can only speak for Queen B when I say that there is no chlorine (or any other chemical) used in our cleaning process.  Nor that of our beekeepers, all of whom we’ve audited prior to buying wax, and whom we’ve had relationships going on for a decade now.  In fact, I don’t know a single beekeeper who uses chlorine (or any chemicals) to clean their wax.  [The book, now in its 40th edition,  was first published in 1877.  It's age old wisdom has been standard practice in the industry for over 100 years.]  At Queen B we use the age-old process of purifying and cleaning our beeswax with water, time (to allow impurities to settle) and filters.  The filtration we use would certainly not be industry standard and is the result of a decade of trial (& error) and thorough testing.  We’ve ‘kissed a lot of frogs’ learning what we’ve learned.  We’ve also read all the literature and learned from our forefathers… both in beekeeping and in candlemaking.

I guess this is another reminder that unfortunately, even on the side of “good” there is the occasional evil person.  If you have bought in to any of the claims on this website, can I suggest that you ask to see the claimed organic certification for their wax.  Can I also suggest that you read our post about the pigments we use for our, world-renowned, rolled pillar range.  And, can I respectfully suggest, that if a company is a proven liar, who has no compunction in misleading and deceiving potential (and actual) customers and who actively seeks to cause fear where there is no cause for alarm, that you should not buy their products.  This is a company that claims on their home page to have been manufacturing pure beeswax candles since 1975 (although they claim on another page that they made their first tealight in 1993) and yet made all of their beeswax candles from a blend of beeswax and macadamia nut oil until Queen B launched pure beeswax tealight, votive and pillar candles… all the while ranting on their website about the fume dangers of burning an oil!  And those are statements of fact… and in context!

It is challenging enough to run a manufacturing business in Australia, hand-making natural products, without having to spend time countering bogus claims.  I am always grateful when misled consumers call because I can give them the facts… do the research… find the evidence.  What really horrifies me is all those customers who believe the claims and don’t call.  Who don’t know me and hence don’t know that the integrity of a Queen B candle is unimpeachable.  Who don’t have the opportunity to experience the beauty of a Queen B candle because they bought the lies.  Who are misled and deceived.  It is enough to make a grown bee cry..  And the greatest shame is that they are sullying an industry that has so much goodness in it.

… I’m off to light more (Queen B!) candles and a smudge stick just to remove their energy from our hive.

Yours in truth, facts and light,

Cate xx

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So we all know that I bang on constantly about not all waxes (paraffin, soy, palm and beeswax) being equal… well, that applies to beeswaxes too.

A few weeks ago a customer bought a ‘pure beeswax candle’ for me from Dusk.  It is sold at a discount to a the smallest Queen B hand-rolled honeycomb candle (theirs is about 20% narrower and would have less labour as it is not finished properly).  A part of me was thrilled that this purveyor of paraffin (petrochemical wax) candles now had a natural beeswax candle as part of their range, but I was a little disappointed to see that they were using what appeared to me to be very dirty beeswax, using the wrong wick and that the candles were messily made and unfinished.

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - pre lighting

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – pre lighting

 

Aesthetics first (because that is how you get a customer to notice your product in the first place): by not finishing the candle top and bottom it doesn’t actually sit straight and, in addition, most house proud people don’t want candles that look dirty.

And now on to the performance – which is really driven by the wax and the wick.  When bees make beeswax it is white, so any colour in beeswax is impurities.  A little of that is great… a little honey residue is what gives beeswax candles their natural honey aroma.  But a lot of impurities are a disaster waiting to happen in terms of a candle doing what a candle is supposed to do… ie provide light with a lovely, large flame.

It’s one thing to have a theory (and a decade of pounding your head against a brick wall to learn what you’ve learned :-0) and quite another to see that play out.  So we fired them up.  Notice the respective sizes of the flame upon being lit (and that the Dusk candle doesn’t sit straight).

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - just lit

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – just lit

 

After 30 minutes… wick used in the Dusk beeswax candle is beginning to drown… (the clean beeswax and cotton wick in the Queen B candle are performing well… happy queen).

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 30 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 30 minutes

 

An hour and a half in, the difference is even more noticeable.  If I were the Dusk customer I would now be thinking that beeswax candles are cr*p and don’t burn properly.  I’d be very disappointed.  I’d be thinking twice and thrice before forking out my hard earned money on beeswax candles again.

Queen B vs Dusk pure 100 pure bee wax candle - 90 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk pure beeswax candle – 90 minutes

 

2 hours in…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 120 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 120 minutes

 

Two and a half hours…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 150 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 150 minutes

 

Three hours… You really have to wonder how rigorous their testing procedures are… or do they just not care?

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle- 180 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle- 180 minutes

 

Three and a half hours…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 210 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 210 minutes

 

Five hours burning now.  Dusk have a very disappointed customer and beeswax candles are now unfortunately tarred with the same brush…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 5 hours

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 5 hours

 

And after seven and a half hours I’d seen everything that I needed to see.

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 7.5 hours

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 7.5 hours

 

Anyone who knows me knows that anything that I say, I will say to someone’s face.  Brutally honest?  Yes.  Two faced?  No.  Three days ago, armed with my tests and photographs I called Dusk to try to speak to their product development people or the relevant buyer.  I was told by the Help Desk that they couldn’t give me those details for “privacy reasons” and to rather send an email.  I sent an email the same day – firstly alerting them to the problem (selling a product that didn’t perform, destroying their own brand and damaging the reputation of beeswax candles) and secondly offering to make their beeswax candles for them.  “Don’t just give me problems, give me solutions”!  I received a response telling me that my email had been sent on “to the appropriate persons who will be in touch should they wish to discuss further”.  The “appropriate persons” haven’t been in touch yet.

What’s not to discuss?

And that brings me to price.  Yes, there are beeswax candles on the market that are cheaper than Queen B candles, BUT I can say hand on heart (and having not increased our prices in over 6 years despite all of our costs increasing every year) that if they are cheaper they just aren’t the same quality.  Now, that is a BOLD statement.  It may even seem arrogant.  I genuinely don’t mean to be, I just know the cost of making pure beeswax candles.  Here’s what makes Queen B candles different:

1. we only buy 100% pure Australian beeswax (which is the most expensive beeswax in the world because it is free from the chemical residues that other beeswaxes have as we are free of the varroa mite)

2. we only buy beeswax from specific honey flows, from specific beekeepers and we have searched far and wide over the past decade to find those beekeepers who are producing the best beeswax available… and we pay well above the market rate so that they earn a premium for the premium product that they sell.

3. we then clean that wax (which beekeepers consider clean) properly ourselves over a period of 48 hours (using water and filtration)

4. we spend literally months on wick testing before we launch a candle on to the market.  With literally hundreds of pure cotton wicks at our fingertips there is a lot of testing to be done.  The difference between the wrong wick and the right wick is often only evident several hours into burning… or in certain weather conditions… or on a particular surface.  It’s not a craft, it’s a science.

5. we hand make every Queen B candle.  Sure you can churn them out of a machine faster (and cheaper) but you forgo quality and you forgo the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes a hand made product special.  Not sure how hippy you want to be about these things but I can be a bit out there and to me there is a certain magic in a candle that has been made by a person.  Sure it costs a little more.  Many a well intentioned person has advised me to look at mechanising our process or moving production off shore.  But to me it is untenable.  We have focused on being outrageously efficient and every single person who has ever worked at Queen B has understood very early on that if we aren’t all efficient we are out of business.

Designing and hand-making pure beeswax candles is a craft.  Ensuring they burn properly is a science.  At Queen B we try to do both with excellence, and THAT is the difference between a Queen B pure Australian beeswax candle and any other beeswax candle on the market.  Being a complete perfectionist has many, many drawbacks and one very obvious benefit.  The drawbacks are primarily mine to deal with, the single benefit is the greatest gift that I can give our customers and the bees that make the beautiful wax that goes into Queen B candles.

Thanks to you for your support.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good our wax is, how comprehensive our wick testing is or how much perfectionism we bring to the job, if no one is prepared to buy your wares you don’t have a business.  Thank you for letting me run this business.  I consider it a great privilege to do what I am passionate about every single day.

Cate xx

 

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It’s been an exciting week at the hive – a flurry of activity in the lead up to TEDxSydney  AND we’ve negotiated new international shipping rates which finally make shipping Queen B candles around the world affordable.

As I didn’t want to crash the site, my clever web guy loaded the rates in a week ago and we’ve been doing testing for the past week… and reweighing every product so we can ship them as cheaply as possible.  Interestingly, in the 5 days following the new rates being loaded we did as many international online sales as we did in the previous 12 months… just in case you were wondering whether we are genuinely impacted by shipping charges.  In order to get these rates I’ve had to commit to spending $5,000 on international shipping (which is a fraction of what we spend domestically).  So, it is a considered roll of the dice.  If you have friends or family living overseas who you think may be interested, please pass on to them that our shipping rates are now about 1/3 of what they were.

So, with no further ado, I declare Queen B open for business internationally… at far more appealing and competitive rates than we’ve ever been able to offer.  The rates embedded in the website are exactly what we get charged.  Best of all, in all those parcels already making their way across the world is a bulk box of our tealights to light up a wedding in Canada.  You’ve seriously got to love that.

Open for Business

 

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Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax, a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holderspersonalised candlesvotive candlestealight candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.

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According to the Digital Media Research Report done in 2012 by PwC and Frost & Sullivan, total online expenditure in Australia in 2012 was forecast to be $16 billion of which $7.2 billion (or 45%) was on international websites.  OK, I get that.  I shop on overseas website myself where the goods are not available in Australia or completely overpriced or where the cost of shipping is ridiculous.  So, this my rant is not about saying we shouldn’t be shopping on international websites.  My rant is that overseas people aren’t shopping on Australian websites because our cost of shipping to them is so high.

According to one comment on my last post about this, for a business in Hong Kong to ship a 500g parcel to Australia it would cost $0.60.  For an Australian business to ship a 500g parcel in a Parcel Post satchel would be $8.25 (that’s 15 times the price) and for the Australian business to ship the same parcel to Hong Kong would be $11.90 (that’s 20 times the price).  No wonder we’re shipping overseas.  The Australian small business selling that item has the choice of either absorbing the $8.25, or charging for it.  Why would you shop locally?  That. Is. Insane.  That is killing small business.

A friend who runs Daylesford & Heburn Mineral Springs Co. called me from the Post Office yesterday.  He was mailing online orders to WA.  The cost to the customer for a case of beautiful, Australian mineral water or Organic Brewed Ginger Beer? $50 – $65.  The cost of mailing EACH CASE to WA? $69.  Yes, the postage cost was more that what he earned on the sale.  Seriously.  He doesn’t even bother with trying to export his mineral water… and yet, the most popular mineral water in Australia is imported from Italy.  Yes, it is cheaper to bottle and ship mineral water 15,000km’s across the world than it is to bottle and freight it from the other side of Melbourne.

This morning I received an email from a small US company that I have purchased from before.  They are now offering US$4 postage for up to 10 pounds of product to Australia sent by DHL Parcel Delivery Express.  I’ve emailed DHL in Australia to see if they will offer me the same rate for our shipments.  I’ll keep you posted on their response.  You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not holding my breath.  Just as the recent Cabinet inquiry into software pricing revealed Aussies are paying as much as 170% more, so we do on shipping.  Our monopoly, government owned, postal service leading the way on overcharging.

A few other things to consider:

  • According to a report by ANZ, small business sales are down 5% (year on year) to the end of February.
  • Australia’s trade deficit has widened by eight per cent to $2.6 billion in November last year, the largest recorded since the Global Financial Crisis, according to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  This represents the 11th consecutive month of deficit.
  • According to the Digital Media Report, 55% of people surveyed said the most important reason they shopped online was lower prices.  We can be pretty confident this is the case the world over.  Well, given our high Aussie dollar and the fact that our minimum wage is the highest in the OECD we’re already behind the 8 ball.  Add to that the rort that is Australia Post’s shipping charges and we may as well raise the white flag.

There aren’t many times in my life where I have felt completely powerless, but this is one of them.  It is like seeing a train wreck before it actually happens.  Or knowing that that moron who just overtook you at double the speed limit is going to hurt someone.  If we don’t fix this, it is going to hurt.  2 out of every 3 jobs in Australia is in the small business sector.  If we can’t compete with our global competitors to ship at competitive prices, we’ll have more businesses failing (insolvencies were at record high’s in the September 2012 quarter) and more people looking for jobs.

As you know I am pretty passionate about Australia.  We are wonderful innovators.  We make world class products.  Let’s stand up and tell the Federal Government that they need to do something about making it possible for us to level the playing field and ship at competitive prices (both domestically and internationally).  You can sign the petition here.  If you’re feeling a little blue after this post, you can buy Queen B pure beeswax candles here (made in Australia and shipped for “free” on orders over $100). You may also now have a better understanding on why we have a minimum order for “free shipping”.  Don’t get mad when an Australian retailer charges for shipping, get even – send an email to the Minister for Small Business telling him that our shipping costs are killing sales.  Take those 2 minutes to stand up for something you believe in.  It’s the only way we’ll get the change we need.

If you want to live in a world where we are more than a giant quarry (and they’re getting better at mechanising that and importing workers) or a dumping ground for cheap imports, then you need to stand up and do something about it.  We want manufacturers.  We want vibrant regional communities.  We want artists and craftspeople and designers.  And given we’re part of the global economy, we need them to be able to ship their goods domestically and internationally at competitive rates, otherwise there will be no market for their product and they will close.

I’ll finish with a few statistics from the 2012 Australia Post Annual Report (just in case you think I’m being unreasonable… or hysterical :-0).  Mail volumes were down 14 per cent from 2008 to 2012, and yet overall revenue was up 4 per cent.  Wow – those 3 price increases last year really delivered for them.  Profit before interest and income tax expense from Parcels & Express Post was up 17% (2011 to 2012).  So, are they investing in their network to improve their service (and justify all the price increases)?  Well, no, their capital expenditure was at a five year low in 2012 (on par with the five year low in 2011). However, they did declare a $213.7 million dollar dividend (a 23 per cent increase on the dividend paid in 2011) – paid, of course, to the Federal Government.

Oh, someone powerful, can you PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do something about this before we all realise too late that we had to act now?

Update

This article appeared in the SunHerald on 14th April 2013.

IMG_3626

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I did a facebook post on this earlier today but realised that I had so much to say that it really warranted a blog post!

Today (with no prior warning), Australia Post put up their shipping charges by an average of 30%.  It is a short-sighted attempt to cash in on online shopping but actually just puts another nail in the coffin of Australian small business.  Small business is Australia’s largest employer with approximately 2.7 million small businesses in Australia employing over 5 million people.  That’s around 2/3rd’s of the labour force.  This price gouge will be a direct hit on many of them.

You will very rarely find me whinging about running Queen B.  I love it passionately.  I consider it a privilege to do what I love 80 hours a week.  I still have to pinch myself that I get to ship our ‘light’ every day and at the same time to make a difference in so many lives.

Yes, the Australian dollar is high… we’ll deal with it.  I understand that it is complicated and our dollar was floated several decades ago.  Our product is world class.  I still think we can compete.

Yes, people can buy stuff overseas and not pay GST on orders under $1,000… I understand that it would be expensive to administer.  We’ll deal with that too.

Yes, our manufacturing labour costs are the most expensive in the OECD (all interesting reading but in particular read page 19 and on)… I understand our cost of living is ridiculously high in Australia.  We can even struggle through that (although we are understaffed because we can’t afford to hire the staff we need).

But the rort that is Australia Post’s shipping charges is incomprehensible to me.  It is just plain stupid and I am gob-smacked that a small beeswax candlemaker in Brookvale has more economic ability and common sense than the entire senior management team of Australia Post combined and our Federal Government. [that may be an exaggeration but on the surface of this decision appears to be true]

As I mentioned in my Facebook post, I have a friend who runs an online business in the UK selling natural skincare and cosmetics (including many well known Australian brands).  A few Christmas’ ago we shipped a 2kg hamper to the UK on behalf of a client and it cost us over $90 to send.  I was so shocked that I asked my friend what it would have cost him to send.  Turn out that what cost us $90 to ship from Sydney to UK would have cost him £4.62 (less than AUD$6.00) to ship from the UK to Sydney.  I thought he was exaggerating, so I asked for a copy of his contract with Royal Mail.  Turns out it was true.  In fact, it is cheaper for him to send a parcel from London to Manly Beach (16,700 km’s) than it is for us to send a parcel from Brookvale to Manly Beach (less than 5kms).

Which goes a long way to explaining why so many international businesses are able to offer free or extremely cheap shipping to Australia (and why Australian businesses can’t do the same… and even struggle to ship cheaply within Australia).  We recently shipped a $140 parcel to WA and paid $26 in postage alone… which does leave a lot of room for the cost to hand make, pure Australian beeswax candles, package them ethically, use only Australian made boxes, sealed with water activated gum paper tape (it’s non-toxic) and the labour to process the order, create the invoice, pick the goods, pack the goodies, handwrite a lovely note and pay for a 250 square metre building, electricity, wages, website and the like.  Yes, we are rorted on domestic shipping charges too.

The saddest part about it is that so many Australian companies are setting up their dispatch operations overseas.  Yes, Australian website, but all goods are shipped from overseas.  So Australia Post get only a very small % of the delivery fee charged by the international operator rather than 100% of the fee if that business had been able to base themselves locally.

And what really gets me is that rorting small business on shipping charges is a job killer.  Looking at our Google Analytics, we get as many hits from the UK and USA as we do in Australia, but we ship .0001% of the parcels to those destinations.  If we were able to get shipping rates comparative to what businesses of our size in those countries can get, we would need to employ a minimum of 2 additional people to handle those orders and the Government would have their hand in my pocket for company tax and in the pockets of those employees for income tax.  I am sure that the tax they would reap would more than compensate for any losses suffered by Australia Post.  And, yes, it is the Federal Government who own Australia Post and who could fix this immediately.

Now, just before you think this is one big whinge and that I’ve done nothing to try to fix it myself, think again.  I have raised this on 4 occasions with our “Relationship Manager” at Australia Post (and provided copies of my friend’s contract with Royal Mail so that they have hard, factual information).  Nothing has been done.  I raised it almost 2 years ago with the NSW Small Business Commissioner and again provided factual proof of the rates being offered by national carriers overseas and again nothing has been done (in fact Australia Post have had 3 massive price increases since then).  I’ve raised it with the Federal Small Business Minister (Brendan O’Connor at the time).  As you can see his response (which took 6 weeks to send) doesn’t actually address the problem or provide a solution. 20120814 Letter from Small Business Minister.  My email back to him along those lines was not answered.

So, what can you do?

Firstly, there is now a petition you can sign.  It says it is being sent to Australia Post. I sincerely hope that it is also sent to the Federal Small Business Minister and the Chamber of Commerce.

You could also write to the Minister for Small Business asking him to intervene personally in this decision made by a wholly owned Federal Government Enterprise that is killing the ability of Australian small business to compete internationally.

While you’re at it, why not write to Julia Gillard?  She claims to be the people’s Prime Minister, championing small business as “the engine room of the economy”.  Why then does she bend over backwards for big business and the mining sector and allow a government Business Enterprise to kill Australian small business.

Please feel free to share our facebook post.  This is something that affects EVERY Australian.  Whether you’re in mining, banking, fundraising, lawyering, small business, being a parent or any of the myriad of jobs we have, if we keep allowing money to flow out of the Australian economy (which is what happens when you order stuff from overseas) and we don’t have corresponding inflows (because our shipping charges are a joke… witness our current account deficit) then businesses fail which means less employment which means less money in the economy and that affects everyone.

This has to stop.  Not only must this decision be reversed, but Australian small businesses need to be offered globally competitive domestic and international shipping rates.  Fine, they may not want to offer those rates to everyone, but any small business shipping a reasonable number of parcels needs to be given rates that will allow them to compete.

Thank you for your time.  I implore you to please take action.  Whilst you may not think that this impacts on you, it does.  Regardless of what your job is, your future prosperity depends on a vibrant Australian economy and that means a vibrant, internationally competitive small business sector.

Cate

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Even though I absolutely love what I do, usually after a holiday I question whether I am up for what is required to keep Queen B going.  Today I found an ‘existential crisis’ booster shot.  An enthusiam steroid.  I think I may have found my manifesto… “Think Different” was the advertising slogan for Apple in 1997.  Too young to appreciate it then, I came across is today in a new magazine, Messenger Collective.

 

“Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent.
They imagine.
They heal.
They explore.
They create.
They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I have a lot to do now.  Happy first day back from the long weekend.  Take 5 minutes today to think, or be, crazy.  And if you feel so inclined, write and tell me about it.

Cate xx

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In my view of the world, people buying natural or organic products expect to be able to trust the producer to not be secretly using chemicals, or lying about organic certification.  Unfortunately there is a player in this industry who is untrustworthy.

Last week I wrote a blog post about lessons I’d learned, mistakes made and the things I’m proudest of.   At the same time, I’ve been sitting on this information for over a year and sitting on a draft of this post for over 6 months.  I’ve been sitting on it because I am sick of negativity and I didn’t want to seem negative and I feel as if I am revealing the silent shame of the industry I am so passionate about.

As I reflected during the past week on the lessons I’ve learned and what I stand for, I realised that I wasn’t completely ‘leading with passion’, ‘trusting my gut’, ‘choosing what is right (not what is right now)’ or ‘paving my own path’.  I am passionate about integrity.  My gut instinct is that people are sick of being lied to and we need to have this conversation.  I think it is ‘right’ (even at the risk of sounding negative) to air this.  And, goodness knows, I’m marching to the beat of my own drum/paving my own path!  And so it is that this post sees the light of day.

Claiming ‘certified organic beeswax’ when the wax you are using is not certified organic is,to me, a black and white issue.  Making the claim is not only misleading and deceptive (and thereby a breach of the Trade Practices Act), but also shows a complete lack of integrity.

According to the ACCC, “A business that labels its product as certified organic must ensure that its product is actually certified. Any business that falsely advertises that its product is certified will contravene the CCA“.

The CCA is the Competition and Consumer Act.  It “prohibits businesses from misleading or deceiving consumers, or from engaging in conduct that is likely to mislead or deceive. The CCA also prohibits businesses from making a range of false or misleading representations. Fines, injunctions and/or damages may be sought where businesses fail to meet these requirements“.

Having done my research and verified with their major beeswax supplier that they did not have organic certification [beekeepers are an honest breed] I called the ACCC and they said they are only able to investigate a small percentage of complaints made, but to put it in writing.  The conversation didn’t instill much confidence.  I feel like I could do with some bolstering.

How do you feel about businesses claiming their products are certified organic when they aren’t?

Unfortunately for us I know that these claims have impacted Queen B financially.  I know that, for me, organic certification is important in the food I buy and the products I use on my skin and in my home.  My gut feeling is that it would also be an important consideration to the type of person who would buy beeswax candles.  Two candles, side by side, one claiming certified organic and another not, I too would probably choose the one claiming certified organic, as I know many people have [although having been around for as long as I have, I would expect to see the certifying body on their website and if it wasn't there I'd email requesting those details].  I’ve randomly met them.  I’ve spoken to them on the phone.  I have to admit that it does make me mad that an ethical business can suffer because of another with no ethics.

There is a very good reason that we haven’t gone down the ‘certified organic’ path at Queen B.  Organic certification in so far as it relates to honey & beeswax is interesting.  Simply put, organic certification requires that your hives are 5km’s from the nearest industry or chemically sprayed field, and as bees can fly up to 14km’s, certification is an expensive marketing ploy.  That, of course, is a very simplistic explanation, but the fact remains that it is rare to find a third or fourth generation beekeeper who has gone down the path of organic certification.  They employ good husbandry to ensure their hives are healthy and antibiotic & chemical treatment free.  Every beekeeper that we buy from is a third, fourth or fifth generation beekeeper.  I value experience and integrity over marketing.

If you have been duped by these claims of organic certification, I’d love it if you could pop me an email… I assume that the ACCC, like me, appreciate evidence and the more evidence I have, the better.

And finally, because I just worked out how to use polls on WordPress and I think they’re fabulous -

If you’re going for ‘other’ please keep it clean because I’m moderating the comments so that this doesn’t get out of hand!

As always I appreciate your comments and feedback whether here, on facebook, on twitter or privately via email.  If you do feel passionately about this, please spread the word so that others can have their say too.

Cate x

 

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I had two blog posts that I wanted to work on today and initially thought they were separate subjects.  One on “Buy Nothing New Month” and one on Conscious Giving – but then I realised that they’re really one and the same.

I must admit that my initial (knee-jerk) reaction to Buy Nothing New Month was one of horror.  Taken literally, that would be a complete disaster not just for Queen B, but for thousands of Australian manufacturers and small businesses.  Then I started thinking about how it really doesn’t apply to our candles!  Being beeswax, they are essentially recycled.  They’re not ‘new’.  We take a waste product from honey production and turn it into something functional.  Beeswax candles are as ‘vintage’ as it gets.  My lawyer brain was working overtime!

Then I read on…

It’s about thinking where our stuff comes from (finite resources) and where it goes when we’re done (often landfill) and what are the fantastic alternatives out there to extend the life of our ‘stuff’.”

And you know what, I really get that.  I think about that stuff on a daily basis.  It’s one of the reasons that we only use 100% pure Australian beeswax – infinite (if we look after our bees), long lasting, naturally carbon neutral, non-toxic, no landfill content (soy, palm and paraffin all have a very high environmental cost).  It’s why we don’t make square candles (too much wasted beeswax).  It’s why we use sinamay bags (a waste product from banana harvesting that is completely biodegradable).  It’s why we use Australian sourced, FSC certified card for our packaging (smaller environmental footprint than recycled card as it turns out).

And that then gets me on to my second post which was all about conscious giving.  Choosing carefully.  While it may seem too early to be talking about the festive season, when you’re pouring candles individually from an enamel teapot, you get started on Christmas early!… and I happen to know that we have lots of ‘A type’ personalities in our customer base (takes one to know one) who are planning end of year teachers gifts!  Anyway, I acknowledge my own bias, but if you are considering gifts (be they birthday, corporate, festive, teachers, lovers or just because), then I know that giving a Queen B candle is a gift that gives many times over.

As for ‘buy nothing new month’, I suggest that we change it to ‘buy consciously every day of the year’.  That Queen B lady… She’s a crazy one!

 

 


Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holderspersonalised candlesvotive candlestealight candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.

 

 

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From my perspective addressing sustainability and ethical issues in business is about addressing every single little thing that you CAN control, rather than throwing in the towel because of things that you can’t.

From a business ethics perspective the bottom line for me is that I have a very broad definition of who the ‘shareholders’ of Queen B are.  If you look at our company register, the sole shareholder is me.  However, I consider the shareholders to be our worker bees (staff), our beekeepers, the myriad of other Australian companies that we buy from and our customers whose lives we light.  Where a listed company may make decisions that are completely contrary to the best interests of their workers or growers on the basis that it is in the best interests of their shareholders, I don’t. Happy workers are my shareholders. Financially viable beekeepers are my shareholders. And where most companies simply focus on cutting costs by sourcing goods cheaper (typically overseas), I don’t.  Australian manufacturers and suppliers are my shareholders.

It’s definitely a fine line to walk and often not the easiest option. With our customers as a shareholder, we haven’t put our prices up at Queen B in over 5 years and yet all of our costs have risen. We may make less per candle, but my philosophy is that so long as we keep growing, we are able to support the rising costs. Happy customers with lives that can be candlelit affordably are our shareholders – and having never spent even $1 on advertising, our customers are also our greatest advocates.

To be honest, issues of sustainability, supporting local businesses & toxicity have been front of mind since Queen B was just a twinkle. It was my original driver behind the choice to make candles from pure Australian beeswax only.

There are lots of things that I can’t control at Queen B, here are a few that I can…

Beeswax

Our single biggest input is obviously beeswax. We only use 100% pure Australian beeswax – sourced predominantly from NSW beekeepers. Australian beeswax is about the most expensive beeswax in the world. Obviously we could import it far cheaper from China (and it was a no-brainer to say no to that). We could also get it around 30% cheaper from New Zealand. It’s less easy to say no to that.  I am sure that the vast majority of our customers would not have an issue with New Zealand beeswax (and nor do I in principle), but I would far rather support Australian beekeepers and regional communities. By buying local beeswax, not only do I help pay the wages of our beekeepers and their workers, but they then spend their money in the local community so we support those wages too. It has a money multiplier effect.  Every dollar that we spend with our beekeepers helps to keep Australia’s regional communities viable.

Cleaning Wax

In the first instance I just ensure that we buy clean wax. While this may seem obvious and simple, the vast majority of beeswax candles are made with wax that is dirty. You can read more about it in my post – Why the White Wax Queenie? We took this a step further because a lot of white beeswax is simply bleached which chemicals. We don’t use chemicals at Queen B and clean our wax over 48 hours ‘washing’ it with water and filtering it through a 300 micron filter.  It sounds simple, and yet it was years in the learning.  It is an exacting science to not waterlog or scald beeswax.Wicks & Other Additives

We only use 100% pure cotton wicks at Queen B rejecting any wick with a ‘core’ – be that zinc, paper, cotton or otherwise. We don’t use those silly wood wicks for obvious reasons. We don’t add scents to our candles (be they fragrant oils or essential oils) because combusting an oil creates toxic emissions. We don’t add colouring to our wax for the same reason. For more information on the paint we use to decorate our rolled pillars see the post – The Million Dollar Question.

Candle-making by Hand

I choose very consciously to continue making every Queen B candle by hand.

Most other companies our size have long since moved to mechanised production, but I choose to create the jobs created by hand-pouring, hand-rolling and individually painting every Queen B candle and I genuinely believe that a product made by a human being is far superior to one made by machinery. Not sure how hippy you want to get about it, but I think it creates consciousness in every candle.

 

Packaging

We have 3 different types of packaging at Queen B – printed packaging, sinamay bags and cardboard tubes.

All of our printing is done in Sydney by a family owned, ISO 14001 certified environmental printer. Our printing is done with non-toxic, soy based inks. We use a combination of recycled and FSC certified card. Recycled primarily from the early days before I understood the chemicals and energy requirements of recycling paper. More recently Australian sourced FSC Certified card.

Another range of packaging is made from sinamay which is a waste product from harvesting banana’s. Sinamay is natural and 100% biodegradable.

When we launched our new range of Australian made metal candleholders, I had a vision of them being packaged in cardboard tubes. Fifteen calls to Australian manufacturers later all I had was a series of “no, too hard” conversations. On the sixteenth phone call I got quite shitty and gave the guy a piece of my mind about manufacturers whining about production being done in China whilst saying no to someone wanting something made here, and VOILA. We had a meeting of minds! It required 2 engineering companies to get it to work, but I couldn’t be prouder of our beautiful cardboard tube packaging and we now have a packaging capability in Australia that simply didn’t exist until we fought for it.

Shipping
There’s lots to this one.  Firstly, the biggie, we use Australia Post for most of our shipping because they have trucks going everywhere in Australia anyway.  Hence the carbon footprint we create by sending a parcel is negligible.

In terms of packing materials, we reuse all packaging that comes into Queen B (even bubble wrap and things we have never bought in the almost 10 years we’ve been in existence).  When we purchase boxes, we purchase boxes that are made in

Australia (they’re quite hard to find (look at the photo for a tip) and unfortunately significantly more expensive than imported boxes).  For larger boxes, we purchase second hand boxes.

We use biodegradable corn flour packing foam in our smaller parcels (which disintegrates in water or can be added to compost) and have roped some of our neighbours in to shredding and then giving us their shredded paper!

Candleholders
When we were trying to source Wee Willie Winkie candleholders, we couldn’t find any that were Australian made. So, we found a local foundry and worked with them.  The difference between the our Australian made ones and the overseas made ones are absolutely noticeable.  To me, its a no brainer.  The thing I love is that when something is well made, it has longevity.  I can guarantee you that Queen B candleholders will be prized items from antique stores in 100 years!

Same goes for our Bee Light holders – they are all made locally by a metal turner. They may cost more (both the holders and the packaging are expensive), BUT every one that we sell doesn’t just line my pockets (and someone’s pockets overseas).  We earn less ourselves but support other Australian manufacturers and help to keep those skills alive in Australia.  Honestly, that’s what rocks my boat.  In fact his father came into the hive today with his girlfriend (both in their late 70′s) and he told me that he had used Queen B candles to seduce her!  Can’t put a value on that.

Community

Being part of a community is in many ways my lifeblood. I am very blessed (and blown away) to have a group of (primarily) women who do all of the packing at Queen B on a volunteer basis. I can say hand on heart that there is no way that Queen B would be in existence were it not for their generosity and support.

I have an immediate community of other locals and foster that with “slow cooker Thursdays” (lunch) in winter.  And I love being a part of the broader beekeeping community and have volunteered for many years on the Honey Stand at the Royal Easter Show.  And of course every second year we bring together some of the Queen B community with our Hive Warming parties!

Charity

This is an interesting one because in many ways Queen B is run as a charity in that it has never really been overly profitable. Having said that, I’d obviously love it to be. We are inundated with requests for free product and my approach is that nothing worthwhile in life is free. Our bees work diligently to make the wax. Our beekeepers work extraordinarily hard to collect that wax and we work long hours to create Queen B candles. They are costly to make and worth paying for. The exception to that rule is causes to do with depression and anxiety which we support because I feel strongly about them and because they aren’t ‘sexy’ generally struggle to garner support.

In summary, I guess for me it is all about being accountable.  I try to make conscious decisions that will make a difference to as many people as possible.  If I’m going to spend a dollar, I would like it to benefit more than just me.  Love that money multiplier!  These things have a ripple effect, but ultimately have to start somewhere.

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