Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Archive for May, 2013

So what about palm oil?

One of the most widely used oils in handmade soap is palm oil. The properties of palm oil contribute to a hard, long lasting bar with stable lather. However, over the past few years, palm oil has been increasingly in the press because of its impact on the rainforest, and more specifically the fate of the orangutan.

Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the African palm oil tree, originally from West Africa, but can be grown anywhere there is heat and significant rainfall. Today the majority of palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

It is estimated that palm oil is in 50% of products, including baked goods, candy, cosmetics and cleaning products. This is due to the fact that it is one of the highest yielding sources of vegetable oil, making it more profitable than other common vegetable oils such as corn and cottonseed. The use of palm oil has doubled over the past decade, and some plantation owners in Indonesia and Malaysia have cut down acres of virgin rainforest and peat lands to plant palm trees. This has prompted concern on the part of environmentalists due to the destruction of habitat for many species, including the orangutan, as well as the increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions due to oil palm cultivation on peat land.

Soapmakers around the world have responded in one of three ways: eliminate all palm oil from their formulas, switch to using sustainably harvested palm oil, or continue to use palm oil without thought for the source.

I considered removing palm oil from our soaps, and researched several different recipes, but I like the qualities that palm oil brings to our soap, and wasn’t happy with the substitutions, so I researched the next option….sustainably harvested palm oil. The RSPOis a not-for-profit, market-led association that represents stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs – to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil. I won’t go in to great detail on the organization, you can check out their website for details on the participants and their objectives, and a quick Google search will highlight the various supporters and critics of the organization.

Suffice it to say that the solution is not perfect. While admirable in its intent, there are flaws including difficulty in ensuring that sustainable palm oil is not mixed with the general supply, as well as no real ability to enforce any of their mandates.

My point of view on this issue is similar to my stand on fossil fuels. As much as I would like to think we could move completely to renewable energy resources, I am a realist. The majority of people on this earth will not stop using fossil fuels until they either disappear or become so expensive that they cannot afford them. Likewise, the vast majority of consumers do not read labels, and even if they did, will not make a decision to boycott a product because of its impact on orangutans and rainforest. So how do we affect the situation?

I am a firm believer in voting with my wallet. If we stop purchasing palm oil, we are no longer part of the quantified or tracked market for palm oil sales, and we become all but invisible to the palm oil producers. However, if we take our dollars away from the traditional palm oil suppliers and direct it instead to sustainable sources, that shift of dollars will appear on annual sales analyses, and be reviewed and discussed by the palm oil producers. If enough of us make that shift, we will eventually reach the tipping point, where producers realize that there is money to be made from producing sustainable palm oil, especially since they can charge a premium for the product.

So how do we make this shift as manufacturers? Each supplier will indicate right on their product page if the palm oil is from sustainable sources. Personally, we at BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks have gone a step further, and have begun purchasing palm oil sourced from Brazil. The palm oil industry in Brazil is much smaller than the Asian market, but is being aggressively expanded. Due to decades of work on the part of environmentalists, Brazil has much stricter environmental laws to protect the rainforest, as well as aggressive plans to convert existing cattle pasture to palm oil plantations. Over 70% of the deforested land in the rainforest is currently in cattle production. Converting this land to palm oil production would benefit both the environment and the populace. Oil palm stores 6 to 7 times the carbon as cattle pasture, and employs 1 worker per 20 acres of plantation, compared to 1 worker per 500 acres for soy farming, and 1 worker for 1000+ acres on a cattle ranch. Environment 360 has a good article on the subject. If you’re looking for palm oil from Brazil, pop on over to New Directions Aromatics

Of course switching to sustainably sourced raw materials comes at a cost….sustainably harvested oil sells for twice the price of non-sustainably harvested product, but what is it worth to you to protect the environment and the animals that depend on it for survival? Remember that the next time you wonder “Why is handmade soap more expensive than my supermarket or drugstore brand?”, and read the ingredients. You may be helping to save the planet every time you take a shower!

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And now for something completely different!

Recently someone posted a question on a Facebook group wondering how people managed their time effectively, which got me thinking about how I would answer that. I live on my iPhone and iPad, running two businesses and my life from their keyboards, so my solution is definitely App driven!

During the past few months, I have felt completely overwhelmed and under motivated: a very bad combination. After much consideration, I seem to have turned the corner and emerged with new energy, probably more because of spring finally arriving than any great effort on my part, but for whatever reason, things are looking up.

I have implemented four strategies which are helping me get my life under control, or at least something that resembles control!

The first App that I use is Priority Matrix. This is a master To Do list that comprises tasks from all areas of your life, work, home, personal, volunteering, whatever applies to you. Tasks are divided into 4 categories: Critical & Immediate, Critical but not Immediate, Not Critical but Immediate, and Uncategorized. Taking examples from my current list, “Order shaving brushes” is Critical & Immediate because I need them for Father’s Day promotions, and if I don’t order them soon, I will miss out on revenue. “Do daily Facebook updates” is on my Critical but not Immediate” list, because while it is critical for the success of my overall marketing plan, the world will not stop turning if it gets done next week instead of today. Moving on to “Not Critical but Immediate”, this would include doing laundry or cleaning the kitchen. Neither one will advance my business, but let’s face it….clean clothes are a necessity! The remaining category is for all those other things that you need to get around to some day, like organizing the linen closet, or sorting through those boxes in the basement.

Priority Matrix is a wonderful tool, but on its’ own does not keep me organized and productive. The next App I downloaded was To Do List…there are many options available, some quite complex, but I chose one by Pro Sellers World LLC. All I need is the ability to list two or three daily priorities and check them off as I complete them, and this does the job.

Next up, Lift, an App that allows me to set up habits that I wish to form, then charts my progress in performing the various activities. For example, my list includes simple tasks such as “Make the bed” and “Do one complete load of laundry daily”, as well as “Write a blog post”, “Update Soapmaker”, and “Set daily priorities”. This last habit is the one that makes the whole time management plan work. If I choose 2 or 3 items from my Priority Matrix each day, set them as my Daily Priorities and actually complete them, before long I am whipping through what used to feel like a never ending and overwhelming pile of “stuff” that needed to be done.

The last cog in my wheel is an App called “Un#$!& Your Habitat. There are 3 ways to use this App: you can ask it to give you a random 5, 10, or 20 minute challenge, which could be : 5 min – dust the TV and electronic equipment in the living room; 10 min – pick any room, pick up the stuff that has accumulated that doesn’t belong, put it back where it belongs, and throw out any trash; 20 min – do your bleepety bleep dishes! You can also have it time you, give you motivational “speeches” etc. Fair warning, as you can tell from the name of the App, this one is not PG rated, but I find it quite useful for motivating me…it reminds me of how much I can actually accomplish in a very short period of time, which means my housekeeping consists of a series of brief tasks during the week, rather than a 3 hour marathon on the weekend. In theory anyway….this one is definitely a work in progress 🙂

If you need any more inspiration/motivation, check out Flylady.net for help in figuring out what daily, weekly, monthly habits can make your housekeeping a breeze!

So there you have it…my time management secrets! I’m using iPhone and iPad apps for this, but you could very easily do the same thing writing everything down in a special notebook….just don’t use Post-it notes or other scraps of paper…you know you’re going to lose them!

Tomorrow it’s back to business with a post on palm oil…use it or lose it?

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