Today we’re incredibly excited to announce the launch of our ecologically restorative palm wax.
When we started Keap seven years ago, we dreamed our candles and company could be vessels for creating impact and reconnection. Central to this mission was a particular vision of the future: What if buying the things we love the most left the world in a better state?
Looking around us, we saw that nature had already figured out this equation with elegant brilliance. In healthy natural environments, each participant gives back more than it takes. We simply needed to find ways to mimic nature and create these positive ripple effects through our work.
In those early days of Keap, we struggled to find candle supplies that would live up to this vision. We wrote extensively about our initial wax choice, coconut wax, and why we felt it was far from perfect in terms of transparency and impact. For these past seven years, we’ve continued searching for a wax with a net benefit to the planet.
We finally found it, and today we announce the launch of our new ecologically restorative wax formula! For every Keap candle you enjoy, you’ll be directly supporting a thriving, fertile, and regenerative future.
“For every Keap candle you enjoy, you’ll be directly supporting a thriving, fertile, and regenerative future.”
A biodiverse and regenerative palm farm in Ecuador; Source: Natural Habitats.
The source of our new wax may come as a surprise to you: oil palm. Yes, the very same one that has accompanied a great deal of environmental devastation around the world. Like us, you might wonder how oil palm can be beneficial. As we noted in our original story on coconut wax, the answer lies in stepping back and rethinking the entire system in which oil palm is cultivated.
Oil palms are typically planted in vast, monocropped plantations designed to maximize short-term palm oil production for maximal short-term profit. Under this model, rich ecosystems are wilfully destroyed to make way for oil palm plantations. Like the environments and biodiversity left in its wake, this system treats its other constituents poorly — from the farmers to the soil. The price is being paid beyond habitat loss, with soil health diminishing, extensive flooding caused by lack of ground cover, and a broad range of environmental issues affecting local communities and biodiversity. The current global industrial agricultural system is inherently destructive no matter which way you look at it.
The key insight here is that palm itself is not a destructive plant. In fact, it has many wonderful qualities that make it an incredible crop humans will want to continue cultivating. Its incredibly high yields mean that substituting it for other oil crops would require significantly more land devoted to agriculture. The appropriate solution lies in growing palm in ways where it too can become a net benefit to the environment and communities it's grown in.
“Palm itself is not a destructive plant. In fact, it has many wonderful qualities that make it an incredible crop humans will want to continue cultivating.”
Old-growth forest next to a vast oil palm monoculture plantation in Borneo; Source: Science
In 2019 we traveled to North America’s biggest natural products show, ExpoWest, in the hopes of finding some inspiring companies to learn from and work with. We were not disappointed. At ExpoWest, we learned about the work of the regenerative organic alliance and developed a deeper understanding of Dr. Bronner’s inspiring work to create regenerative coconut and palm projects.
Gero Leson, who leads Dr. Bronner’s work on organic farming projects around the world, graciously offered us some advice. With Gero’s help, we explored whether Keap could source raw materials from Dr. Bronner’s own projects and suppliers. That led us to Natural Habitats, a long-time partner of Dr. Bronner’s and a sustainable producer of organic palm oil committed to regenerative farming practices, biodiversity, conservation, and non-extractive community-building practices. Gero thought they might be able to provide us with functional candle wax raw materials.
Stephen + Harry at ExpoWest’s Climate Collaborative event in 2019
As luck would have it, Natural Habitats was also exhibiting at this conference, and we got a chance to learn from their team firsthand. Natural Habitats helps grow and produce organic oil palms in Ecuador with methods that transform previously deforested farmland into healthy forest ecosystems. Their farms have gained the most stringent certifications associated with healthy farming practices — from organic and fair trade to Non-GMO and Fair for Life.
“The system of agriculture used by Natural Habitats creates resilient, healthy, and abundant ecosystems for people and the planet.”
The system of agriculture used by Natural Habitats creates resilient, healthy, and abundant ecosystems for people and the planet. These techniques have existed in human cultures for millennia and are now known as regenerative agriculture, an approach to farming that emphasizes working within the features and limits of natural environments instead of against them. Biodiverse ecosystems of local plants and animals are encouraged alongside cultivated crops, chemical pesticides and fertilizers are banned, and the health of all — from humans to the soil — is prioritized. The results are lush environments that can thrive indefinitely thanks to natural balance and resilience, all while creating ecosystems for plants and animals, enabling livelihoods and sustenance for local communities, and sequestering carbon for the future of the planet.
Natural Habitats' products are cultivated using biodiverse organic practices like intercropping with cacao and bananas. Source: Natural Habitats
Understanding that palm can be grown in a way that leaves the planet and people better off opened our minds to palm’s potential. We came to see that oil palm should not be vilified. Rather, we need to move away from the destructive methods used to cultivate it. In fact, palm offers us a blueprint for the immense potential we have to change the world through restorative farming practices via the production methods we support, not just the ingredients we buy. There are deeper lessons in this too about rethinking the way we operate our company and about our own individual impacts.
With this spirit, we embarked on the final leg of a multi-year journey of research and development. We have worked tirelessly to take Natural Habitats’ palm wax and figure out the best methods to use it in all our scented candles. Finally, after many months of experimentation (following years of experimentation with a variety of other ingredients), we’ve found the perfect techniques. We’re ready to move ahead with this new ingredient as the basis for all our candles, and we’re incredibly excited to start pouring our candles with this wax.
Not a Keap candle maker, but rather a three-toed sloth—one of many animals inhabiting Ecuador's biodiverse ecosystems.
If you’re curious about palm’s surprising potential to be a meaningful solution to the environmental crisis, we’ve covered this topic in much more detail here. We highly encourage you to read this to learn more — not just about the palm industry, but about the exciting transitions towards regenerative agriculture happening in the world and what we can learn from this as a society.
Similarly, we’ve written more deeply about our partner Natural Habitats and how they work on the ground in Ecuador here. Again, this is a great read if you’re curious to learn more about the ins and outs of the practices being utilized so that oil palms (and your candles) can regenerate healthy environments and support flourishing communities in this stunningly abundant tropical region.
With warmth and hope,
— Stephen + Harry