How P.F. Candle Co. is Illuminating Their Climate Action Journey

Bridget Thorpe
November 1, 2023
Learn more about P.F. Candle Co.'s climate action efforts, including a remarkable 40% YoY reduction in carbon emissions, and how they're lighting the way for a greener, more environmentally-conscious future.

Tell us a bit about P.F. Candle Co.  

P.F. Candle Co started in 2008 as Pommes Frites. My partner, Kristen Pumphrey, was laid off from a job in publishing in 2008 and decided to make a handmade business. The company's first version made all sorts of products upcycled from used goods. It was soy candles repoured into used containers. Safes made of books people were going to trash.

In 2012, the line was reduced to soy candles in the amber jar we are now known for. From there, we received big orders from big retailers and expanded the business into other home fragrance categories like incense and reed diffusers.

Tell us a bit about your climate action journey. 

Our climate action journey starts with the creation of our business. We started upcycling and selling candles with soy, a renewable resource, instead of paraffin, the most common candle wax at the time. As the company grew and our environmental impact increased, we looked to see how to keep to our core ecological beliefs. 

Why did you choose to become Climate Neutral Certified?  Why was certification important to the P.F. Candle Co. team? 

We are all facing one enormous challenge: climate change, and it’s so significant that it should be all of our top concerns. We decided to make soy candles an eco-friendly alternative to paraffin wax candles. We’ve imagined a world where we could replace each carbon-positive emitting candle with our carbon-neutral soy candles. What if we could reduce our impact from selling a theoretically carbon-neutral product to moving to zero carbon emissions as an organization? 

We discovered The Change Climate Project through another brand we admire, East Fork Pottery. We did our research and found that we could start by offsetting our current carbon output and working on getting to zero carbon emissions by following Change Climatel’s framework. It became clear that we needed certification to demonstrate that we took this issue very seriously. 

What climate action challenges have you overcome? 

Wow, the challenges are many. Is there a word count limit here? Most serious is our ingrained behavior. As an avid cyclist in Los Angeles, I see it daily on the streets, so I think it’s an easy example. I don’t think people want to change their lifestyles. More than 20% of all our societal carbon emissions come from our transportation. You’d think it would be easy to be like hey, stop driving in a car by yourself. Try riding a bike or the train or even carpooling. Carpool directly reduces your carbon output by the number of people in your vehicle. 

People like convenience, and changing ingrained behavior is hard. Reducing our carbon footprint to a sustainable level will require considerable changes in our daily routines. When you try tackling climate change, you will come up with that resistance everywhere you look. I don’t think we’ve solved it, but we’ve had to work on the single transportation issue from multiple fronts as an organization. First, we’ve given everyone free public transportation cards. Second, we do not subsidize parking for our employees. Third, we incentivize alternative transportation through cash incentives. It’s had a negligible impact, but I’ve noticed maybe 5-10% of staff make other changes in their behavior. Astonishingly, many of those changes extend outside the workplace into their personal lives. 

Kristen and I lead by example by riding our bikes to work every day. We’ve got our car usage down to once a week.

What value does the P.F. Candle Co. team gain from becoming Climate Neutral Certified? Why is annual recertification a priority? 

We receive two valuable things from being Climate Neutral Certified. First is tools to tackle our carbon emissions. The Change Climate Project allows us to measure the carbon footprint in a way that we couldn’t do in-house. With that measurement, they provide valuable insight into your current emissions. The second is the credibility of an outside organization. When a company has a well-respected organization certify their action, it gives more credibility to our statements regarding carbon emissions.

P.F. Candle Co. has achieved an impressive 40% YoY reduction progress.  Tell us about this initiative in detail.  

I don’t think I realized what we had done at first, but it makes sense; again, environmentalism is a core tenant of our organization. We take it very seriously, and I am glad we could make such a difference in such a little time.

How did you determine where you would focus your reduction efforts?

After we measured our carbon footprint, we looked at the data and decided that where we could make the quickest difference was our direct operations. As I’ve said, getting others on board with carbon reductions is hard; people don’t want to do it, but if we could do it ourselves, we could make a bigger difference immediately.

Did you make investments in reductions?  Either in your direct operations or throughout your value chain?

We aimed to reduce it in two ways: Reduce our energy consumption and reduce the materials used for our products. If we could change our energy consumption to renewable, we’d be able to reduce carbon immediately in our operations, so that switch was easy. 

We also looked at the facilities we were using and asked ourselves if we reduced redundancies and combined operations, could we see an increase in our efficiencies? That had us close a store that wasn’t meeting expectations sooner than later and combine production usage to get more out of our facilities. 

Secondly, one of our largest buckets of emissions was the materials we used to make our products. I was once given this great insight from a former employee - the point of packaging is just to be thrown away. That inspired our company to reduce our packaging needs to just the most useful bits. This is another area we push against consumer expectations because, with a luxury good like a candle, people want the box to make it feel special. But we have to stay true to our values.

What would you say has been the key to making such incredible progress?

Being able to make hard choices and fight against resistance is key to being able to make progress.

How can others learn from your success? 

Others can make similar changes if they believe in that. Making hard choices is easy if you think it will make a difference in the long run. Regarding where to start, go for what is easy, and you can make some real differences immediately.

How do you build the business case for your yearly compensation budget? Or, how do you budget for these costs? 

Building a business case is easy because my partner (in life and business) Kristen and I own and operate our company. We are the shareholders, so our interests are represented in our decision-making. In the end, the eco-friendly decision is always the best financially. Using less energy is cheaper. Having less packaging is cheaper. Moving away from carbon-intensive shipping like next-day air is cheaper. I always tell my staff I’m not being cheap; I’m just trying to do my part environmentally.

What 3 tips would you recommend to someone interested in taking climate action?  

  1. Be prepared for resistance
  2. Start with the no-brainers
  3. Make it a core aspect of your business, and it will come naturally

How do you help your customers be more accountable on climate? 

To make customers accountable, you must make decisions for them. This is counter to our hyper-customizable world. Take away the bad choices so they don’t have to make them. Have a good product, and customers will meet you there.

Has the Climate Neutral Certification built trust with your customers? 

The Climate Neutral Certification has simplified our team's narrative around our climate impacts. It’s easy to explain the process and link to the program to get the validity of an outside organization.

What’s next for P.F. Candle Co.? 

We’re off to ride bikes and pour candles :). I think the hardest work is ahead of us. We have very little we can do that is our direct operations, so now we are focused on getting other organizations we work with on track to managing their climate impacts.

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About the Author

Bridget Thorpe
Communications Manager

Bridget brings experience directing climate communications for entrepreneurial and global Fortune 500 brands. She holds an MBA in Marketing and Governance and is passionate about bringing sustainability narratives to life. Bridget lives in her Hawaii hometown. You’ll likely find her at the local bakery or frolicking outdoors with family and her dog Panda.

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