Over the past few months, Rutgers Business School student Abdulrafay Amir has been interning with the Office of Sustainability’s Green Business Program. As environmental concerns grow around online shopping, he has been researching and identifying opportunities for the JC ecommerce community to reduce emissions and costs. He has also assisted with the recertification process of the Green Business Program and general outreach to businesses.

Abdulrafay recently sat down to virtually interview Jenna Pantin of Chaconia Candles, a certified green businesses. He wanted to learn more about Chaconia Candles and how Jenna has embedded green practices into her ecommerce operations.

Read more below. 

Meet Jenna of Chaconia Candles

Tell us about Chaconia Candles and types of products you offer. What inspired you to create your own business and why did you choose this industry?

Chaconia Candles was created in the middle of the pandemic; there were many things that I was seeing in our communities such as healthcare disparities, food insecurity and a decline in mental and emotional wellness. I wanted to build myself up and my community by providing products that could invigorate positive well-being and illuminate memories of contentment.

I came to the realization that scent plays a vital role in our emotions and moods and it can help reduce stress and anxiety. Therefore, our goal is to continuously make and provide non-toxic, clean-burning, high quality, cruelty-free, vegan products that can be added to someone’s emotional and wellness routine. This is a natural way to help heal the mind, body, and soul. We started with our candle jars but now our collection has expanded to reed diffusers, room and linen sprays, and more.

In the midst of a pandemic, I became an entrepreneur, expanded on my dreams and broke the mental chains that society has placed upon the black and brown communities. In these communities, the end-goal tends to be centered towards getting a degree and a good job but entrepreneurship is not encouraged or taught well. I pursued entrepreneurship for myself, for my community but also for my family — as a way to build generational wealth for them.

Sustainability was the key focus when we were planning Chaconia Candles. As a family, we are intentionally sustainable in all that we do. We aren’t perfect but we are always finding ways to repurpose, reduce, reuse and recycle.

What motivated you and your company to become a certified Green Business in Jersey City? Why do you think it is important for all businesses to practice environmentally sustainable practices?

I started looking into support programs for sustainable small businesses and that is how I came across the Jersey City Office of Sustainability and the Green Business Program. Recognition for our sustainability efforts is important, but we also want to use our platform to spread the word about ecofriendly practices. At first, implementing green business practices may seem overwhelming to small businesses. There is also the stigma that sustainable business practices are costly but that is not always the case. You have to strategize and do research, but through a little bit of extra effort it is possible.

On our website we call Earth “Our Paradise.” We believe that our communities and the planet are interconnected, and we cannot improve one without the other. Businesses and communities big and small have to do their part to preserve our home. It is important to recognize that it is not a one-person job and everyone needs to be involved.

 

Why should a conscious consumer choose your company when looking to buy the products you offer? How do you believe that you separate yourself from the rest of your competitors?

At Chaconia Candles, we are intentional and mindful about our sustainability efforts especially as it relates to the ingredients in our products. We focus on incorporating non-toxic, clean-burning materials into our candles with our community and family in mind.

It all starts at home. Because our house is also our home, office, school and daycare, we want to make sure that our home products can be extended into the homes of our community.  We use coconut wax, the most eco-friendly wax option with a low environmental impact, and we also use various essential oils that are paraben, sulfate and phthalate free.  Our products are also cruelty free and vegan.

When we make our linen sprays — which we recently launched — we use 100% organic, wild harvested and botanically derived bases with 14% organic gluten-free alcohol. We also use a lot of naturally biodegradable packaging, including our fully recyclable wrap called “green wrap” used to package candles and compostable bags and packaging peanuts. Our candle boxes are sustainably sourced and recyclable. Our labels our 100% recyclable. We try our best to make our candles during the daytime to maximize sunlight and minimize electricity usage. We upcycle and recycle boxes and the biodegradable peanuts from our vendors as well.

 

As seen in your conversations about the green business program, you practice carbon offsetting. Can you explain the benefit of this new and upcoming trend with regard to sustainable business practices — especially in ecommerce?

Everyone has a carbon footprint. By doing a quick online search, we can start to understand the amount of green house gases that are generated by our daily activities. We can all work together to reduce and offset our greenhouse gas emissions.

In our case, Chaconia Candles is not only conscious about our ingredients but also our vendors. A lot of research goes into the vendor selection process. We look into the company’s sustainability efforts and we try to dig deep to see how they source their products.

We also work with local vendors and we are continuing to explore closer options. One of our distributors — who sells a very important ingredient used in our products — offers carbon neutral shipping. Even though these shipping costs are a little more expensive, we still want to be a part of the movement that is committed to reducing carbon emissions.

We also try to be as strategic as possible when we purchase raw materials. We try to plan ahead and buy in bulk every three months in order to reduce the amount of shipping.

 

How do you educate your employees and customers about the importance of these practices?

Currently I don’t have any employees, even though my husband and 6-year-old daughter help out. However, the education and awareness starts at home and my daughter reminds us to prioritize sustainability efforts. In order to embrace sustainable habits, it is important to start at home and work from the inside out.

For our community, which is what I call my customers, I use social media to raise awareness and education. I try to show that sustainability isn’t this heavy lift, and we don’t have to be superheroes in order to play a part. I try to reduce the stigma behind sustainable practices by showing that we need to start at home. Creating advocates and ambassadors at home and encouraging future generations to carry this on is key.

 

Are there any local or environmental organizations that you partner with?

I have partnered with a few groups such as Sustainable JC and Greener JC. I think these collaborations are very important because using our platforms to drive awareness is beneficial.  Meeting individuals and organizations that are relatable can help to raise awareness and push innovative ideas to make sustainability practices less overwhelming. They can also help you answer important questions like, “Can I actually save money or create products without incurring more expenses?”

I have also spoken once or twice with the Jersey City Environmental Commission. I have also reached out to colleges for the opportunity to speak to the youth. On the side I am a public speaking and speech fundamentals teacher; I love to use my voice to elevate and amplify other voices and at the same time help small businesses and organizations connect with one another.

Small businesses, whether new or seasoned, have come to me for advice. One example I remember is a business owner who was interested in green practices but had no idea how or where to start. I sent her some ideas and links to organizations that could help her out. This is why strong partnerships with nonprofit organizations and local groups is beneficial to the small business community.

 

Do you feel that you have made an impact on your community and have inspired them to follow in your footsteps?

I do believe so. I love that our community supports us and our efforts and also explores these sustainable efforts on their own. I love to talk to other business owners and exchange tips and ideas. Using social media to expand our reach has helped us create a support system, which fosters opportunities for us to grow and connect with each other.

 

What advice would you give to business owners who are looking to incorporate green business practices but don’t know where to start?

Start small! Don’t become overwhelmed which often leads to inaction and procrastination. Explore ongoing efforts in your city and state and check out the local environmental commission and other sustainability-related nonprofits. Explore your community’s concerns such as emissions reductions or plastic pollution and just go from there to expand and further yourselves as a business.

 

Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

First of all, thank you for this opportunity. Also, thanks to the Green Business Program internship for expanding the work that the Office of Sustainability is doing. I appreciate everything that the city and the office is doing as a whole to recognize and continue to educate businesses.

I particularly love that you use your platform to create local environmental ambassadors, especially at a younger age when students are laying down their foundations. Creating sustainable initiatives in schools and taking it a step further by involving parents can make it impactful and valuable. I also think that maybe we can start exploring how sustainability values vary among immigrant groups. Where I come from, in Trinidad and Tobago, we did not have big sustainability practices up until recently but now we are looking at the environment and the harm and damage we have all done.

I think we need to look at our actions with a lens of hope. We need to look at how we can best reach our community and how we can create ambassadors within our youth community. We need to think how we can foster curiousity and growth in individuals and how that approach looks like with different targeted groups and demographics. Let’s start thinking about how we can empower those communities and how they can contribute their values to our Earth and Our Paradise.

For more information about Chaconia Candles visit www.chaconiacandles.com