The term “carbon footprint” has been used alongside phrases such as global warming, climate change, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and endangered species for some time now. What would be surprising to many people is to hear the term associated with a remedy as natural as the cannabis plant. However, with legalization rapidly spreading across the globe, the demand for cannabis products has only continued to grow. And while billions of dollars in cannabis sales add to the economy, growing cannabis can come with the heavy price of exponentially increasing our carbon footprint.
Looking back at the obstacles and uncertainty of 2020, there have been some significant milestones for the industry, such as cannabis being deemed an essential business and increased demand. Many licensed producers have already prioritized offering only the highest-quality cannabis products at an affordable price grown in a sustainable manner, where possible. But the industry as a whole must be focused and committed to healing our planet through sustainability standards, climate-positive business practices and local community care initiatives.
As the cannabis industry has continued to mature, it has impacted our environment. We are all experiencing the same challenges of navigating within this emerging sector. Everyday challenges and unexpected learning curves shouldn’t deter us from taking the necessary measures to set the standard for sustainability and carbon negative practices for all industries. A decade ago, it was unimaginable that a legal cannabis industry would even exist, much less be traded on global stock markets. As an industry, we have an opportunity to be sustainable and carbon-negative from the start.
Sustainability is the responsibility of individuals and companies directly involved in the cannabis industry. It is imperative to take minor and major actions in requiring eco-friendly practices such as enforcing carbon-negative operations, reducing water consumption and using biomass to create environmentally friendly packaging.
Here are some of the processes that industry leaders have started implementing to make corporate sustainability goals a reality.
– Water efficiency: Researchers have estimated that cannabis can consume up to 6 gallons of water per day. A few ways to reduce water impact are capturing rainwater or recycling water. Smart irrigation systems with root or soil sensors can reduce water usage dramatically.
– Lighting: Efficient lighting that delivers the right spectrum and light to the plant in a controlled environment can increase yields and cannabinoids while lowering energy use. The right LEDs and Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring can increase the gram-per-watt biomass conversion. They are also more efficient, can lower room temperature in a grow room and have a longer lifespan.
– Renewable energy: Sourcing power from wind, solar or other renewable resources can eliminate your carbon footprint. Sourcing from a carbon-negative power source or — better yet — an on-site carbon-negative microgrid can eliminate your carbon footprint while always providing power.
– Vertical growing: The vertical cultivation approach involves producing plants in vertically stacked layers instead of the traditional horizontal method. This tactic is a great way to maximize yields and optimally use the space available, while diminishing energy usage.
– Sustainable packaging: The amount of plastic being used in the cannabis industry is inexcusable because most of the state packaging requirements lead to a lot of single-use plastics. To put it more into perspective, there are currently 660 dispensaries in Oregon alone, and if each one of those retailers distributed 30 plastic containers to consumers every day, that makes for 7,227,000 plastic containers heading to the landfill in just one state, in just one day — and many retailers are probably distributing well over 30 plastic containers daily. Using soy-based inks and recycled, ocean-based plastics, bio-based plastics or hemp-based plastics are some of the options for sustainable packaging.
The cannabis industry is currently, without a doubt, “energy intensive.” In early-adopting cities like Denver, cannabis facilities comprise 4% of the electricity use. Additionally, the timing and uncertainty of federal legalization has made it difficult for conscientious leaders in the space to find eco-friendly, climate-positive solutions toward sustainability.
While we wait for others to evolve, we must choose sustainability in all segments of our businesses and industry. Otherwise, all we are doing is further damaging the planet for future generations.
Incurring additional costs or choosing to implement innovative, new procedures is a small price to pay in comparison to the environmental impact that we are leaving behind. The business of cannabis is still far from green, and it will take a great deal of continued conscious efforts to get us there.
It is our responsibility as an industry to make the planet a better place. Otherwise, we are no better than any other industry over the past 100 years.