The growing carbon footprint of the cannabis industry and how stoners can change it
The cannabis industry is full of conscious, earth-loving people, but they have a big, dirty secret. They’re creating a rapidly growing and unsustainable carbon footprint. Unless actions are taken soon, the cannabis industry’s sky-high energy usage and wasteful packaging will undermine its green spirit and best intentions.
It’s important to understand one of the greatest challenges to solving this problem is lacking the information necessary to define it. Sure, the issue may be self-evident, but it’s overall size and nuances remain largely unknown. The Resource Innovation Institute (R.I.I.), a nonprofit dedicated to improving resource efficiency, wants to fix this.
Derek Smith, Executive Director, explains R.I.I.’s most recent efforts:
“In October, we released The Cannabis Energy Report, in partnership with New Frontier Data and Scale Microgrid Solutions. We evaluated electricity consumption among 100+ farms throughout our Cannabis PowerScore dataset.
Though we haven't done a full carbon footprint that considers all carbon impacts from a seedling to a consumer's use (accounting for all fuels, processing, distribution, etc.), we can say that energy, broadly, is likely the biggest source of carbon. And cultivation is the primary driver, with inefficient operations being the worst offenders (those with High-Pressure Sodium lights and inefficient HVAC systems)."
Thanks to people like Derek, the biggest problem to date, the information one, is being solved. The cannabis industry can now begin to make more informed and accurate assessments regarding their environmental choices. A Stoner’s Guide to Going Green, this information can be used to immediately help consumers, businesses, and home growers reduce their carbon footprints.
Interestingly, the most resource-intensive thing stoners do may actually occur before they ever get their weed -- hopping in their cars and driving to pick up. If that’s you, the easiest way to make an immediate difference is to travel lighter and smarter. If you can walk or ride a bicycle, just do it. You can carpool. Take public transportation. Or hop in a Loopr.. There’s more than one way to mitigate this impact. How dope is that?
Now once you get to the dispensary, the most important thing to do is let your money talk.
- First and foremost, buy regulated products from dispensaries who are transparent about their sourcing practices
- Ask about the environmental practices of the farms and companies producing the product you’re purchasing
- Ask if any claims made by budtenders or farms, including labels on packages, are independently verified
- Asking questions as a consumer is critically important because it sends ripples of awareness through the value chain
- And if I may, consider making a contribution to the non-profit Resource Innovation Institute
Basically, Derek is suggesting you could shop at a place like L’Eagle, the only Green Clean Certified dispensary in Colorado. That means L’Eagle has undergone a comprehensive certification program that validates sustainable and organic practices. Based on the USDA’s own National Organic Program, a Clean Green Certification is the closest thing to proving your weed is organic.
Amy Andrle, co-founder of L’Eagle, explains why standards matter
“When it comes to purchasing cannabis, consumers are not following the same principles they do when shopping for other consumables... think grass fed for beef, organic/non GMO for vegetables. We have learned to make discerning decisions that support our health/ethical philosophies. What we are uncertain of, we can validate with certifications, like organic. The same can be true for cannabis. Consumers deserve choice and many companies will not opt-in until consumers demand that choice.”
It’s important for cannabis businesses to understand their customers want to buy clean cannabis from responsible companies. From seed to sale, the opportunities to reduce environmental impacts exist and make economic sense. Jake Mitchell, Founder of Sustainabis, a cannabis environmental consulting group, explains how having a sustainability plan in place will not only reduce environments impacts but improve the bottom line as well.
“The first step in creating a sustainable cannabis business is creating an efficient one. By making a business as efficient as possible you not only see immediate savings in energy usage but create a more risk-averse and better-prepared business in the face of a changing market. Reducing energy as much as possible allows for larger sustainability undertakings at a fraction of the cost and equipment size. Efficiency upgrades massively reduce your environmental impact and carbon footprint while simultaneously increasing your bottom line. These upgrades can take shape of lighting upgrades such as LEDs, HVAC upgrades, or even wall and ceiling insulation.
Building a sustainability plan is crucial to creating a resilient and sustainable business. This is what Sustainabis does for its’ clients. We lay out a comprehensive plan for businesses to lessen their environmental impact, empower their employees, and increase their bottom line through sustainable projects with high return on investment. Developing a plan based around your current impact and resource usage will allow for more commitment and better tracking of your company’s progress. A good sustainability plan should consider your specific impacts, usage, and needs as they relate to energy usage, waste, carbon emissions, water usage, air quality, efficiency, etc.
Dispensaries can cater to eco-friendly consumers by offering take-back programs and working with vendors that are environmentally conscious and transparent. For example, it should be a major plus for brands that are using Sana packaging, a sustainable, hemp-based packaging option for the cannabis industry. Dispensaries can also make a difference by including recycle bins in their lobbies like those offered from Green for Green. They can be found in over 50 dispensaries across Colorado, including all Lightshade locations. Packaging waste is certainly one of the industry’s biggest sustainability challenges.
Speaking of recycling, cannabis businesses should be recycling everything they can. Delivery boxes, water bottles, METRC tags, voluminous, pointless sales reports, nitrile gloves, and the packaging that accompanies just about anything you buy for your business. This stuff does not belong in landfills. If you don’t already have one, set up some mixed-use recycling bins for these kinds of materials. If your business has multiple departments, coordinate with each of them to make sure they are participating. Create a culture of it and allow it to thrive.
The home grower will benefit from going green for all of the reasons consumers and businesses do. However, the sky-high energy costs home growers face makes going green pure dollars and sense. Andrew Little, 2-time Cannabis Cup award-winning grower (with Dank by Pank) who now goes by Jank by Flank, has some general rules that all home growers can benefit from learning.
Flank says a good foundation for any sustainable grow begins with designing and properly building it out. This includes using more energy efficient lighting like LEDs, or ceramic metal halide lights. Also, properly insulating your grow--which includes responsibilities like effectively sealing windows, adding extra insulation to attics and false walls, and having an intake and exhaust system.
In the event your grow has pests, Flank encourages using an Integrated Pest Management system. Essentially, harness the forces of mother nature against herself. These include itsy bitsy critters like predatory mites and ladybugs to fight off the invaders. Flank also pleads you don’t spray chemical pesticides. Try out a healthy and balanced compost tea for these applications instead. Finally, as a general rule, keep your microbials - the tiny microorganisms that help your plants absorb nutrients - at maximum levels so your plant has a strong natural defense system.
Investing in an energy efficient AC is crucial to reducing your carbon footprint and energy bills. Some air conditioners can reduce your energy by %50 or more. Since AC’s consume more energy than even lights in the typical grow, this one of the greenest choices you can make. An expensive cost upfront, your return on investment is often quick and painless. Also, if possible, Andrew suggests running your lights at night, this way you can use naturally cooled air from outside rather relying on your A.C. to produce it.
With reports coming out of Denver expecting as much as 5% of the electricity demand created by cannabis cultivation, the cannabis industry needs to take action now. Consumers, businesses, and home growers must evaluate their impacts and make informed decisions on how to reduce them in the short and long-term. This is a good place to begin making your cannabis lifestyle a sustainable one. Now that you’re armed with simple and effective ways for reducing your own footprint, go forth. Go green.