With World Environment Day coming up, we’re looking at the impact of a buoyant cannabis industry on the environment.
The legalisation of cannabis is spreading rapidly, particularly across the USA and Europe, and with it, the demand for products is growing. But has the cannabis production supply chain committed to sustainability standards and climate-positive practices?
From the use of pesticides to fossil fuels, there are many ways growers can make changes to reduce their environmental impact and cut their carbon footprint. Indeed, there is growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products with studies showing sustainability is a key factor driving customers’ buying decisions.
Cannabis cultivation and distribution is energy and resource-intensive, using water and electricity to keep operations running. According to the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), indoor cultivation operations utilise 10 x more energy per square foot than a typical office building.
North America’s Sustainable Cannabis Coalition (SCC) is proactively working alongside industry cultivation and manufacturing players to promote proven sustainability best practices that can be implemented at scale across the cannabis market. They recommend:
Switching to LED lighting which is more energy efficient and gives off less heat, reducing electricity and HVAC requirements.
Minimising watering and fertilizer usage to reduce waste.
Investing in washable and reusable equipment.
Using recyclable packaging such as glass, recycled ocean-harvested plastics or packaging derived from hemp plants.
Farming organically to reduce pesticides and encourage natural pollinators and predators.
“It’s a shame that hemp – as a regenerative crop that uses less water, has better CO2 sequestration rates than trees and has more market value than a typical cover crop – is still kind of an underdog,” says Angela Dawson, founder of the 40 Acre Cooperative of farmers.
But could that be about to change?
It’s been reported that the Biden administration is considering paying farmers to sequester carbon as a method to battle climate change, increasing the opportunities for hemp as a sustainable crop.
Carbon payments as an additional revenue stream for existing hemp farmers.
Carbon payments encouraging farmers to add hemp to their crop rotations, increasing hemp production.
Hemp farmers encouraged to grow varieties better suited for construction and industrial purposes that sequester carbon over many years, rather than flower varieties that currently command higher wholesale prices but don’t have the same climate potential.
Last month, Hemp Industry Daily reported that more sustainable products are selling far better than their category across many major consumer goods, which suggests that CBD manufacturers should follow suit. Consumer-facing labelling showing the product’s carbon footprint, or carbon offsetting, is likely to improve both social impact and sales.
President Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030 and in the UK, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has announced ambitious plans to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, increasing pressure across the board to cut emissions and increase transparency about the environmental impact of consumer goods.
Carbon labelling will be challenging since everything throughout the product lifecycle will go into a formula to determine carbon emissions. The Resource Innovation Institute (RII) in Oregon has built benchmarking platforms for companies to measure their water use and waste production and is expanding into cannabis and other floriculture crops to establish key performance indicators, standards and ultimately a verification and leadership recognition system for crops produced in controlled environments.
There’s much work to be done before cannabis can be considered truly environmentally friendly, but since hemp has potential for use in many everyday products such as food, fuel, building materials and pharmaceuticals, and sequesters carbon, hemp is already showing its earth-friendly colours.