Indoors, outdoors, or in greenhouses, cannabis growers have a reputation for not being as green as the plants they grow.
From pesticides to energy use, there are a multitude of ways producers can reduce their carbon footprint. Some require a small investment while others are relatively inexpensive.
Regardless, consumers are increasingly demanding products that are made with minimal impact on the planet, and cannabis growers are taking note.
“Basically, one of the really cool things about farming and cannabis farming is that they have aligned goals, not opposites,” said Graham Farrar, president and chief cannabis officer of the California-based Glass House Group.
“Having a good cannabis operation is by definition sustainable. Sustainable agriculture is good business too. “
Marijuana growers can reduce their carbon footprint by:
- Reduce the amount of single-use products you use – try reusable hair nets and beard nets that are washable.
- Use stronger pots that can be washed and reused many times.
- Use of LED lighting – Not only are the lamps more energy efficient, they also give off less heat so you can use a smaller HVAC system and reduce power consumption.
- Giving plants what they need – including fertilizer and water – no more and no less that can be caught, sterilized, and reintroduced.
- Replacing chemical pesticides with sustainable bio-controls wherever possible.
Waste is the key
“The low hanging fruit for any farmer is waste,” said Ben Gelt, chairman and co-founder of the Cannabis Certification Council, a nonprofit focused on consumer and industrial education, which is hosting an Earth Day symposium on Thursday on these topics will focus on sustainability.
“There are many ways to reuse, compost and recycle.”
Av Singh, cannabis growing consultant based in Wolfville, Flemming & Singh Cannabis Inc., based in Nova Scotia, said one way to reduce waste is to reduce the use of single-use items like hair nets and other clothing items worn in grow facilities restrict.
He recommends wearing non-slip shoes that can be disinfected rather than putting on new overshoes every time an employee enters a grow room.
Another way to reduce waste is to use stronger pots that can be washed between harvests.
“Hard plastic can be washed through a commercial dishwasher or by hand many times before it ever ends up in a landfill,” said Singh.
Perhaps the area where most of the waste is generated is packaging, but strict regulations make it difficult to reduce waste while complying with regulations.
According to a report from the Policy Lab at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, a standard 3.5-gram unit of dried cannabis is packaged in more than 70 grams of plastic.
“The packaging really makes the products more expensive and the industry less environmentally friendly,” said Farrar, who suggests that cultivators package their products in glass that can be recycled.
There are also packaging options that use plastics from the ocean or from hemp plants.
Reduce power consumption
Perhaps the largest contributor to the cannabis industry’s environmental footprint is energy.
Indoor cannabis production accounts for an estimated 1.3% of Colorado’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent Colorado State University study published in Nature Sustainability.
The indoor lighting and cooling systems required for indoor growing marijuana have a significant impact on the climate.
“Making decisions that reduce your power consumption is a fantastic way to reduce your carbon footprint,” said David Kessler, chief scientist for Agrify in Burlington, Massachusetts, which makes hardware and software for indoor cannabis growers.
One of the steps cultivators can take to reduce energy consumption is to switch to LED (light emitting diode) lighting.
LED lighting systems cost more than HID (high intensity discharge) or high pressure sodium lighting, but the return on investment from energy savings can offset these initial installation costs.
Not only is LED lighting more efficient than traditional HID lighting, it also generates less heat, which means a cultivator can run a smaller HVAC system or a cooling water system that uses less electricity, Kessler said.
A cooling water system also allows producers to use natural gas as a fuel source instead of electricity.
“If you are doing a cost analysis and studying the environmental impact, you may prefer to use natural gas over electricity,” said Kessler.
Growing organic hemp
Unlike marijuana, hemp crops can be certified organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
A harvest can only be certified if the land has been farmed for 36 months without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides before the harvest.
Ryan Cross, operations manager at Gloucester, Virginia-based organic hemp producer River Organics, said soil management is key in reducing the company’s carbon footprint.
Crop rotation, organic fertilizers, and minimal tillage are the basic principles of River Organics’ crop production plan, helping the company reduce the amount of carbon it produces.
It clears its rows 8 feet apart and plants a cover crop between them to reduce soil erosion and suppress weeds.
“In the off-season, when we don’t grow hemp, we have a legume or a winter rye,” Cross said.
Cross said growing hemp plants organically speeds up the drying process because plants that are grown organically don’t hold back as much water as plants that are conventionally grown due to the speed at which they absorb fertilizer.
This reduces the amount of time harvested crops need to be stored, which helps reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
An added benefit, Cross said, is that growing organic improves the production of flavonoids and terpenes by about 12%.
Pesticide disposal is another sustainable practice cultivators can adopt, whether they are growing marijuana or hemp.
For example, Glass House Farms has eliminated the use of pesticides harmful to the planet, employees, or customers by spending about $ 30,000 a month on Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
“It’s the high-tech version of ladybugs – we use about 40 different beetles,” he said. “Insects are getting bigger and bigger. As you get bigger, your costs go down. “