While there are tremendous benefits to the evolving cannabis industry, one continuous problem they’ve been facing is expanding agriculture while trying to be eco-friendly. Is it possible?
As cannabis enters a new age of legalization, the industry faces the same issue that many others have encountered before them: how to expand operations without leaving a huge footprint on the earth? As it turns out, being eco-friendly may be a monumental challenge for the energy-hungry cannabis industry.
According to a 2017 study by California-based sustainability research organization, Global Footprint Network, indoor cannabis facilities were found to have 370 times the ecological footprint than a standard greenhouse operation. Researchers considered various factors in their research including waste production, byproducts, energy consumption, and water usage. They compared the ecological impact of three different facilities – a greenhouse in Columbia, WA, an indoor grow-op in Colorado, and a hybrid greenhouse in Washington state.
Using a metric of global square meters (the amount of biologically productive land needed to produce a given amount of output), the results were indisputable. The Colorado indoor grow needed 3,700 global square meters to produce one kilo of dried flower, while the Washington hybrid greenhouse only need 80 and the Columbia greenhouse required just 10 square meters.
Indoor cannabis, which is grown in a closely regulated environment, is often thought to be of superior quality compared to outdoor buds. However, growing inside has extremely high energy demands due to the staggering amount of water and light needs of the cannabis plant. Additionally, the need for so much light causes heat, which in turns requires HVAC and fans to keep the temperature down, so even more energy is being used.
As we’ve seen in recent years, environmental issues can make or break a business, making it extremely important for the cannabis industry, which is already highly scrutinized, to be as eco-friendly as possible. According to Brittny Anderson, co-founder and director of operations at The Cannabis Conservancy (TCC), “We realized that this sector could go down two roads: industrial agriculture that is energy- and water-intensive, and reliant on pesticides, or outdoor-based that uses intercropping, available sunlight, water conservation and waste reduction and management,” says Anderson.
TCC has developed agricultural systems specifically tailored to cannabis cultivation that have received Sustainability Certification. So far, three California producers are also certified, and a couple grow-ops in Colorado are as well. Regardless, the cannabis industry has a long way to go before becoming truly eco-friendly because of the high consumption demands of the plant and the fact that the industry is still fresh so there are very little across-the-board regulations.
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