The Importance of Sustainability in Cannabis
Updated: Jan 21
As regulated cannabis markets and licensed businesses emerge and mature, it is necessary to refine operations to focus on the triple bottom line. What this means is that cannabis businesses must focus not only on economic and social value, but also environmental factors as part of measuring their performance and success.
Environmental considerations include the implementation of sustainable practices that are cognizant of the resources used for cannabis business activities. As we assist Clients with new business licensure in up-and-coming cannabis markets, we are seeing an increased demand for environmental plans as part of the required operating procedures. Licensure application prompts are requesting explanation of: (1) protocols for reduction of resource consumption; (2) efficient and conservative equipment; and (3) energy usage plans the business intends to implement to maintain energy- and resource-conscious practices.
At Point Seven Group, we applaud these new and maturing markets for recognizing the need to demand sustainable practices. Throughout our years in the commercial cannabis industry, we’ve all noticed the overuse of resources and creation of plastic refuse that has increased following the heavy regulation of cannabis packaging and business operations. There has a been a recent surge in the discussion about resource consumption, namely cultivators’ electricity used for supplemental lighting and water used during irrigation, with states considering regulations to limit usage of both.
Most cannabis business applications request assessments of the electrical usage projected by the applicant, and attestations from the municipality that the electrical usage can be acquired into the electrical grid. Emerging markets have done their research and are observing what mature members of the industry have purported in terms of electrical and energy usage. In Colorado, it’s been reported by CPR News through the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment that indoor cannabis cultivation uses approximately four percent of the entire City of Denver’s allowable electricity. With these considerations in mind, states and municipalities are now considering and drafting regulations that would limit the amount of electricity permitted for use by cannabis cultivators. Some municipalities also require businesses to offset their energy consumption by use of renewable energy and other approved initiatives.
We all know that water is a precious resource and conservation is necessary, but sometimes it can be easier said than done when operating a cultivation or agricultural operation. Water usage, mainly for irrigation of plants, must be addressed if we wish to continue business as usual. Many of our nation’s drought-ridden states are cannabis cultivation hubs, including California, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona. With consideration for these states’ precipitation status and drought-impact, and to ensure sustainability of cultivation operations, governing entities are developing water usage stipulations and limitations through cooperation with cultivators and understanding of water usage. Businesses are also initiating research and development projects aimed at better understanding the volume of irrigation water used in relation to specific grow techniques and methodologies, to ensure constant innovation and progressive movement toward water conservation within their cultivation procedures.
Plastic and Waste
With hefty regulations, also came the increase in refuse related to the operations of commercial cannabis businesses. Strict packaging stipulations have led to numerous products being encased in layer upon layer of packaging to achieve child-resistance and compliant labeling. Some high-volume producers seek price effective packaging which may not be sustainably manufactured, and consumers are not widely educated on the recycling possibilities of such materials. There are emerging companies who are focused on the impact that packaging has caused among cannabis consumers and are actively developing alternative sources of packaging that are consciously created using recycled and sustainable materials.
Other refuse sources that are a direct result of licensed cannabis operations are the waste by-products of the inventory tracking system adopted by most regulated markets. Each plant is tagged using a plastic label that is embedded with a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that interacts with the state-mandated tracking platform. These tags must be secured to the base of the plant using a non-reusable plastic zip tie that is supplied by the manufacturer of the tracking tag. For every plant, that means that a tag and a zip tie must be disposed of. Originally touted to be reusable and the tracking tags reprogrammable, in the early days of implementing the tracking system, one must wonder if the collection of revenue was valued higher than the environmental impact, as each tag must be purchased by a compliant cannabis cultivator. Similar tags are applied to each unit of outgoing inventory, regardless of license type, to track the movement of finished goods during transport and distribution.
It is not only encouraged to develop and instill environmentally conscious practices, but absolutely necessary to sustain our industry. As a culture and commodity born of conscious roots, it is only natural for us to bring the third ring of the triple bottom line into the business practices utilized in the commercial cannabis industry. Now that facilities are, and continue to become, operational, it’s time to refine procedures to include renewable energy and sustainable practices. As operators and cannabis business licensees, we must advocate for improvement of current methodology and continue the formation of collectives that promote sustainability and education, such as the Cannabis Sustainability Work Group at the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.