Environmentally Conscious Cannabis

by | Oct 9, 2021

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

No matter where you participate in the cannabis industry, it's clear cannabis has an issue with being green. From seed to sale, the industry produces too much waste, releases too many emissions, and is overly reliant on petrochemicals. It's high time the industry stepped up to reduce its footprint and focus on environmentally conscious products.

How big is the problem? According to recent studies, cannabis cultivators consume as much as one percent of the total electricity used in America. Indoor cultivation is especially problematic, emitting between 2,283 to 5,184 kg of emissions for every kilogram of dried flower. Not to mention that the final products are almost exclusively sold in single-use and nonrecyclable plastics.

But, consumer attitudes are rapidly changing these bad habits. Shoppers are looking for greener cannabis products that put the environment first. Producers are listening. Many are adopting energy-efficient and eco-friendly cultivation practices, then wrapping everything up in biodegradable packaging.

Environmentally Conscious Commercial Options for Cultivation

Businesses tend to have a more significant impact on the environment than individuals. As much as consumers can choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle, cannabis producers and cultivators need to make the biggest adjustments.

Indoor cultivation is one of the most unsustainable areas within the cannabis supply chain. And while all areas of cultivation can use a bit of eco-sprucing up, lighting is one of the key areas growers are focusing on.

Traditional HID lighting, both MH and HPS options, consume an incredible amount of electricity. These fixtures also produce substantial heat, which means growers need to invest in a considerably larger HVAC system and face even larger electric bills.

Switching to LEDs reduces operational expenses by several orders of magnitude. However, the exact energy reduction depends on many factors. Some sources suggest 20 to 30 percent of energy costs, while others indicate savings up to 70 percent.

But not every LED light is created equal — especially in cannabis. Growor is one of the companies diving into the plant's biochemistry to create innovative grow light technology that saves energy and increases yield. A Growor fixture dials in the spectrum and regulates energy flux specific to the stage of the plant's development.

Reducing Waste: Options for Cannabis Consumers

On the other end of the cannabis supply chain sits the consumer. While the individual impact of consumers on the environment may be substantially smaller than that of producers, we can all make a difference by choosing green products when they shop.

Consumers can improve their shopping carbon footprint by moving away from single-use products like vape cartridges. Each cartridge contains multiple components, which means it's impossible to recycle. Instead of buying vape pens and cartridges, it's better to invest in portable handheld vaporizers.

Pax, DaVinci, Arizer, and a dozen other devices are now widely available. Designed for flower and concentrates, these devices reduce the waste of the vape industry by eliminating the need for cartridges. Portable vaporizers may require more upfront investment, but they save the consumer money over the long term.

Packaging is another decision that can be greener. That means choosing packaging that is biodegradable, recyclable, made from recycled materials, or multi-purpose. Considering that, in 2020, Californians consumed more than 53.6 million individually packaged grams of flower, switching to better packaging will have a massive impact.

Sana Packaging is one company striving to push the industry toward more sustainable packaging solutions. They serve the cannabis sector by supplying recycled plastics, hemp-based plastics, and hemp papers.

By their own calculations, they have thus far recovered over 155 tons of ocean plastics and transitioned more than 225 tons of virgin petroleum plastics into reclaimed or plant-based products.

As the Cannabis Industry Grows, it has to Get Greener

Projections estimate a year-over-year growth between 25 to 28 percent until 2028 for the cannabis sector. Unfortunately, this means the industry will have an increasingly problematic impact on the environment. While growth may be good for the producers and investors, it will translate into an equivalent rise in waste, electricity use, and a growing reliance on petroleum products.

Cannabis cultivators need to be the first to step up, as any decisions they make will lead to the most significant impacts. Swapping out low-efficiency lights and choosing green packaging is just the start.

Consumers can push for a more sustainable marketplace as well, but speaking through their wallets. Ultimately, producers will listen to what consumers demand, which means everyone needs to support environmentally conscious producers.