As the cannabis industry continues to grow, national attention is often negatively directed towards the industry’s environmental footprint. Unfortunately, this is not without cause. Energy consumption policies most often force cultivation indoors, cultivators are forced to simulate highly energy-intensive ecological conditions.
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Lighting, ventilation, dehumidifiers, air conditioning, CO2, drying, and transportation are just a few factors of cultivating cannabis that requires expending energy. Today, cannabis is the most energy-intensive agricultural commodity and remains to be one of the most energy-intensive businesses per square foot.
The Problem with Cannabis Energy Consumption
The energy demands of indoor cannabis cultivation are the most significant contributor to the industry’s environmental footprint. Although policies continue to force grows indoors, there are no industry-wide mandates to impose energy-efficient standards. It is common for cultivators to use high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights to imitate desired growing conditions, whose illumination is on par with those found in an operating room, and 500 times higher than that recommended for reading.
Although some cultivators use the more energy-efficient LED lights, their overall environmental benefit within the cannabis industry has yet to be determined. When using LEDs, while consuming less energy, grow cycles tend to be longer and may average out or raise overall energy expenses.
A study published in 2012 estimated that energy consumption by the cannabis industry accounts for 1% of the national electricity use or 6 billion dollars worth of energy – and that was in 2012. The study also reported that national-average annual energy costs are approximately $2500 per kilogram of finished product, and one kilogram of processed cannabis results in 4600 kilograms of CO2 emissions; which is the equivalent of driving across country 11 times in a 44-mpg vehicle.
Current statistics are just as alarming. In Boulder County, the average electricity consumption of a 5,000sqft indoor cannabis facility is 41,808 kilowatt- hours per month. For comparison, the average household uses 630 kilowatt-hours per month. From 2015 to 2016, cannabis cultivation and processing areas increased from 114,197sqft to 170, 341sqft, thus causing a 71% increase in energy expenditure.
Due to the federal government’s opposing stance on cannabis, producers are not able to reap the benefits that other industries do when implementing energy-efficient practices. Cultivators and producers receive no tax breaks, nor do they have the ability to become USDA organic.
The factors as mentioned above, in addition to the current overall lack of governmental support, have led to the development of state-based certifications and incentive programs.
In Oregon, Eco Firma Farms has made outstanding improvements to their grow, allowing them to exponentially reduce their environmental footprint and bottom line. Working in tandem with Energy Trust of Oregon, Eco Firma Farms has made multiple improvements that have led to a quick and qualitative ROI in addition to reducing their environmental footprint. These energy-efficient improvements returned an estimated annual savings of $63,000, and incentives received for updating their operation totaled $99,800.
Eco Firma Farms currently operates on 100% wind-powered renewable energy and practice only organic pest, mold and mildew procedures. Last year, they were awarded Portland’s General Electric (PGE) Green Mountain Energy Gold Certification, and are on track to receive Platinum Certification in 2018.
Programs and efforts to produce more environmentally friendly cannabis are starting to develop throughout the industry. Denver currently has the goal to shrink their greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 through boosting the use of renewable energy.
In California, MITU Resources, Inc. is planning the commercial introduction of the company’s licensed Wind Shark, a self-starting vertical-axis wind turbine. The integration of the Wind Shark into the CA cannabis sector, it is hoped, will reduce a cultivator’s daily energy expenditure by 10% and their bottom line.
As is the repeated case in the cannabis industry, it continues to grow at such an exponential rate, that supporting industries have difficulty keeping up with it. Energy-efficient practices and standards are no exception to the rule, which also includes data collection, cultivation techniques and technological developments to name a few. S
tates have and continue to, create energy programs to reduce the environmental footprint created by the cannabis industry. Independent certifications and product labeling ensure that companies are making their achievements and impact visible to consumers, thus spreading positive program awareness.
Undoubtedly, the cannabis industry will continue to grow before industry-wide energy standards are implemented, however, states, cultivators, and processors are becoming more proactive in these matters. Steps taken now throughout the industry will have a significant impact on reducing the industry’s environmental footprint, as well as further validate the industry.