Legalization has not only allowed modern growers to access better tools and resources, but it has also driven innovation within the industry. Although cannabis has been grown for thousands of years, modern techniques can consume massive amounts of water and energy, resulting in a carbon footprint that is not sustainable.
More than two-thirds of consumers consider sustainability when making a purchase, and are even willing to pay more for sustainable products. As with any emerging industry, there will be companies that are able to rise above the rest with sustainable and ethical business practices that speak to consumers spending habits — there is a competitive advantage to investing in sustainability and social equity efforts.
In 2012, Evan Mills, an energy scientist, found in a study that legal, indoor cannabis grown in California consumed roughly 3% of the state’s total electricity, equivalent to nearly 1 million homes.
As a result, many industry leaders are beginning to make huge strides towards sustainability by employing more environmentally conscious practices to cut down on carbon emissions and waste — and there are more potential improvements on the horizon.
One such innovation from recent years has been the introduction of full-spectrum LED lights. In contrast to high-pressure sodium lights, which had been used in cannabis cultivation for generations, LED lights run cooler and consume a fraction of the electricity. In a 2016 study, the Minnesota Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources compared lighting technologies for cultivating edible foods, and found LED lights to be more cost-effective and energy efficient.
However, sun-grown cannabis is even more sustainable than indoor cultivation operations. Cannabis that was grown outdoors can often be just as good if not better than cannabis that was cultivated under artificial light — and at a considerably cheaper cost.
Additionally, recent data estimates 10,000 tons of packaging waste was generated by cannabis sales in 2018. One option for sustainable packaging is to incorporate renewable packaging materials such as cellophane derived from hemp or wood, has increasingly become a popular choice for a biodegradable alternative.
Last year, Sana Packaging, a company known for their 100 percent plant-based hemp plastic packaging, launched a line of packaging made from ocean plastics.
While many businesses are taking steps towards becoming more sustainable, legislation also needs to reflect the changing standards. Cannabis has evolved beyond a simple plant traded amongst neighbors, and laws should reflect the massive industry it has become by prioritizing the environment and consumer safety.
As the cannabis industry evolves and continues to work towards a more sustainable future, cannabis businesses have the opportunity to make a difference. The responsibility is shared between lawmakers and industry leaders to craft the tools and resources needed. Within the next decade, dominant businesses that emerge aid consumers as well as the environment.