With massive energy and water use, as well as the use of pesticides and plastics, sustainability issues are a mounting problem facing the cannabis industry. But there are innovators — cultivators, executives, city governments, and innovative entrepreneurs, among others — trying to fix these issues.
“We all know the cannabis industry hasn’t been good stewards of the environment in the past for a whole bunch of reasons,” said Erik Williams, the chief operations officer of Canna Provisions Inc., a cannabis company about to launch two dispensaries in Holyoke and Lee, Massachusetts. “One is having to re-create the sun indoors and another is the opaque packaging and the over-packaging that comes with regulations.”
These are the major sustainability issues facing the cannabis industry, and how the industry is addressing each.
Reducing Energy Use and Costs
Indoor cannabis production takes a lot of energy. A standard grow facility uses 10 times the amount of electricity per square foot as a regular office building of the same size. This is due to the many needs of a grow operation such as high-intensity lights, fans, heating, cooling, water pumps, and CO2 injection systems, according to the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. While indoor farming requires a lot of energy in general, there are added problems for cannabis manufacturers due to heavy regulations. One example are the security precautions that require growers to maintain cameras and store video footage. “With security compliance keeping backup data on a hundred or so cameras for 90 days or 6 months, that is, in and of itself, a massive energy cost,” Williams said.
In general, the states that adopted cannabis legalization early on were less focused on energy use and more concerned with safety and security issues. Colorado had no sustainability guidelines when Tom Stevenson, CEO of Bonsai Cultivation, began