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Max Savage Levenson April 22, 2020

Creating a sustainable cannabis business requires work and investment in advance, but it pays off for long-term success. (AdobeStock)

In the United States, cannabis growers, processors, and growers are taking a variety of remarkable initiatives to make their businesses more sustainable and energy efficient. In Colorado, a government agency is leading an initiative to capture carbon dioxide from a brewery for reuse in a cultivation facility. A new growing company in Massachusetts installed over four acres of solar panels on the roof and a highly efficient “micro network” on campus. And more and more companies are turning to hemp as a pragmatic and sustainable alternative to plastic packaging.

In addition to these high-profile projects, a connected group of organizations and consultants quietly steers the industry towards a healthier future and helps innovations to escape. Some of the leading groups are:

Whether it's about offering sustainability certifications, advising on efficient lighting systems, or working with regulators to set sensible rules, these nonprofits show that sustainability and efficiency practices are not only good for the planet, but a blessing for a company Conclusion too.

"It's not just because it is important to me to hug trees. It's about these other numbers that show that it makes economic sense," said Jacob Mitchell to Leafly. Mitchell is the president and founder of Sustainabis, a Denver-based company that advises cannabis companies on sustainability practices. "I'm not doing it for nature's sake because I believe that nature will survive mankind. I do it for humanity's sake because I think we make the world uninhabitable for ourselves. "

Cannabis can be an energy eater

Integrating sustainability into an indoor cannabis grow facility can be extremely difficult. Lighting and HVAC systems are empty and inefficient. High pressure sodium lighting, which is commonly used indoors, is approximately 500 times stronger than a reading lamp.

As a result, cannabis is now responsible for over 1% of total electricity consumption in the United States. Since most of our cities' electricity grids are powered by fossil fuels, growing cannabis with no efficiency in mind contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and a host of related problems for the planet.

“The dirty little secret of the marijuana industry,” wrote renowned climate researcher Evan Mills in 2016 for the Future Cannabis Project, “is that the average energy equivalent of 70 gallons of oil is embedded in every average indoor plant. ”

The Cannabis Certification Council launched the "What’s In My Weed" campaign to highlight the connection between sustainable cultivation and cannabis quality. (Cannabis Certification Council)

Sustainability includes financial viability

To be "unsustainable" also means simply not to feed yourself. Growing indoors often leads to huge utility bills that cut a cultivator's profits and make the future of his business less sustainable.

Sustainability means “being able to do something that I know I can continue doing tomorrow. I can't go on tomorrow if I a) burn the environment and destroy everything around us and b) I can't afford to do this, "said Jesse Peters, CEO of Mantis Growth Investments and Co. founder from Eco Firma Farms, said Leafly. "If you have your head buried in the sand and say," This sustainability thing is cute, but … ", you should wake up. You will blink and people will get through here and grow [extremely cheap] cannabis, with $ 100 million on it Bank behind their facility. In an acquis or kill market, I will buy you or lose money to make sure you cannot survive at my price. "

Start with the energy and water data

In order to bring about significant changes, the supporters must first determine the situation in the country. Collecting reliable measurement data on energy consumption, water consumption and other farmers' data points is of the utmost importance. "My first step in any consultation is a data request," Mitchell, the founder of Sustainabis, told Leafly. "If you don't make decisions based on data, you don't make practical, feasible, and sustainable decisions."

However, supporters have found that growers are often unwilling to share even the most basic information about their farms. "Everyone thinks most of their growing method is a trade secret," Peters said. With some breeders, he said, "They either don't know if they can trust you to tell the truth [about sustainability] or their ego is in the way."

"This is the story of my life," added Sam Milton, founder of the Portland, Maine-based Climate Resources Group (and RII partner). "This is becoming less and less of a problem, but … the industry is still very risk-averse. [Cultivators] does not want to do anything that interferes with their process."

The solution: data anonymity

A handful of innovators from the Oregon-based Resource Innovation Institute (RII) changed the data game a few years ago when they created a user-friendly and anonymous collection tool called PowerScore.

"We came together and saw that the market would need information about how energy is used in cultivation facilities so that we could ultimately set standards of performance … that people should strive for and agree on," said Derek Smith, Executive director of RII and co-founder, said Leafly.

 Cannabis Powerscore Data

A cannabis PowerScore self-audit can quickly reveal efficiency opportunities for growers. (Resource Innovation Institute)

Since 2018, over 300 cultivators have guided their data through the PowerScore process. This includes entering lighting and HVAC usage, utility bills, canopy size and more. The aggregated data, Smith explained, shows that performance is mostly inconsistent among operations.

"Every facility is a snowflake," he said. “Every cultivator does something different, which is exciting on the one hand. It turns out, however, that we have nowhere near a standard way of working. "

Consulting and Certification

With the data available, consultants and certification organizations can help farmers to become more efficient, ideally before they build or retrofit a new plant. "If you take the time during the design phase to get things right and to inform this process through the lens of an experienced energy technician, this will help you have a high-performance building that doesn't cost much more," said Sam Milton from the Climate Resources Group.

In addition to working with a consultant, a cultivator can review a certification program. Jacob Policzer, co-founder and director of science and strategy at The Cannabis Conservancy, said that the guidelines for his organization's Simply Certified program are fairly strict, require on-site audits, and emphasize an interconnected, holistic system rather than individual parts.

"We view sustainability as a journey and an ethos as an end goal," Policzer told Leafly. "How does the light intensity affect the temperature and humidity and how does the dehumidification of an HVAC system affect all of this? Systems are no longer independent or compete, but work together. "

The advance investment is not cheap

Efficiency measures not only contribute to a healthier planet, but also help companies save money. Jesse Peters used highly efficient equipment and processes and explained: “You can grow better weeds cheaper. If I pay $ 2 per gram for growing and you pay $ 5 per gram for growing, I will win. "

While efficiency measures save cultivators in the long term, buying new equipment or retrofitting a system requires high upfront costs. "When it comes to the business case for sustainability, it has to be seen as a long-term, low-risk investment that many cannabis companies don't have the foresight or the means for," said Sustainabis founder Jacob Mitchell.

A company will not immediately make savings. "It could be anywhere from eighteen months to five years," said Sam Milton of the Climate Resources Group.

"There are old-school breeders who think that if it doesn't break, it won't be fixed," added Peters. "If you have no investors … say you scrap it and update it, you have to buy a lot of lights … but now you have to learn how to grow with them. If you don't know how and don't trust anyone Telling you how, you can lose three, four, five harvests. This is the end of your business. "

Cultivators have another option: to grow outdoors. "It is ten times [for me] to produce one gram outdoors than indoors," said Garrett Bent, an organic grower and certified maintainer in Maine. Bent includes both growing methods, but is particularly interested in growing outdoors in unheated greenhouses with a slight shortage.

State aid

Proponents and advisors of sustainability have also found opportunities to work with state and local governments.

In 2018, organizations such as RII, Cannabis Conservancy, Sustainabis and Ben Gelt from the Cannabis Certification Council, together with the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, created the Good Cannabis Environmental Practices Guide, a free and public document that provides advice and technical data for cultivators. The guide includes everything from a breakdown of different lighting options to case studies from cultivators to detailed explanations of water flow systems.

As of July, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) will require cultivators to include their PowerScore data in their renewal applications to comply with the state's Global Warming Solutions Act. The CCC will then be able to use this data to track company success and identify opportunities for improvement.

"Derek, Sam and everyone at RII are incredible," CCC Commissioner Kay Doyle told Leafly. "We are very grateful for their contributions and encourage more people to get involved, participate, participate in public comments and hearings, and contribute to the development of an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly industry."

Doyle explained that contributions from advocates also led to regulatory flexibility with regard to efficiency aspects and in particular lighting. While the state originally introduced an average of 36 watts per square foot for larger acreage and 50 watt for smaller acreage, they can now offer alternative solutions in collaboration with the DesignLights non-profit consortium.

How and where can you learn more?

Despite the work done by supporters, extensive training is still needed to bring about major changes. One of the most effective ways to educate industry stakeholders is through personal (or virtual during the coronavirus pandemic) educational events, such as the series of sustainability symposiums created by the Cannabis Certification Council.

Ben Gelt, CEO of the organization, says the events are more Petri dishes for collaboration as well as educational opportunities. "In the past, there were 60-65% plant-touching companies at a high level," he said. "These people talk to each other."

This simple concept of communication could prove crucial for the greater success of the sustainability movement. And despite the threatening opposite indicators, there is reason to believe that it works and that change is possible.

“The writing is for everyone on the wall. The problem was not topical at the beginning, ”said Gelt. "Over time, the surviving operators realize that they have to deal with it for economic reasons and because of the optics." I think the picture is improving. "

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<h4 class= Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson probably has the lowest cannabis tolerance of all authors in the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for pitchfork, band camp and other people with glasses. He is the co-host of the hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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