Partner at CBD Capital Group, overseeing investment committee and portfolios’ operations. Ethan Lu is also an active angel investor.
Thanks to a decades-long association with “hippies” and “tree-huggers,” cannabis has largely been considered a green (no pun intended) industry by the masses. Many may not realize that cannabis has never really been a sustainable industry, and with the commercialization of cannabis, things have continued to move in the wrong direction. As the co-founder of an investment and operating firm in the cannabis space, I am concerned about the sustainability of this industry.
Commercial growers have turned to artificial pesticides and harmful growing practices and modes of distribution to bolster sales and increase crop yields. These practices contribute heavily to waste and pollution.
Now, a small group of cannabis growers dedicated both to cannabis and to the planet are spearheading initiatives to improve sustainability practices within the cannabis industry. This makes me hopeful for the continued acceleration of the market.
Determined to take climate change head-on, here’s what some companies are doing to produce high-quality cannabis products while reducing their environmental impact.
How Sustainability Could Shape The Cannabis Industry
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In the competitive cannabis industry, every company is vying for a spot in the crowd, and growers are racing to produce the most potent and exciting new strains. Although a bit of competition within the marketplace has been great for consumers, expediting the speed at which new products have been introduced to the market has also created a severe waste problem that I only expect to grow over the next decade.
Major Sources Of Waste
Gone are the days of buying closet-weed from your best friend, but as it turns out, purchasing cannabis from your friend with a green thumb may have been doing more favors for the planet. The commercial cannabis industry bleeds waste during the production process, with significant sources of waste being:
• Chemical Fertilizers: Much of commercial cannabis growth uses petrochemical fertilizers. Like in the agricultural food industry, chemical fertilizers are the norm because of fast-acting nutrient release. Unfortunately, chemical fertilizers can kill micro-organisms and destroy long-term sustainability potential.
• Pesticides: Harsh chemicals and pesticides are often applied to cannabis crops to increase crop yields and protect against pests and diseases. Pesticides sprayed onto or applied to cannabis crops can seep into the earth, contaminating soil, water and other vegetation.
• Fibrous Waste: After harvest, cannabis plants need to be disposed of. To legally dispose of cannabis plants, cannabis growers first need to make the waste unrecognizable, which requires them to create a 50-50 mix of cannabis waste to non-cannabis waste. Due to governmental concerns that cannabis waste may be rerouted to facilitate illegal production, it typically cannot be composted or disposed of cleanly, often sent directly to landfills mixed in with nonconsumable post-consumer waste.
• Packaging: Cannabis companies are required by law to follow strict packaging guidelines, including child-proofing features, special labeling and durable materials. Unfortunately, most cannabis products are packaged in single-use plastic packaging, which, due to having been used for cannabis products, typically must be brought to a landfill rather than recycled.
Sustainable Practices In The Cannabis Industry
While some industries continue with unsustainable practices, the relatively young cannabis industry has already begun to search for ways to improve sustainability and reduce waste. Mana Botanics, a Hawaiian CBD company and the world’s first plastic-negative cannabis company, is one such example making moves to infuse sustainability into its production and sales processes. (Full disclosure: My company invests in Mana Botanics.)
Here are just a few of the ways companies like Mana Botanics are working to reduce waste, address climate change and improve cannabis sustainability.
• Green Packaging
Plastic packaging is overrunning the planet, creating what could be an irreversible impact on both the environment and on human health. Single-use plastic packaging is rarely repurposed or recycled. Instead, plastic cannabis packaging most often finds its way to a landfill.
It’s important to use plastic only when necessary. Rather than packaging items in petroleum-based plastics, consider recyclable materials like durable, recyclable glass bottles that help maintain the product’s purity without harming the environment.
• Regenerative Farming
Commercial farming and agricultural practices can be harsh on the environment, stripping the soil of its natural nutrients, reducing water retention, destroying symbiotic ecosystems and eventually inhibiting plant growth after years of forced rapid agriculture. Regenerative farming focuses on maintaining and improving soil quality, biodiversity and crop yields through sustainable planting and harvesting methods.
After a harvest, commercial farmers are forced to replenish and repair the soil they have damaged with artificial fertilizers and chemicals. In regenerative farming, every piece of the process helps prevent nutrient loss, increasing the soil’s natural ability to sustain plant life by strengthening the soil web, thus reducing the need for artificial chemicals and harsh pesticides.
Environmental Sustainability Initiatives
In addition to regenerative farming, reducing packaging waste and donating directly to anti-pollution efforts worldwide, there are many ways for cannabis companies to get involved in environmental sustainability.
• Outdoor Growing
Growing outdoors allows cannabis farmers to harness the sun’s natural power, saving them money on electricity bills and increasing energy efficiency. Regenerative farming practices can also compound the impact on the sustainability of our planet.
• Solar Energy
Both to reduce carbon emissions and to reduce operating costs, some cannabis growers, dispensaries and manufacturers have begun utilizing solar power to keep the lights on.
Hempcrete is a concrete-like material made from the bodies of hemp and cannabis plants that have been harvested. Rather than sending used cannabis plants to the landfill, already harvested hemp can be used to create a super-durable building material that could be the future of eco-friendly construction. Hempcrete is also “carbon negative,” meaning that the production of hemp for hempcrete removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces.
Thanks to companies leading by example, some cannabis growers and manufacturers have begun to transition to more environmentally sustainable practices.