The cannabis industry is experiencing a moment of unprecedented boom and growth in the current market. Also, we cannot overlook the fact that more and more countries are joining the global legalization trend for both medical and recreational purposes, moving towards eliminating restrictions and decriminalization, and with an increasing social and political support. However, during the cultivation and production process of commercial cannabis, the industry generates large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. For average conditions, producing one kilogram of cannabis indoors results in 4,600 kilos of CO2 emissions, contributing to aggravate the pollution problem caused by human activity. For instance, this carbon footprint of the production of a kilo of marijuana would be the equivalent to the emissions produced by a car travelling seven times the distance between Madrid and Moscow (over 2500 miles). In terms of energy consumption, the production of a single gram of marijuana uses the approximate electricity of a light bulb that remains on for 50 hours, or the total power consumed in the process of manufacturing 17 liters (or 4.5 gallons) of beer.
Therefore, the subsequent expansion of cannabis crops caused by the rapid growth of this industry can have negative consequences for the environment. Recent studies indicate that, only ten years ago, the cannabis industry consumed 1% of the total electricity production in the United States, using more than the total amount necessary to supply over 1.5 million homes. This would be the equivalent to the carbon emissions produced by three million cars. The cannabis industry is clearly concerned about this, and trying to alleviate the problem they are developing some startups solutions so that farms can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without adversely affecting the product quality, especially at those stages in which more carbon dioxide is released and energy consumption skyrockets during the manufacturing process.
Scale Energy Solutions, for example, has developed a system to reduce electricity consumption by combining solar energy and natural gas in the same production cycle, and using the excess heat coming from air conditioning generators.
GrowX for its part has developed a hydroponic cultivation system based on intelligent networks of sensors, lights and cultivation meshes that reduce energy and water consumption by adjusting the specific doses of nutrients for each plant according to its specific needs and controlling carbon emissions by continuous monitoring and verification.
Hexo Corp, a Canadian company, has launched a new sustainable model that offsets the company’s operational emissions with the intention of becoming 100% carbon neutral by September 2021. Their objective is to protect the planet through actions that do not entail a radical change, such as a forest management project, minimization of waste production in the supply chain, reduction of plastic in packaging, the use of green energy solutions and virtual team work when possible. The company also collaborates with non-profit recycling groups that process waste materials and reintrode them into the manufacturing cycle.
The use of natural sunlight and plant-based nutrients are another alternative to lower the emission of hazardous pollutant gases and reduce energy consumption. Outdoor crops do not require artificial lighting, reducing electricity consumption by up to three times. But this option may be difficult in some regions that lack the specific climate and land conditions needed for optimal results.
In short, the current golden age of cannabis industry should not be clouded by this eventuality, since there are affordable solutions at hand aimed at increasing the sustainability of farms. We can also find cost-efficient and applicable technology to the entire production chain that helps reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption, so that we can finally transform this economic activity into a sustainable industry.