The global cannabis industry is predicted to reach over $60 billion in the next five years. As it lately happens with all industries of such high status and popularity, the consumers have started to question its sustainability; in this environmental crisis, ethical business practices and social awareness have become vital for both investors and customers of such industries.
Of course, there are always environmentally friendly businesses that produce locally grown, organic marijuana through ethical cultivation processes and minimal waste. However, such companies are most often the exception, and the question remains: is the cannabis industry sustainable?
What exactly is Sustainability?
The concept of sustainability was born as a parameter of corporate ethics, as a result of gradually increasing public discontent, regarding the long-term damage done to the planet by a focus on short-term profits.
For an industry to be regarded as sustainable, it needs to put an emphasis on meeting the popular demand without compromising the needs of future generations. In essence, the idea of sustainability can be divided into three categories: economy (profits), environment (planet), and society (people).
As the cannabis industry grows, more and more companies take an interest in sustainability, committing to the use of renewable energy, waste reduction, and social awareness through support of various organizations ―while also drawing in the concerned, younger generations, who are worried about the future of the planet. For example, electricity companies gradually give way to sustainable practices, stating goals like energy generation from sources like solar power, wind, and hydropower.
Unfortunately, sustainability comes with difficulties. With the focus on long-term results, profit is not easy ―thus, a lot of companies prefer to sustain their losses by investing in short-term profit. A company that commits to the sustainable development of resources and ethical practices will probably have lower earnings in the near term, so any investor would have to lower their expectations regarding returns.
What about the Cannabis Industry?
For decades, cannabis has been seen through the public eye as a green industry, thanks to its connection with the flower children movement. However, this is not the case; plus, in the last years, with the federal cannabis legalization and gradual commercialization, the industry has become rather wasteful and environmentally unfriendly.
In order to gain more fast profit through increased yield, cultivators have resorted to harmful growing practices, like artificial pesticides, as well as distribution processes that result in environmental pollution. As with any commercial industry, companies fight for popularity and customers, in many cases by expediting the production speed at the expense of the environment; for instance, a very severe waste problem is already present and calls for more attention.
As the global carbon footprint increase becomes an imminent threat, the millennial generation regards climate change as one of the primal and most critical issues concerning our society. As a result, a lot of US residents have begun to search for products that are non-GMO, organically grown and/or third-party tested and certified.
On the plus side, a large number of the businesses in question has decided to face climate change and reduce their waste and negative environmental impact, in order to produce an overall higher quality of cannabis products that are both ethical and green, like Mana Botanics, a Hawaii CBD company ―Mana Botanics is completely plastic-negative!
What can be done?
Nowadays, the level of global cannabis consumption is creating a horrifying amount of waste. Fortunately, although rapidly expanding and extremely lucrative, the cannabis industry is a rather new department of the economy; therefore, there is quite a lot of room for improvement.
Listed below are some of the most important departments of the industry where change is needed and recommended practices through which various cannabis companies can achieve a green status through addressing climate change and improving sustainability.
To give you some perspective, in Canada alone, thousands of tons of packaging waste were generated by cannabis companies in the first year of legalization!
Plastic is a plague on the planet, and its impact could be irreversible on both human health and the environment; single-use plastic items are rarely repurposed or recycled, and eventually end up in huge landfills. Some of the newest companies invest in recyclable materials, like glass and paper, in order to maintain their product’s quality without damaging the environment.
As mentioned before, most big companies use artificial pesticides and herbicides, along with synthetic nutrients during the growing process. These practices have an altering effect on the ecosystems, through contaminating local water sources.
A great suggestion would be outdoor growing so that the plants can take advantage of the natural, solar power and farmers are able to cut costs on electricity and increase energy efficiency! This way, both carbon emissions, and operating costs are reduced, in favor of both the environment and the cultivators’ pockets.
It’s of vital importance that the industry invests more time in the natural cultivation of the plants, in order to reduce pollution ―and eventually, even gain more profit, via the improvement of quality!
Commercial agriculture practices have proven to be destructive for the environment; the water is often contaminated, the soil is stripped of its natural nutrients, and ecosystems are gradually destroyed. In the end, the forced and rapid rhythm of growth actually inhibits the plants’ health.
In contrast to these practices, regenerative farming puts an emphasis on improving the overall soil quality and maintaining biodiversity and crop yields, by the means of sustainable growing and harvesting processes.
Commercial cultivators have to repair the soil that’s damaged by all the fertilizers and chemicals after the harvest is done; regenerative farmers, on the other hand, focus on preventing nutrient loss by strengthening the soil web and reducing the need for artificial means ―and every aspect of the farming is done to sustain plant life and environmental health.
When everything looks like a dead-end, solutions can be found through innovation. For example, as far as waste is concerned, a few of the newest companies have resorted to hempcrete: this is a very durable, concrete-like building material, made from harvested hemp and cannabis plants! This carbon negative material is a very interesting innovation for eco-friendly construction and reduction of waste.
Additionally, material like naturally-derived cellophane, made from hemp and wood is gradually becoming a popular biodegradable alternative to most over-used materials, while plant-based hemp “plastic” has become a favorite among the cannabis community as well!
Zach is the founder of HempCBDExchange.com. Amateur writer. Social media ninja. Travelaholic. Passionate about all things cannabis & hemp.