Cannabis and Sustainability: What Does The Future Hold?


The cannabis industry has come a long way over the past few decades. What used to be a low-key pastime has become a somewhat trendy one. The plant's medicinal qualities are being recognized, research is receiving the financial backing it has needed to progress, and the public is being better exposed to what makes cannabis worth all the effort.

Cannabis businesses are popping up everywhere, catering to both growers and consumers, from premixed nutrient lines to clothing companies to small town dispensaries. An important milestone, most of the community has focused on legalizing the plant and acquiring access to products that improve their daily lives. While advancement is exciting, on a large-scale, the industry is somewhat starting off in an unsustainable direction. At this point in time, much of the industry is somewhat forced to be unsustainable due to strict laws and regulations involving packaging, labeling, distributing, and waste removal.

Not specific to the cannabis industry, but in several industries of today, manufacturing techniques, packaging materials, and distribution practices are taking a toll on our environment. While much of today’s lifestyles encourage products that are convenient and service that is instantly gratifying, it is important to look at the long-term effects and consider what they might be doing to our planet. With much of the cannabis industry new to law makers and regulation standards, the community needs to be, and is, working towards and advocating for the government to be concerned about how the industry can become more sustainable. While safety is being prioritized, sustainability needs to also be prioritized.

The components of the cannabis industry that create the most waste include:

  • Energy consumption
  • Water consumption
  • Waste products

Solutions are not out of reach.

Organic cannabis

How can the cannabis industry contribute to a better tomorrow?

Energy Consumption

In many places, the only option to produce cannabis year-round requires it to be grown indoors, which involves massive amounts of electricity, both in lighting and cooling. A 2016 report by New Frontier Financials estimates that the cannabis industry uses 1% of the total electrical output in the U.S. - the equivalent to 1.7 million households - and that was in 2016. Cannabis facilities are continuing to increase in number at a fairly fast pace. Building codes not created with cannabis in mind further increase energy needs as insulation requirements equate to more dehumidification and filtration to keep plants healthy. And while indoor facilities use less water and have better control over pest prevention, indoor grows without a doubt use a lot of energy.

One solution to this problem is to grow with LED lighting - which needs less energy to operate and puts out less heat than other lighting fixtures. As LED lighting technology progresses, an increasing number of growers are making the switch.

Another great option that can be utilized, especially in tropical climates, is to grow outdoors. By growing in a greenhouse, costs can be cut dramatically in both veg and flower due to the need of less lighting, and the ability to grow with the sun. In some places, HVACS are unneeded, fans and wind are suitable, helping to also reduce energy consumption.

Alternative options such as solar and wind power should also be considered. While much of the industry is still in the starting phases, possibly without the budget to begin with or convert to these options, it is a good goal to work towards. Technology may need to be improved upon as far as designing a sustainable building to cultivate cannabis in is concerned. Increased control when it comes to pests and pathogens is important while at the same time a more natural way to influence growth via lighting sources is needed. Maybe the combination of indoor and outdoor cultivation techniques will produce the most sustainable solutions.

Water Consumption

A large percentage of a cannabis plant’s composition, around 75%, is made up of water, which means it needs a lot of water to grow. With many facilities planting hundreds to thousands of plants per cycle, that requires hundreds to thousands of gallons of water. Indoor grows typically use less water than outdoor grows, due to space confinements and increased environmental control; in general, though, making conscious efforts, like using reclaimed water, is important in conservation efforts regardless of where it is grown. In addition, reducing toxic pesticide use and improving pH stability will improve the percentage of reusable gallons.

In areas that allow it, rain catchment would be a beneficial option for the environment. Proper equipment and technology would be needed, which again, means increased start-up costs, however, long-term advantages would make it a worthy investment. For the cannabis industry, sustainability may require adopting slightly different methods of operation based on specific locations and available resources.

Plastic & Green Waste

When it comes to green waste, cannabis plants produce a lot of it. With flowers being the main part of the plant that is used, much of the plant is often discarded, including leaves, branches, and stalks. Due to laws, many composting facilities do not accept cannabis plant waste, leaving the industry with few alternatives when it comes to proper disposal. Larger cities do not have as many areas to bring green waste to, and as a result, many grows end up having to dump their green waste in the garbage (in plastic trash bags).

When it comes to plastic waste, labeling and packaging requirements and trends contribute to a lot of the environmentally hazardous products being used. Edibles are required to be individually wrapped in non-decomposable mylar, for example. Labels are required to have multiple logos and warning messages, further increasing the amount of packaging materials needed.

The problem winds up being that much of the plastic ends up sitting in a landfill or littering the streets and oceans.

sustainable seed packaging

808 Genetics is proud to be one of the first cannabis companies using 100% environmentally-friendly packaging

Is the system currently being established sustainable for the cannabis community? Cannabis companies and consumers should work together to create solutions that can lower the industry’s carbon footprint. Decisions on what growing techniques to use, what equipment to use, and what building specifications should be implemented should depend on whether or not they support a healthy lifestyle and a better planet.

808 Genetics is proud to be one of the first cannabis companies using 100% environmentally-friendly packaging, preferring glass jars to plastic, and prioritize producing high quality products with a low carbon footprint. With the goal of keeping the islands, the wildlife, and the oceans healthy, Hawaii has always been a place where sustainability is an important part of life. We hope the cannabis industry is able to embrace the same mentality.

Planet Over Profit

The question comes down to: what should we care about? Prioritize? What can we do? How can we improve the everyday? How can we improve our world? It’s the small choices, the small actions, that overtime, accumulate into big changes and desired results.

We, as stewards of the Earth and consumers of goods, should encourage the direction of industry requirements by making our own decisions and purchases based on what is good for not only the environment, but the future. By using your dollar and attention to support what is right, voting the correct people into office, and backing favorable laws and regulations, it will all improve the industry as far as sustainability is concerned.

Sustainability matters. And cannabis not only highlights its importance, but contributes to a better tomorrow if it’s in the hands of people who care. If we don’t preserve, protect, and progress the communities we live in, and our way of life, what are we creating for the future?