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Growing Pains: Exciting Opportunities for Turning Marijuana into a Sustainable Industry

Did you know that the conventional growing operation of marijuana is not the most sustainable option?

Indoor marijuana grow-ops are the norm, and for good reason. When the quality of marijuana products must remain consistent and indisputable, the certainty and convenience that a controlled indoor space provides is ideal.

What many marijuana growers – and consumers – don’t consider is the fact that maintaining a climate-controlled indoor grow-op comes with significant environmental costs. To produce high-quality weed, cannabis plants require adequate lighting, consistent moisture, as well as proper humidity and nutrition based on the plant’s growth stage. To create the ideal climate throughout the plant’s lifespan, energy and water requirements are extremely high. A study published in the Energy Policy Journal found that legal marijuana operations accounted for the equivalent of 1% of America’s total energy usage. The same study also found that these operations produced 15 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This is the equivalent of operating 3 million cars.

With the legalization of marijuana across Canada, these numbers are expected to rise. It’s not all bad news though! With sustainability becoming a trend across many major industries, the cannabis sector has a unique opportunity. As a new large-scale industry in Canada, tried-and-true methods of production have not yet been established. This gives growers the opportunity to experiment not only with newer, more efficient equipment, but also with more sustainable practices.

Two of the biggest obstacles that sustainable marijuana production faces are energy consumption and water usage. We’ve done the research and found a couple of ways that Canadian growers can lessen their impact on the environment – without sacrificing the quality of their crops!

Energy Consumption

Cannabis plants require between 12 and 24 hours of adequate lighting a day, depending on their stage of growth. High-pressure sodium bulbs have been used historically and are still the norm across this industry. According to a study conducted by the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Ontario’s cannabis-growing business is expecting to see a 1,250% increase in energy use within the next five years.

But it’s not too late to reverse these numbers. Converting to LED lighting can reduce energy usage by up to 50%. The problem? LED lights are not cheap.

As an alternative, many companies are turning towards reusable energy sources such as solar and wind. A farmer in Oregon purchased his energy from a local wind farm. In doing so, he not only saved money but also prevented over 373,000 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

Sun-grown marijuana is another option that growers should consider to reduce their energy consumption. Tantalus Labs, a licensed marijuana grower in B.C., has been experimenting with the natural energy input from the sun. Tantalus has established greenhouses with translucent walls and ceilings to allow natural sunlight to fuel their plants, while maintaining the ability to fully control other climate factors.

Water Usage

A single cannabis plant, grown between the months of June and October, consumes roughly 22 litres of water a day. If you multiply this by the thousands of plants grown by commercial operations, it is clear that water usage is a huge environmental concern. THC Design, a cultivation company in California, turned to closed-loop aquaponics to lessen their water usage. A closed-loop system is a method of production in which all inputs are treated and put through the system repeatedly. In this way, natural resources such as water are conserved.

Other companies are collecting the water from their air conditioners and dehumidifiers for plant hydration. Trail Blazin’, a grower located in Washington, found this method reduced their water consumption by 90%. Collecting rainwater also has its merits in water conservation. Multiple growers in B.C. have turned to using rainwater exclusively in their cultivation practices. As rainwater is not treated with chlorine and fluoride, these growers actually prefer it to conventional irrigation.

What’s the takeaway?

Marijuana operations have a lot of potential when it comes to sustainability. Energy and water consumption are the biggest factors contributing to the large carbon footprint of most cultivators. However, these are also areas in which many growers are already finding new ways of improving their operations.

Given that the cannabis sector in Canada is still relatively young, it has the unique opportunity of being branded as a sustainable industry. Let’s take this opportunity and change the industry for the better.