We have a problem. And, contrary to popular belief, cannabis isn’t innocent. In recent years, large conglomerates and irresponsible cultivation practices have unquestionably contributed to a blight on this new industry. While reform has ushered in a bright new era for consumers, patients and companies, there is now – more than ever – a responsibility to grow sustainably.
It is not often that an entire industry has the opportunity to drastically cut down on its carbon footprint and energy usage. Industries such as manufacturing and healthcare also use large amounts of resources, but that pales in comparison to what is used at an indoor cannabis facility. Up until recently, all legal commercial cultivation had to be done indoors or in greenhouses.
Today, there is another option. As virtually the only cannabis company to be publicly advocating for outdoor production last year when it was being debated in the Canadian Senate, we have been working on this opportunity for some time. As of October 2018, outdoor production became an alternative to indoor and greenhouse production. While the conglomerates lobbied against it to protect their interests, common sense prevailed in the end, and outdoor production was included in the Cannabis Act.
The issue is simple: Commercial grows are behemoths that require massive volumes of electricity, natural and gas and liquid CO2 to operate. In 2012, a report on the carbon footprint of indoor production found that cannabis production makes up to 1% of national electricity usage in the US, and up to 3% in the top producing state. Canada is in a similar situation.
Rather than thrive, naturally and efficiently under the sun, plants at an indoor facility require intense lighting that contributes to the cannabis industry’s inexcusably large carbon footprint. These lights produce large amounts of heat, which must be cooled by air-conditioning, year-round, and many contain heavy metals like mercury, that require special disposal.
Within the rooms, it is a constant challenge to ensure there is enough air-flow between plants, due to overcrowding and poor design, which causes pest and disease issues. This, in turn, precipitates the use of pesticides and fungicides, with the cycle continually repeating itself. Indoor facilities generally recirculate the same air, rather than introduce fresh air, and rely on filters that are never 100% effective to continually clean the air. This all makes for a very expensive and inefficient way to grow a plant that thrives naturally outdoors.
Indoor cannabis facilities are culprits in a number of disturbing water facts. Rather than using rainfall and ground-fed wells like outdoor grows, most large indoor grows rely on water from municipal water treatment facilities This water is treated with chlorine for sterilization, which is harmful to the plant and must be removed before use. Most of these operations use large volumes of conventional fertilizers, which remain in the runoff after an irrigation cycle, as many growers will intentionally overwater by 10-30%. This runoff can be dangerously high in phosphates and nitrates for release into a municipal water treatment system but usually has no other treatment before release. This water eventually ends up in local waterways, and this can produce dangerous algae blooms which cannot be treated.
In addition to a packaging and waste problem that borders on the absurd, the cannabis industry is also having trouble managing its shipping and energy costs, importing grow mediums and fertilizers from around the world. These unnecessary emissions are, of course, largely omitted from the equation when growing cannabis plants genetically designed to suit the natural, outdoor climate.
In many operations, it is cheaper and easier to dispose of a plastic nursery pot than to wash and reuse it. Rather than composting waste plant and grow media material, many indoor facilities mix with products like kitty litter and water, and pay to dispose of it in the landfill. This sort of wastefulness should be inexcusable when there are clearly better practices available.
Our view is that change is within reach. Growing cannabis outdoors is an appropriate answer to the unsustainable path that this young industry has meandered down in recent years. Under the sun, plants produce a full and rich terpene profile. Airflow and humidity are balanced, and predatory insects naturally balance the ecosystem. Water is pure, falling from the sky or pumped from the ground, and in abundance. The organic earth is rich and there is no waste plant material or grow media, everything is composted on site and reused in the following season.
Wildfire is committed to blazing a trail to sustainable production. We will use 99% less electricity than an indoor operation and produce highly competitive products while doing so. We will be one of the first companies to be Simply Certified by the Cannabis Conservancy, which provides Sustainability Certification to legal Cannabis organizations that adhere to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). All of our crops will be grown free of harmful chemical inputs, utilize waste reduction methods, be energy efficient, and conserve very little water by way of irrigation.
Most importantly, the environmental impact of our outdoor farms will account for a fraction of that of an indoor crop. Across all metrics – energy, waste, water management, and sustainability – growing under the sun is just one of the ways the cannabis industry can help to detract from, rather than contribute to, the effects of climate change. There is a solution.
We can see it from here. Can you see it, too?