In recent years, the cannabis industry has experienced significant growth--18 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, and medical use is legal in 37 states. In many ways, momentum appears to be on the side of this budding industry, and, as such, conversations on the topic tend to revolve around the remaining barriers to full legalization and the economic impact, potential tax revenues, and employment opportunities associated with the industry’s continued development. Aspects of the cannabis industry that are frequently overlooked, however, are its energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and overall environmental impact. To help get the full picture, we explored the cannabis industry through a climate lens and talked to Firelands Scientific, a B Corp certified medical cannabis company based in Ohio. More on their inspiring story in part 2 of this blog.
CANNABIS AND CLIMATE
Marijuana plants are commonly cultivated indoors, a practice that requires sophisticated climate management. On average, lights are on 16 hours a day and HVAC systems are constantly treating air to maintain temperature and humidity. This leads to a lot of electricity consumption--an estimated 2.4 million MWh annually industry-wide. According to Utility Dive’s recent analysis, the cannabis industry’s increasing reliance on energy has it nipping at the heels of data centers--notoriously high energy consumers--in terms of energy use.
(Image Credit: Utility Dive, 2019)
This increased energy use leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions. According to a Colorado State University study, an estimated 2,283 to 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide come from each kilogram of dried flower cultivated indoors. Compare that to New Frontier Data’s 2018 Cannabis Energy Report, which attributes 22.7 and 326.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity use in outdoor and greenhouse cannabis operations respectively. As production grows to meet increasing demand, the question becomes how energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.
Connected to the emissions concerns are the implications for our energy infrastructure. As the cannabis industry expands and new cultivators set up operations, these high-demand customers place a significant strain on the grid’s ability to provide reliable energy. That said, there are opportunities for innovation. By establishing on-site microgrids that produce energy from renewable sources like solar and wind, growers can help fuel their operations with home-grown energy. While most cultivation sites do not have enough space to completely offset demand, microgrids do offer the opportunity to reduce the burden on the grid while also decreasing carbon emissions. Schneider Electric and Scale Microgrid Solutions are working together to create sustainable microgrid options for the cannabis industry with a combination of solar and natural gas technologies. Where deployed, these microgrids offer long-term fixed price of energy solutions and reduce the carbon footprint from traditional grid-supplied energy.
FARMING WITH LESS WATER
In addition to considering the energy consumption, emissions, and infrastructure impact of the cannabis industry, another important environmental concern is the use of water. Not only is potable water an increasingly scarce commodity in many regions, it takes energy to treat and pump it--and it costs money. One option here is hydroponic cultivation, where plants are grown in a nutrient rich solution, reducing water by up to 80% compared to traditional farming methods. Taking it one step further, aeroponic agriculture, which relies only on a fine mist of water sprayed on the roots, takes the water savings up to 95% compared to traditional methods. Both methods also have the added benefit of eliminating the need for pesticides to address bacteria and fungi.
IN THIS TOGETHER
In light of the recent IPCC report on the dire state of the climate, businesses in all sectors of the economy are increasingly concerned about the risks that climate change poses to their operations. Thankfully, they are also more aware of the ways in which their actions impact the climate and are becoming more focused on how they can do their part to reduce emissions and contribute to a healthier planet. In part two of our focus on the cannabis industry, we highlight the story of Firelands Scientific's journey toward sustainability and how its experiences can inspire others both in the industry and beyond.
Does your business have corporate climate goals? To help your business reduce emissions and address the climate crisis, we have taken the time to explain and explore net zero emissions and how to achieve them. Click below to learn more!