The California cannabis industry has gone to great lengths to present itself as a good corporate citizen comprising companies operating with the community’s best This is especially true when it comes to environmental issues in an industry that has a long history of environmentalism among growers, dating from decades before weed was a legal crop. Now, as industry members push for legalization and to win the favor of state regulators, local officials and the general public, continue to be environmentally friendly.
But that position presents what is perhaps the industry’s greatest quandary: even in the best circumstances, growing and selling weed can be incredibly damaging to the environment.
Adding insult to injury, regulations meant to protect health and safety—necessary as they might be—are part of the problem. For example, many governments require that weed be grown indoors, necessitating the use of lighting that sends vast amounts of carbon into the air, worsening global warming. Requirements for childproof packaging result in tons of plastic waste, much of which ends up in landfills.
It’s worth noting the push for environmentalism is far from universal in the industry. A lot of weed was—and often still is—grown by gangs of criminals who have befouled waterways with pesticides, illegally tapped into municipal water supplies and generally left big messes behind them.
But most of the people who have entered the legal weed business since medical and adult-use pot was legalized (whether they were in the business before or not) pride themselves on their environmental stewardship, or at least paid lip service to ecological concerns.
Many of those same people also see the challenges to being as green as their product as an opportunity.
Last week, several cannabis companies announced the formation of the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition (SSC), which aims “to measure, document, and improve sustainable cannabis cultivation and manufacturing through education and proliferation of best practices.”
The group includes data and consulting companies, as well as a few hands-on cannabis firms, including one of the bigger ones: Trulieve, a Florida company that operates dispensaries in five states, including California.
So far, SSC doesn’t otherwise have a strong California presence. But something similar seems to be in the works here, according to Chris Lane, the chief marketing officer of Airfield Supply, the San Jose-based dispensary whose main shop is California’s largest.
Airfield is organizing its suppliers and partners to create a group to address environmental issues across the supply chain. At first, the group will be made up solely of California companies, though Lane said it’s likely to expand beyond the state eventually.
Airfield in December announced a plastic recycling program with one of its suppliers, the Sonoma County–based CannaCraft. Recycling technology company Resynergi will convert the companies’ plastic, child-resistant packaging into fuel that will, in turn, be used to power the fleet of vehicles used by CannaCraft’s distribution arm, Kind House Distribution. The goal is to recycle up to 2 million packages per year.
“Airfield serves about 1,500 customers a day,” Lane said. “That means we’re sending about 5,000 or 6,000 packages into the world. We felt we needed to do something about that.”
Airfield isn’t ready to formally launch its sustainability coalition yet, but Lane said it will one day include dozens of California cannabis companies, and that a “major university” has been contracted to help it conduct research.
Presumably, much of that research will focus on the main source of environmental trouble: indoor growing, which accounts for about 80 percent of California’s legal weed crop.
The lighting and ventilation needed for such grows use enormous amounts of electricity. More than 3 percent of California’s electrical power is used for indoor pot grows, a share that will grow with the industry. Indoor cultivation consumes 10 times the amount of electricity per square foot used by the typical office building.
The new coalition, according to Lane, will address this and other problems head on. Among pot companies up and down the state, he said, “the enthusiasm is there. It just needs to be organized.”