Aeroponic & hydroponic systems can operate with little to no soil or media. This eliminates the pest vectors that coco-coir, peat moss/perlite and organic media can harbor as part of their healthy biome approach. Liquid nutrient systems come at the nutrient approach from a different direction. Pure nutrient salts (nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and trace metals) are provided to the plant roots in a liquid carrier form. This sounds ideal for integrated pest management programs, but cultivators have to be aware of water and airborne pathogens that can disrupt operations. I will summarize some aspects to consider in today’s summary.
The elimination of soil media intrinsically helps a pest management program as it reduces the labor required to maintain a grow and the number of times the grow room doors are opened. Join that with effective automation with sensors and software, and you have immediate improvements in pest access. Sounds perfect, but we still have staff to maintain a facility and people become the number one source of contamination in a grow operation.
Insects do damage directly to plants as they grow and procreate in a grow room. They also carry other pathogens that infect your plants. For example, root aphids, a very common problem, are a known carrier of the root pathogen, Pythium.
One of the most common ways for pests to access your sealed, sterile, perfectly managed facilities are in the root stock of outsourced clones. If you must start your grow cycles with externally sourced clones, it is strongly recommended that you quarantine those clones to make sure that they do not import pest production facilities into your operation. Your operation management procedures must be complete. If you take cuttings from an internal nursery of mother plants, any pathogens present in your mother room will migrate through cuttings into your clones, supply lines, and subsequently, flower rooms.
Start your gating process with questioning your employees and visitors. Do they grow at home or have they been to another grow operation in the last week? In the last day? You may be surprised by how many people that gain access to your grow will answer these questions in the affirmative.
Developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are followed by every employee and every visitor will significantly reduce your pest access and infection rates, and hence, increase your healthy harvests and increase your profitability. Procedures should include clothing, quarantining new genetics and cleaning procedures, such as baking or irradiating rooms to guarantee you begin with a sterile facility. This is covered more in the complete white paper.
Technology is a wonderful thing but no replacement for regimented procedures. Considered a best practice, professional air showers, that bar access to internal facilities, provide an aggressive barrier for physical pests. These high velocity fan systems and exhaust methods blow off insects, pollen and debris before they proceed into your facility. From that access port into your grow space, positive air flow pressure should increase from the grow rooms, to the hallways, to the outside of your grow spaces. This positive airflow will always be pushing insects and airborne material out of your grow space and away from your plants.
Maintaining Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP)
ORP is a relative measurement of water health. Perfect water is clear of all material, both inert and with life. Reverse osmosis (RO) is a standard way to clear water but it is not sufficient in removing microscopic biological organisms. UV and chemical methods are needed in addition to RO to clear water completely.
ORP is an electronic measurement in millivolts (mV) that represents the ability of a chemical substance to oxidize another substance. ORP meters are a developing area and when using a meter, it is important to track the change in ORP values rather than the absolute number. This is due to various methods that the different meters use to calculate the ORP values. More on this in the white paper.
There are two significant ways to adjust the ORP of a fertilizer/irrigation (fertigation) solution. The first is by adding oxidizers. Examples are chemical oxidizers like hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), hypochlorous acid (HOCl), ozone (O3) and chlorine dioxide (ClO2). Adding these to a fertigation solution increases the ORP of the fertigation solution by oxidizing materials and organic matter. The key is to kill off the bad things and not affect the growth of plants. Again here, the absolute ORP metric is not the deciding factor in the health of a solution and the methods by which each chemical reaction occurs for each of these chemicals are different. This is compounded by the fact that different ORP meters will show different readings for the same solution.
Another wonderful thing about automation and aeroponic and hydroponic dosing systems is that they can automatically maintain oxidizing rates and our white papers explain the methods executed by today’s automation systems.
Another way to adjust ORP is to reduce the water temperature of the reservoirs. Maintaining water temperature below the overall temperature of your grow rooms is imperative for minimal biological deposition and nutrient system health. Water chillers use a heat exchanger process to export heat from liquid nutrient dosing reservoirs and maintain desired temperatures.
The benefit of managing ORP in aeroponic and hydroponic grow systems is highly accelerated growth. This is enhanced in aeroponics due to the effectively infinite oxygen exchanging gases at the surface of the plant roots. Nutrient droplets are sprayed or vaporized in parallel and provided to these root surfaces. Maximizing the timing and the best mineral nutrients to the root combustion is the art of grow recipe development. Great recipes drive superior yields and when combined with superior genetics and solid environmental controls, these plants will deliver spectacular profits to a grow operation.
Another Hero Award
Before closing this chapter, we have many cultivators that are producing stellar results with their operational and IPM procedures, so it is hard to choose just one leader. That said, our hats are off to RAIR Systems again and their director of cultivation, Ashley Hubbard. She and her team are determined to be successful and drive pests out of their operations with positive “little critters” and the best water treatment and management that we have seen. You are welcome to view the 7-episode walkthrough of the RAIR facility and their procedures here.
Aeroponic & hydroponic systems grow plants at a highly accelerated rate. A “clean room” type of construction approach is the best way to manage this type of grow operation. Starting with a facility that is completely void of any kind of wood or materials that are porous is a good start. Cellulose materials collect moisture and encourage mold and mildew formation no matter how good the sealant.
We have seen cultivation spaces built out of dry wall over wooden post construction and studs that look sealed and solid on the outside of walls but when repaired for plumbing or other expansion work, they are black inside and covered with nasty mold that no one wants near their grow space.
Panel construction over steel frames or steel studs with skins is a safer, more sterile approach than retrofitting a wooden structure. Panel construction offers the added benefit of rapid assembly and minimal labor costs. We have seen 300 light rooms assembled in a few days so it is both very cost effective and safely sealed for protected growth.
Room Sizes & Count
If you have unlimited space, temperature and humidity management should determine the room sizes in your facility. Room sizes that are square in dimensions tend to be easier to maintain from an environmental standpoint. Long narrow rooms are good for fan airflow but tend to be more expensive from a cooling and dehumidification point of view. The larger the room, the more likely that you will get “microclimates” within the room which can challenge yield optimization.
Now, of course, many grows are retrofits of existing structures so compromises can be necessary. We have found that cultivators that have both very large and mid-size rooms in the same facility (200 lights versus 70 lights) are consistently more successful in the 70 light rooms. These “smaller rooms (~1,500 ft2) out-yielded and out-performed the larger rooms using the same genetics and grow plans. Compartmentalization also minimizes the risk in the case that a calamity (i.e. pest infestation) strikes the room. In a large room scenario, the losses can damage your operation. For this reason, we recommend 70-100 light/tub rooms as a standard.
Rooms should also follow your nursery economics. Structuring your nursery to produce just enough clones/veg plants for your next flower room avoids wasted plant material and resources. Breaking a larger space down into individual rooms means that you need fewer veg plants to fill your flower room that week. The best way to optimize this is to have a number of rooms that are symmetrical with the number 8 (typical 8-week cycle genetics).
With 8 rooms running flower, you are able to plant one room per week for 8 weeks. In the 9th week, you start over on room 1. This continuous harvest process is highly efficient from a labor standpoint and it minimizes the size of your mothers room (cost center). Additional space can be applied to your flower rooms. If you do not have infinite space, even divisors work just as well; 2 or 4 rooms can be planted in sequence for the same optimization (for 2-room structures, harvest and replant 1 room every 4 weeks for example). The optimal structure (8, 16, 24, or more rooms) enables you to optimize your profitability. If any of this needs further explanation, please just ask.
Within your room choice, movable rows or columns of tubs/lights also provides optimal yields. Tubs/plants can be moved together for light usage efficiency and one 3-foot aisle can be opened for plant maintenance. Racking systems or movable trays/tubs make this convenient nowadays.
Concrete floors offer pockets for bacteria to collect and smolder. As such, they have to be sealed. Proper application of your sealant choice is required so that it does not peal up or crack after sealing. There are many benefits to sealed floors that is discussed in the white paper. Floor drains are the equivalent of a portal to Hell for a sterile grow operation. Avoid them at all costs.
Tuning or optimizing you grow rooms for ideal flowering operation depends on your location. Our advice is that you build and optimize your facility in phases with the expectation that nothing is perfect and you will learn improvements in every phase of expansion. The immediate benefit is production that you can promote to your sales channels and revenue that starts as soon as possible to improve your profitability. This is also an excellent learning curve to apply to subsequent rooms. Our happiest customers are those that learned construction improvements in early rooms that were able to be applied to following rooms without headache. The ability to focus on one or two rooms also allows you to get the recipe correct rather than just relying on “winging it”.
Don’t Be In A Rush To Go Green
Validate your water supplies and their stability. Verify that the water in your aeroponic or hydroponic feeds that get to your plants are clean and sterile. This is much easier in a step-by-step fashion than in a crisis debug mode once production is in progress. Be very cautious about incoming clone supplies. We will talk about this more in the next chapter on Integrated Pest Management but incoming clones are a top pest vector that can contaminate your entire facility.
Warehouse Versus Greenhouse Cultivation Spaces
As we started out, controlling your environment is your most important concern. We have seen success in both indoor rooms and greenhouses. The defining success factor is controlling humidity and temperature. Modern sealed controlled environment (CEA) greenhouses do this well and CEA is somewhat of a given for indoor grows. More details on this in the white paper.
Packaging these recommendations gets you to the perfect body for your Formula 1 race car. Now, you are ready to look at some of the mechanics of protecting your operation from pesky little critters and biologicals that can derail your operation and weaken your engine.
Before we sign off this week, I wanted to highlight the ultimate build-out that we have seen so far. Of course, there are many challengers that have done this well but at this point, FarmaGrowers in South Africa has the best thought out facility we have seen. They acquired Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) & Good Agricultural & Collection Practice (GACP) certification early in their operations due to very well-thought-out designs. They are exporting to global markets without irradiation today. Certainly, many successful customers have beautifully thought-out operations and there are several upcoming facilities that offer amazing planning that will challenge for this crown, but for now. FarmaGrowers leads the pack in this aspect. See here for a walkthrough.
For commercial cannabis growers, consistent crop yields are vital to maintaining product profitability, as well as durable profitability. Since cannabis thrives under certain conditions, the more control a cultivator has over those conditions, the easier consistent harvests become.
While factors like humidity, light exposure and water may be easy enough to control in any indoor environment, other influential factors can be more difficult to control, such as mold or other contaminants. Growing in a controlled cleanroom environment ensures healthy, high-quality cannabis by mitigating some harder-to-control threats. For these reasons, growing cannabis in a cleanroom environment is rapidly becoming the gold standard in the industry.
A Closer Look at the Cleanroom Environment
A cleanroom facility is a specially designed room or modular addition designed to support a tightly controlled grow environment for crops. The design of the cleanroom relies on several design features to deter issues with pollutants, such as insects, mold, airborne microbes and dust. Even though cleanroom environments are often affiliated with cultivating certain types of crops, these facilities are also valuable in other industries, such as medicine, biology and pharmaceuticals.
Cleanrooms can be conservatively sized or massive. They can be configured to accommodate different processes, and they can be built to suit a specific grower’s preferences. However, several features are key, such as:
One fundamental requirement of a cleanroom is to control the introduction of contaminants into the space. Contaminants can be carried in on the people who visit the space. Therefore, cleanroom implementation must come along with strict protocols when it comes to employee entry into the room. For example, air showers, special gowns, masks and other measures may be required.
The Benefits of Cleanroom Environments for Cultivators
On the surface level, cleanrooms make it possible to achieve a well-controlled environment for cannabis cultivation. However, while this is undeniably important in terms of consistent crop yields and profitability, cleanrooms pose a number of broader advantages for cultivators and end customers.
Meet Laboratory Testing Guidelines and Protocols
For now, states create product testing regulations for cannabis. Most states that have legalized medical or adult use cannabis have created protocols for lab-testing products for pesticides and microbes. When batches of cannabis product do not meet state lab-testing standards, the product can be recalled or destroyed. In 2016, Steep Hill published an alarming study that showed they detected pesticides in roughly 70% of the samples they received and up to one third of all samples would have failed to meet regulatory standards. Cleanrooms reduce a grower’s reliance on pesticides.
Negate the Risk of Fungal Contamination
Cannabis is prone to certain types of fungal spores that can cause severe illness in end customers. For example, Aspergillus moldspores are common in cannabis and can lead to cases of chronic pulmonary aspergillosis. In large doses, Aspergillus mold spores may even cause liver failure due to the carcinogenic mycotoxins the spores produce in the body. Cleanrooms negate the risk of fungal contamination through proper ventilation, particulate control and positive pressure.
Create a Safer Work Environment for Employees
Employees who work in cultivation facilities in the cannabis industry face various occupational hazards. Many of these hazards are related to being in contact with fungicides, mold spores and chemical fertilizers. The exposure can result in issues such as allergic reactions, respiratory irritation and other physical threats. Cleanrooms and how they function can deter many of these risks. For example, the lack of need for fungicide use automatically lowers the risks due to lacking exposure. Further, because protective gear is required to maintain the integrity of the cleanroom, there is less of a chance an employee’s skin or respiratory system is exposed to irritants.
Cleanrooms: The Potential Future of Cannabis Cultivation
As cannabis becomes a more robust industry and regulations become more clearly defined, growing standards are bound to change. As speculations of national regulations veer closer to reality, growing cannabis industrially may even mean required cultivation facility upgrades. Cleanroom environments give growers firm control over the health of their crops while ensuring clean products for customers. Therefore, these innovative and health-forward implementations could easily become the norm in the cannabis industry in the future.
Ideal cannabis profits come from high demand/high selling prices and low production costs. The spread between those two, or margin, can determine the life or death of your business. We want to share this series of articles so that your next investment can be highly successful and high margin out-of-the-box.
Regardless of the grow method (soil, coco, rockwool, hydro or aero), every plant performs best in its own ideal environmental conditions. Experienced growers gained success through hard work, and just that, experience. Many have tried more advanced grow technologies, but shied away due to early trial failures or the complexity of maintaining chemistry across a grow facility. The wonderful thing now is that precision sensors and software controls eliminate the risk to robust healthy plants and harvest success. Growers are now able to both manage production while performing research in line with their operations.
We have learned a great deal working with our grow partners over the last 6 years. Every grow facility and location are different due to local weather, business environment and scale. This series of articles and guide, authored by our expert, Christopher Wrenn, will include recommendations of the most successful approaches we have seen here in North America and all over the world.
Building top-quality cultivation facilities is no simple task. Cultivators are also looking for new help as they shift from older soil or media approaches to more efficient grow methods. One powerful method is aeroponics, which is very good at growing any type of plant in air in a sterile environment, with labor, nutrient and water savings.
Where possible, we will share key vendors that support healthy grow operations and (since it is World Series Time), customer examples that are knocking it out of the park. In today’s competitive business environment, it is critical to do what we can to increase profitability and survival in the face of steep headwinds. We want you to crush it and be “the last man standing.”
So, let’s get to it.
Climate: Environmental Control
We begin with a critical leg in your environment. The process of photosynthesis is more than just light, plant and moisture. We want to do more than just grow plants. We want to grow highly profitable plants. That means we have to accelerate photosynthesis so we are growing faster, bigger and more potent than our competitors.
The Vapor Pressure Deficit (VPD) is the amount of “drying power” available in the air surrounding your plants. This is a useful way to understand the amount of moisture your atmosphere can remove from your plants as they digest carbon dioxide and aspirate water and oxygen into the air around your plants. A higher vapor deficit is a good thing for growth; It is also a measurement of how much nutrient you can uptake into the plant roots and convert into size and potency in the canopy. We recommend that you have resources in your grow rooms to maintain your environment to within 5% of both your humidity and temperature targets for ideal results.
In our Top Quality Cultivation Facilitywhite paper, we review environmental settings for temperature and humidity for mother, clone/veg and flower rooms for day and night light cycles from early cuttings through to end of harvest flush. Day temperatures can be up to 20% higher than night temperatures for example.
Managing temperature may seem straight-forward but the heat generated by LED lights, HPS lights or the sun will vary across rooms, time exposure and with the distance of the light source from the plants. Measurement sensors should be distributed across rooms to monitor and trigger temperature resources.
This is a topic that can be underappreciated by cultivators. It is important to slowly transition humidity as you move plants from cuttings to clones, to veg and to flower. Beginning in a very humid stage to motivate root start, humidity will be stepped down from an opening near 90% down to an arid 50% in your end of flush flower rooms. We detail the transitions in 5% increments in the white paper.
Relative Humidity (RH) and the related VPD are the key metrics to accelerating growth throughout the stages. Not sizing dehumidifiers correctly is one of the most common mistakes our grow partners learn about as they move to full production. In the first phase of turning cuttings from healthy mothers into rooted clones, hitting your target VPD to motivate root growth is the number one success factor. This will require the addition of humidity into your clone room. It is also typical to require raise the humidity of your flower rooms when you transition clone/veg plants from the high humidity clone/veg room into an initially dry flower room, otherwise the plants may go into shock as a result of the dramatic change.
As flowering begins, if humidity remains high, and the VPD is below target, the plants will not be moving nutrients and transpiring moisture. We have seen lowering the humidity from 70% in a flower room down to 50%, results in a yield increase from 50 grams to 90 grams of dry trim bud per plant, so a smooth transition can both accelerate growth and have a big impact on your margins and profitability.
Plants in aeroponics can truly have explosive growth. This means that they will also transpire moisture at an accelerated rate. Fast automated growth in aeroponics means increased humidity output. Sizing these critical systems for humidification/dehumidification are a critical part of the design process.
Fans combined with your cooling/heating/humidity/dehu systems need to mix the air in a room to break the boundary layer at the leaf surface for transpiration. As we covered, VPD is critical to growth success. A dry surface motivates the plants to transpire moisture. We recommend flow rates across the canopy in a 0.5-1.5 meter/second rate to align to your genetics and where you are in the flowering process.
Airflow and flowering means rich beautiful aromas are generated. Every facility has to consider odor control. If you are in a populated area, you will have ordinances and neighbors to satisfy. The best way to do this is to minimize the amount of air that exits a facility. This is also the cheapest approach.
Sterile HEPA filters and scrubbing systems clean air of pathogens and odor but they also need to circulate and “condition” air to the correct temperature and humidity levels before it can be recirculated into a room. Oftentimes, this is a good place to also recapture humidity and reinject it into your pure water cleaning systems.
Key vendors to talk to about sizing air treatment systems are SURNA, Quest, Desert Aire and AGS. Each of these vendors have specialties and tend to be superior partners in different regions of the world. We would be happy to introduce you to excellent support resources for air management systems.
According to a press release sent out today, ASTM International’s D37 cannabis committee has approved three new standards for environmental conditions during packaging, shipping and storing cannabis and hemp flower. The three new standards are:
Standard Specification for Environmental Conditions for Post Packaged Storage and Retail Merchandising of Cannabis/Hemp Flower (soon to be published as D8423);
Standard Specification for Environmental Conditions While In-Transit for Packaged Cannabis/Hemp Flower (soon to be published as D8432); and
Standard Specification for Environmental Conditions While Packaging Cannabis/Hemp Flower (D8450).
ASTM members will be presenting at the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo, October 17-19 in New Jersey. Click here for more information. Jonathan DeVries, a member of ASTM, says these standards are designed for the entire cannabis supply chain, from cultivation, manufacturing and transportation all the way to the end consumers. “These standards are designed to support the safety and quality of packaged cannabis and hemp flower as it moves through the supply chain,” says DeVries. “This includes the activities following curing and drying, namely packaging, transit, and storage, until it reaches the final end user.”
By Dr. Markus Roggen, Amanda Assen, Dr. Eric Janusson No Comments
Many people associate cannabis with eco-friendly, counter-cultural movements, but we know the environmental impacts of the cannabis industry are significant. Given the climate crisis, cannabis production companies have a responsibility to ensure future demands of the industry are met in an environmentally sustainable way. We also know that as the world is seeing the impacts of climate change, consumers are changing their spending habits 1. As a result, companies also have the financial incentive to seriously consider implementing more environmental policies, to align their interests with the interests of consumers. Unfortunately, restrictions on cannabis research and the legal industry create barriers to implementing many environmentally friendly alternatives in production. However, this does not give us an excuse to do nothing while we wait – there are many steps that can be taken while we work to overcome these barriers. Our team at Delic Labs aims to help companies ensure the environmental and economic sustainability of the cannabis industry. So, we did some research and developed the Cannabis Better Future (CBF) concept, a guide that considers the impacts of cannabis cultivation and processing on the environment. The pillars of CBF are:
Use of renewable/recyclable materials in production
The packaging used for legal cannabis products is infamously excessive. A standard 3.5-grams of dried cannabis is estimated to come packaged in more than 70 grams of plastic. This seemingly redundant packaging is done to meet regulations surrounding cannabis packaging that often require single-use plastic with labels and warnings at specific sizes 2. Despite this, there is work being done to get biodegradable packaging approved in the industry.
More companies, such as Knot Plastic, are using plant-based materials to provide medical-grade biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic 3. As members of the industry, we should support these companies and call for regulations to approve biodegradable packaging. As for immediate actions that can be taken, we can turn to companies that reduce the amount of plastic from the industry that ends up in landfills. The Tweed x TerraCycle Cannabis Packaging Recycling Program accepts all cannabis containers from licensed producers in Canada – free of charge – and melts down the plastic to create new products 4. This includes tins, plastic bags, tubes and bottles with child-proof caps. The program has saved more than 165,000 containers from ending up in landfills.
Upcycle biomass waste
It is estimated that for every pound of cannabis harvested, up to 4.5 pounds of plant waste is generated 5. Cannabis biomass waste can be discarded in four different ways: via landfill, composting, in-vessel digestion or incineration 6. Cannabis bio-waste usually ends up in landfills because this is the cheapest method. However, landfill disposal represents a missed opportunity for companies to use biomass waste for economic and environmentally-friendly uses.
To reduce landfill waste, some companies are looking at sustainable bio-circular solutions, where cannabis biomass is converted into something of industrial use such as compost, bio-plastics and paper packaging for cannabis products 7. The easiest way to reuse cannabis biomass with current regulations in place is to upcycle it to produce compost and greywater that can be used for industrial cultivation 8. Currently, bleach is commonly used to remove THC from biomass, making it unfit to be used for these purposes 6. However, Micron Waste Technologies Inc. have shown enzymatic denaturation can be adopted on the industrial scale to remove THC from the biomass, resulting in reusable water and compostable matter 8. Turning to this alternative method would also reduce the amount of required fertilizer and replace bleach with a more environmentally-friendly solution.
Recycle production side streams
Terpenes are the compounds in cannabis that give it distinctive aromas and flavors sought after by consumers.During the cannabis drying stage, over 30% of terpenes can be lost along with the water phase from the product 9. This terpene-containing water phase gets trapped in drying rooms and decarboxylation ovens and is usually thrown out. To reintroduce the terpenes in their products, companies usually purchase them 10.However, they instead could be recapturing terpenes that are otherwise going to waste, and re-introducing them into their products. Recapturing terpenes would not only reduce the production and shipment energy that goes along with purchased terpenes, but also the costs of buying them.
There are many other wasted by-products that can be recycled. Ethanol that has been used as extraction solvent can be reused as cleaning solvent, reducing the need to purchase ethanol separately for cleaning purposes. Further, the condensation caught in HVACs can be recycled to water plants.
Optimize production energy efficiency
A study by Summers et al. 11 found that from producing one kilogram of dried cannabis flower, the emitted greenhouse gasses emissions range from 2,283 to 5,184 kg of CO2. Electricity used for indoor cultivation is the major culprit in producing these emissions. In fact, over $6 billion is spent annually to power industrial cannabis growth facilities in the U.S. alone12. Growing outdoors is significantly more energy efficient; however, non-auto flowering, high-THC cannabis plants depend on the specific timing of daylight (and darkness) to grow properly 13. Optimal conditions for these plants are not always achievable in outdoor setting. Meanwhile, auto-flowering plants that are hearty outdoors are generally lower in THC content 14. Promoting research into generating more stabilized cannabis cultivars may help outdoor growing be a more feasible solution. Given the recent work being done with genetically modified and transgenic plants, upregulating THC production in cannabis and increasing the heartiness in different climates is well within the realm of possibility 15–17.
In the meantime, cultivation facilities can do their part to maintain a controlled growth environment with reduced energy waste. Companies that are still using high-intensity sodium lights should consider switching to high-efficiency LED bulbs 12. These are a good alternative option as they produce less heat, and as a result, require less mechanical cooling. It has been shown that many plants, including cannabis, might even do better under blue-red LED lights 18,19. Growth under these conditions correlated with an increase in THC and CBD levels, and overall larger plants 18. In addition to low energy consumption, LED lamps have flexible mobility and a tunable spectrum range. This makes it possible to mediate the spectrum specifically for cannabis crops by controlling each spectral range and manipulating spectral quality and light intensity precisely. Finally, lights can also be brought closer to plants, to further reduce the amount of mechanical cooling needed.
Utilize high-precision processes
Reducing energy use while maintaining production rates can only be done if the process is optimized. Our own research improves process optimization in the cannabis industry. A key component of industrial optimization is reducing wasted time on various machines. For cannabis producers, this machine “junk time” can accumulate when the instrumentation is not progressing the reaction.
Reducing energy use in this case means ensuring machines are not in operation if they are not progressing the reaction. For example, many companies spend approximately two hours on the decarboxylation step because decarboxylation is always complete after two hours 20; however, decarboxylations are often complete in as little as thirty minutes 21. Companies can save energy by installing a monitor on decarboxylation systems to stop reactions once they are complete.
Reducing the environmental impacts of the cannabis industry is crucial to combat the developing climate crisis. While lifting restrictions on cannabis research and mitigating stigmas surrounding the legal industry will be what ultimately paves the way for meaningful changes toward a sustainable industry, cannabis companies cannot wait for regulatory changes to occur before considering eco-friendly practices. As outlined by CBF, there are existing actions which all companies can take to reduce their carbon footprint immediately. Delic Labs, and many other companies we have noted, aim to support companies in making these decisions for a better future for cannabis.
Ross Kirsh launched Dymapak in New York City in 2010. Born into a family with a storied history in manufacturing, he founded the company after working for several years in Hong Kong where his interests, skills and passions for product development took shape.
Filling a niche for smell-proof bags in smoke shops, the business grew as he immersed himself in cannabis markets around the country. After designing and inventing a patented, first of its kind child-resistant pouch for Colorado’s first adult use sale in 2014, the business has continued to achieve global scale and today is recognized as the worldwide leader in cannabis packaging.
While the cannabis industry has long drawn the ire of environmentalists because of its energy problem when it comes to cultivation, the packaging side of the business faces very similar issues; the cannabis industry also has a plastic problem. In most states where cannabis is legal, state regulations require producers and dispensaries to package all cannabis products in opaque, child-resistant packaging, with several states requiring dispensaries to place entire orders inside large, child-resistant exit bags prior to customers leaving with their purchase.
Dymapak, led by Kirsh, is working on initiatives to help address environmental sustainability in cannabis packaging and turn interest into action industry wide. Ross will offer insights and the business’s action plan at the upcoming Cannabis Packaging Virtual Conference December 1. And ahead of that chat, we caught up with him to learn more.
Aaron G. Biros: Tell me a bit about yourself and how Dymapak came to be. What brought you to the cannabis space and where you are today?
Ross Kirsh: My family has deep roots in manufacturing. Back in the mid 1970s, my uncle and his brothers all launched separate manufacturing businesses after one of the brothers moved to Hong Kong to open a handbag and luggage factory. The 70s happened to be a unique time to work abroad in Hong Kong given few US companies were operating there when China first announced its open-door policy around 1979. And as you can expect, he became a sourcing agent for many large companies in the US who needed trustworthy boots on the ground.
I went to college, pursued IT and in the back of my mind always knew product development and the manufacturing process was too interesting not to follow. I already knew Hong Kong was ripe for learning entrepreneurship so I went abroad to learn more, and fell in love with the culture, the opportunity and the people. Immediately after graduation, I moved to Hong Kong. I began working with my family, who taught me the trade – end to end. I helped develop several product lines and lived next to one of our factories in southern China to immerse myself.
After 3.5 years abroad, I began running sales operations back in the US. Fast forward a year back in the states, I had unique customers that owned tobacco and smoke shops telling me that cannabis packaging existed in the market, but not really what everyone was looking for. In truth, the business was born the minute a customer said, “Can you make me a retail ready smell-proof bag?” I figured I could, and the rest – as they say – is history.
What began and was established in 2010 truly took shape at an accelerated pace in 2013, when my relationship with one of the first dispensary owner/operators in Denver – Ean Seeb of Denver Relief – came with a golden opportunity; Invent a child resistant package for cannabis, one did not exist but it was mandated under Colorado’s first-ever recreational cannabis regulations. I spent 7 out of the next 8 weeks in China developing a solution and am proud to say our bag was used in the first recreational sale when Colorado went legal in January 2014. From there, the business grew rapidly, and organically throughout the industry.
Biros: Environmental sustainability is a big issue for cannabis. Not just on the energy intensive side, but particularly when it comes to packaging and its plastic problem. How is your company approaching this issue and are you working on any initiatives to eliminate or reduce plastic waste?
Kirsh: We recognize firsthand the issues that plastic presents. While the material is full of advantages, the disadvantages are both imminent and critical to understand.
What many don’t realize is, for most cannabis packaging that’s recyclable to actually BE recycled, the customer must first find a drop off location, either at a dispensary or elsewhere that accepts the material. The process relies exclusively on the consumer to take action because the products cannot be recycled curbside. And unfortunately, the stats show that very few consumers take the time to bring the packaging back in order to recycle it.
So, yes, we produce recyclable bags in our portfolio, but we really want to get to the source of the problem here – pollution. We looked in a few different areas. And we developed a different bag made with 30% post-consumer resin, meaning 30% is made from reused plastics.
Even more, we recently partnered with a socially conscious, industry leader in the space, Plastic Bank, which builds regenerative, recycling ecosystems in under-developed communities. They work to collect plastic waste from the ocean – extracting it to ensure its opportunity to enter the recycling ecosystem. Through our partnership with Plastic Bank, we’ll help prevent more than six million plastic bottles from entering the ocean this year alone. And I’m really proud of that.
Biros: Where do you see the cannabis packaging industry going in the next five years?
Kirsh: I think that’s a fascinating question. Sustainability will play a huge role in the future of this market. Just like we are seeing single use plastic bags being phased out across the country, we’ll see that happen to other areas too as part of this larger trend.
I predict more on-time and on-demand needs in the future; the ability to see traceability in real time, similar to the pharmaceutical industry. People will expect batch numbers and lot numbers, with data, in real time. It’ll become central to the business.
Gaining and cultivating trust will be another big hurdle for companies in this sector soon. With federal legalization comes a greater sense of professionalism and more sophistication for the market.
Yet, the continued pressure on environmental sustainability will be the biggest change in the next five years. When you look at sustainability in the packaging industry, paying attention to the format or choice of material should be top of mind. For example, if you’re shipping a glass jar, the amount of space that takes up in a shipping container has a huge impact on the environment, what’s called a hidden impact. One shipping container can hold millions of bags, but you need eight shipping containers for glass jars to get the same amount of storing capacity. That’s about efficiency, which is a bit more hidden, and I hope that consumers will become more and more knowledgeable about what companies are doing to stay environmentally sustainable.
Biros: Ross, thank you very much for your time today.
Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is a hot area of investment right now for the USDA, holding the promise of improved efficiencies and productivity for indoor growing operations. The cannabis industry, long accustomed to indoor growing has emerged as a spearhead in CEA innovation.
The Resource Innovation Institute has been supporting cannabis enterprises as a non-profit entity since 2016, providing a benchmarking platform called Power Score to help cannabis cultivators be more efficient with resources in their growing practices. Recently, RII submitted a proposal to the USDA to bring best practices from the cannabis industry to other CEA crop producers. They have also recently been responding to the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, providing comments to frame an energy and environmental policy framework for future federal regulation.
We interviewed Derek Smith, executive director of Resource Innovation Institute (RII). Derek engages RII’s advisory bodies, including the Strategic Advisory Council and Technical Advisory Council Leadership Committees and develops global partnerships and oversees the organization’s policy work. Prior to RII, Derek was CEO of Clean Energy Works and policy advisor to the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
Aaron Green: What are RII’s plans for the USDA? I understand you’ve also been working on the CAOA recently?
Derek Smith: We’ve been working in cannabis for five years, publishing best practices and capturing data to inform governments and utilities on how much energy is being used. Our mission is to help producers become more efficient in their use of resources. In addition to informing policies that support producers, we also engage utilities to help them evaluate efficient technologies, so they can put incentives on them and so they can help buy down the cost for cannabis producers to install more efficient technologies.
We submitted a proposal to the USDA, saying we’ve been doing all that in cannabis. This was under the banner of a Conservation Innovation Grant, which is an innovation funding mechanism from the USDA. They specifically wanted something related to indoor agriculture and energy and water efficiency. So, we essentially said, we’ll give you a three-year project that will basically be the blueprint for the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry to transform itself toward a more sustainable production path. This applies to both the urban vertical farms growing leafy greens, as well as the growing greenhouse sector that is producing a range of crops, from tomatoes, to berries, to leafy greens to mushrooms, hemp, etc.
We’re essentially taking the Power Score benchmarking platform that we’ve been serving cannabis producers with to help them understand how competitive they are relative to the rest of the data set that we have on energy use and on water use and opening that platform so that more producers of other types of crops can use it. It also feeds into their Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) reporting needs.
We’re going to write a series of best practices guidance for CEA producers, covering a number of topics: facility design and construction, lighting, HVAC, irrigation and water reuse, controls and automation. This will all be very similar to what we’ve done in cannabis. These best practices guides are peer reviewed by subject matter experts throughout the supply chain. A lot of the supply chain in cannabis is the same in CEA. So, we’re bringing them all together to give this kind of good guidance to the producer community.
Green: You started with cannabis and created these white papers. Now you’re branching out into the larger CEA space?
Smith: Exactly. The federal government is literally funding us to develop a green building rating system like LEED, or like the Living Building Challenge, but for the CEA industry for indoor agriculture. The cannabis industry can leverage this federal investment and basically ride right alongside of it so that we can create a “LEED for weed” type of certification system.
That’s one of the main features in our comments to the CAOA when they asked, “what else should we be thinking about on any number of topics as it relates to federal cannabis regulations?” We proposed an energy and environment policy framework for federal cannabis regulation. We did that in partnership with a group called the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Education and Regulation (CPEAR). We just held a webinar two weeks ago. Hawthorne Gardening Company was featured on there as well. They’re very supportive of the federal government playing a “carrots rather than sticks” role as it relates to cannabis energy and environmental policy issues.
That’s essentially our platform at the federal level. The stuff that the USDA is funding us to do will come back and benefit the cannabis industry, because we’ll have this broader set of best practices guidance, data, etc. And then we’ll be able to leverage the federal investment into a certification system for the cannabis industry.
Green: The specific comments you made to the CAOA were primarily related to this energy efficiency certification system work you’ve been doing?
Smith: Yes. It’s more resource efficiency – it’s broader than just energy efficiency. Well, it was three things. So, I’ll just unpack this quickly. One, is learn from the states that have already initiated some form of regulation or support on helping producers be more efficient. Massachusetts is one example. They put lighting requirements on the industry that don’t explicitly mandate LEDs, but it comes close to that. California passed an energy code that will take effect on January 1 of 2023, that also has lighting requirements.
Green: Is this applied to all greenhouse growers?
Smith: Yes, at a certain size and level of energy usage. In California, it’s the first market where their Title 24 regulations apply not just to cannabis, but to all horticultural operations. Yes. So that’s what we’re seeing is that cannabis is sort of the tip of the spear for the way governments are thinking about policy for indoor agriculture more broadly. We’re trying to get them to focus more on having the federal government play a supportive role. The states are doing the regulation, the federal government can be more focused on carrots, not sticks, right?
So, back to the list of three things. Number one is learn from the states. Don’t add regulatory stuff, just learn what’s going on, and then decide about how to act. Number two is recognizing the need for data. So, supporting state requirements on energy and water reporting like Massachusetts, Illinois, California – a lot of states have either enacted reporting requirements, so the producers must tell the state how much energy and water they’re using and they’re using the Power Score benchmarking platform, which has a compliance function for free to do that reporting. Then what we’re doing is helping everybody understand what the aggregate data is telling us. We protect the producer’s confidentiality, and we’re building this valuable data set that’ll inform the market about what is the most efficient path going forward.
Then the third thing is focused on carrots, not sticks. For example, support the development of a certification system that recognizes leadership, that’s based on a market driven voluntary action by a producer where they say, “I’ll be transparent with my data, because I’d like to be showcased as a leader and get recognition for the good work I’ve done to create an efficient operation.” Then there’s valuation through the real estate transaction as well because you even have a plaque on your building that says this is certified to this agricultural standard.
That’s all the vision that we’re laying out, and we’re looking for partnerships at the MSO level to join in and be recognized and get in the queue as leaders for the investments they’ve made in efficiency.
Green: Great, thank you Derek. That concludes the interview.
In this “Leaders in Cannabis Testing” series of articles, Green interviews cannabis testing laboratories and technology providers that are bringing unique perspectives to the industry. Particular attention is focused on how these businesses integrate innovative practices and technologies to navigate a rapidly changing landscape of regulatory constraints and B2B demand.
PathogenDx is an Arizona-based provider of microbial testing technologies. Since their inception in 2014, they have broadened their reach to 26 states in the US. In addition to cannabis product testing, PathogenDx also provides technologies for food safety testing, environmental testing and recently started offering human diagnostics testing to support COVID-19 response efforts.
We interviewed Milan Patel, CEO and co-founder of PathogenDx. Milan founded PathogenDx as a spin-off from one of his investments in a clinical diagnostics company testing for genetic markers in transplant organs. Prior to PathogenDx, Milan worked in finance and marketing at Intel and later served as CFO at Acentia (now Maximus Federal).
Aaron Green: What’s the history of PathogenDx?
Milan Patel: PathogenDx was effectively a spin-off of a clinical diagnostics company that my partner Dr. Mike Hogan, the inventor of the technology, had founded when he was a professor at the University of Arizona, but previously at Baylor Medical College back in 2002. I had invested in the company back then and I had realized that his technology had a broad and wide sweeping impact for testing – not just for pathogens in cannabis specifically, but also for pathogens in food, agriculture, water and even human diagnostics. In the last 14 months, this became very personal for every single person on the planet having been impacted by SARS-CoV-2, the viral pathogen causing Covid-19. The genesis of the company was just this, that human health, food and agricultural supply, and the environment has and will continue to be targeted by bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens impacting the safety and health of each human on the planet.
We founded PathogenDx and we pivoted the company from its original human organ transplant genetics market scope into the bigger markets; we felt the original focus was too niche for a technology with this much potential. We licensed the technology, and we repurposed it into primarily cannabis. We felt that achieving commercial success and use in the hands of cannabis testing labs at the state level where cannabis was first regulated was the most logical next step. Ultimately, our goal was and is to move into markets that are approved at the federal regulatory side of the spectrum, and that is where we are now.
Green: What year was that?
Green: So, PathogenDx started in cannabis testing?
Patel: Yes, we started in cannabis testing. We now have over 100 labs that are using the technology. There is a specific need in cannabis when you’re looking at contamination or infection.
In the case of contamination on cannabis, you must look for bacterial and fungal organisms that make it unsafe, such as E. coli, or Salmonella or Aspergillus pathogens. We’re familiar with recent issues like the romaine lettuce foodborne illness outbreaks at Chipotle. In the case of fungal organisms such as Aspergillus, if you smoke or consume contaminated cannabis, it could have a huge impact on your health. Cannabis regulators realized that to ensure public health and safety there was more than just one pathogen – there were half a dozen of these bugs, at a minimum, that could be harmful to you.
The beauty of our technology, using a Microarray is that we can do what is called a multiplex test, which means you’re able to test for all bacterial and fungal pathogens in a single test, as opposed to the old “Adam Smith” model, which tests each pathogen on a one-by-one basis. The traditional approach is costly, time consuming and cumbersome. Cannabis is such a high value crop and producers need to get the answer quickly. Our tests can give a result in six hours on the same day, as opposed to the two or three days that it takes for these other approved methods on the market.
Green: What is your business model? Is there equipment in addition to consumables?
Patel: Our business model is the classic razor blade model. What that means is we sell equipment as well as the consumables – the testing kits themselves.
The PathogenDx technology uses standard, off-the-shelf lab equipment that you can find anywhere. We didn’t want to make the equipment proprietary so that a lab has to buy a specific OEM branded product. They can use almost any equipment that’s available commercially. We wanted to make sure that labs are only paying a fraction of the cost to get our equipment, as opposed to using other vendors. Secondly, the platform is open-ended, meaning it’s highly flexible to work with the volumes that different cannabis labs see daily, from high to low.
One equipment set can process many different types of testing kits. There are kits for regulated testing required by states, as well as required environmental contamination.
Green: Do you provide any in-house or reference lab testing?
Patel: We do. We have a CLIA lab for clinical testing. We did this about a year ago when we started doing COVID testing.
We don’t do any kind of in-house reference testing for cannabis, though we do use specific reference materials or standards from Emerald Scientific, for example, or from NCI. Our platform is all externally third-party reference lab tested whether it’s validated by our external cannabis lab customers or an independent lab. We want our customers to make sure that the actual test works in their own hands, in their own facility by their own people, as opposed to just shrugging our shoulders and saying, “hey, we’ve done it ourselves, believe us.” That’s the difference.
Green: Can you explain the difference between qPCR and endpoint PCR?
Patel: The difference between PathogenDx’s Microarray is it uses endpoint PCR versus qPCR (quantitative real time PCR). Effectively, our test doesn’t need to be enriched. Endpoint PCR delivers a higher level of accuracy, because when it goes to amplify that target DNA, whether it’s E. coli, Salmonella or Aspergillus pieces, it uses all the primer reagent to its endpoint. So, it amplifies every single piece of an E. Coli (for example) in that sample until the primer is fully consumed. In the case of qPCR, it basically reaches a threshold and then the reaction stops. That’s the difference which results in a much greater level of accuracy. This provides almost 10 times greater sensitivity to identify the pathogen in that sample.
The second thing is that we have separated out how the amplified sample hybridizes to the probe. In the case of our assay, we have a microarray with a well in it and we printed the actual probe that has the sequence of E. coli in there, now driving 100% specificity. Whereas in the qPCR, the reaction is not only amplifying, but it’s also basically working with the probe. So, in that way, we have a higher level of efficiency in terms of specificity. You get a definite answer exactly in terms of the organism you’re looking for.
In terms of an analogy, let’s take a zip code for example which has the extra four digits at the end of it. In the case of endpoint PCR, we have nine digits. We have our primer probes which represent the standard five digits of a zip code, and the physical location of the probe itself in the well which serves as the extra four digits of that zip code. The analyte must match both primary and secondary parts of the nine-digit zip code for it to lock in, like a key and a lock. And that’s the way our technology works in a nutshell.
Endpoint PCR is completely different. It drives higher levels of accuracy and specificity while reducing the turnaround time compared to qPCR – down to six hours from sample to result. In qPCR, you must enrich the sample for 24 to 48 hours, depending on bacteria or fungus, and then amplification and PCR analysis can be done in one to three hours. The accuracies and the turnaround times are the major differences between the endpoint PCR and qPCR.
Green: If I understand correctly, it’s a printed microarray in the well plate?
Patel: That’s correct. It’s a 96-well plate, and in each well, you’ve now printed all the probes for all targets in a single well. So, you’re not running more than one well per target, or per organism like you are for qPCR. You’re running just one well for all organisms. With our well plates, you’re consuming fewer wells and our patented foil-cover, you only use the wells you need. The unused wells in the well plate can be used in future tests, saving on costs and labor.
Green: Do you have any other differentiating IP?
Patel: The multiplex is the core IP. The way we process the raw sample, whether it’s flower or non-flower, without the need for enrichment is another part of the core IP. We do triplicate probes in each well for E. Coli, triplicate probes for Salmonella, etc., so there are three probes per targeted organism in each of the wells. We’re triple checking that you’re definitively identifying that bug at the end of the day. This is the cornerstone of our technology.
We were just approved by the State of New York, and the New York Department of Health has 13 different organisms for testing on cannabis. Think about it: one of the most rigorous testing requirements at a state level – maybe even at a federal level – and we just got approved for that. If you had to do 13 organisms separately, whether it’s plate culture or qPCR, it would become super expensive and very difficult. It would break the very backs of every testing lab to do that. That’s where the multiplexing becomes tremendously valuable because what you’re doing is leveraging the ability to do everything as a single test and single reaction.
Green: You mentioned New York. What other geographies are you active in?
Patel: We’re active in 26 different states including the major cannabis players: Florida, Nevada, California, Arizona, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington – and we’re also in Canada. We’re currently working to enter other markets, but it all comes down to navigating the regulatory process and getting approval.
We’re not active currently in other international markets yet. We’re currently going through the AOAC approval process for our technology and I’m happy to say that we’re close to getting that in the next couple of months. Beyond that, I think we’ll scale more internationally.
I am delighted to say that we also got FDA EUA federal level authorization of our technology which drives significant credibility and confidence for the use of the technology. About a year ago, we made a conscious choice to make this technology federally acceptable by going into the COVID testing market. We got the FDA EUA back on April 20, ironically. That vote of confidence by the FDA means that our technology is capable of human testing. That has helped to create some runway in terms of getting federalized with both the FDA and the USDA, and certification by AOAC for our different tests.
Green: Was that COVID-19 EUA for clinical diagnostics or surveillance?
Patel: It was for clinical diagnostics, so it’s an actual human diagnostic test.
Green: Last couple of questions here. Once you find something as a cannabis operator, whether its bacteria or fungus, what can you do?
Patel: There are many services that are tied into our ecosystem. For example, we work with Willow Industries, who does remediation.
There’s been a lot of criticism around DNA based technology. It doesn’t matter if it’s qPCR or endpoint PCR. They say, “well, you’re also including dead organisms, dead DNA.” We do have a component of separating live versus dead DNA with a biomechanical process, using an enzyme that we’ve created, and it’s available commercially. Labs can test for whether a pathogen is living or dead and, in many cases, when they find it, they can partner with remediation companies to help address the issue at the grower level.
Another product we offer is an EnviroX test, which is an environmental test of air and surfaces. These have 50 pathogens in a single well. Think about this: these are all the bad actors that typically grow where soil is – the human pathogens, plant pathogens, powdery mildew, Botrytis, Fusarium – these are very problematic for the thousands of growers out there. The idea is to help them with screening technology before samples are pulled off the canopy and go to a regulated lab. We can help the growers isolate where that contamination is in that facility, then the remediation companies can come in, and help them save their crop and avoid economic losses.
Green: What are you most interested in learning about?
Patel: I would prefer that the cannabis industry not go through the same mistakes other industries have gone through. Cannabis started as a cottage industry. It’s obviously doubled every year, and as it gets scaled, the big corporations come in. Sophistication, standards, maturity all help in legitimacy of a business and image of an industry. At the end of the day, we have an opportunity to learn from other industries to really leapfrog and not have to go through the same mistakes. That’s one of the things that’s important to me. I’m very passionate about it.
One thing that I’ll leave you with is this: we’re dealing with more bugs in cannabis than the food industry. The food industry is only dealing with two to four bugs and look at the number of recalls they are navigating – and this is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Cannabis is still a fraction of that and we’re dealing with more bugs. We want to look ahead and avoid these recalls. How do you avoid some of the challenges around antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic resistance? We don’t want to be going down that road if we can avoid it and that’s sort of a personal mission for myself and the company.
Cannabis itself is so powerful, both medicinally as well as recreationally, and it can be beneficial for both consumers and industry image if we do the right things, and avoid future disasters, like the vaping crisis we went through 18 months ago because of bad GMPs. We must learn from those industries. We’re trying to make it better for the right reasons and that’s what’s important to me.
Green: Okay, great. That concludes the interview. Thank you, Milan.
Patel: Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and your time, Aaron.
Cannabis has long been considered a green industry by the masses.
As a standalone item, the cannabis plant is very environmentally friendly. This is particularly true when it comes to hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant with a huge range of environmental benefits. An extremely versatile and robust crop, hemp uses far less land and water than other common crops and even captures carbon dioxide and regenerates soil. Approximately 20,000 products can be made from its seed, fiber and flower, from biodegradable plastics to food supplements, meaning all in all – it is an environmentally and economically sustainable crop
Yet as with most things, when cultivated in mass, the cannabis plant isn’t quite so green anymore. With its high demand for water, land and artificial lighting, cannabis cultivation can actually leave a large environmental footprint (this does however, pale in comparison to the food industry).
What’s more, many firms do not properly understand how to correctly treat and apply chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and use a machine gun approach to growing their crops. This can result in unnecessary bleed waste, which in turn can kill micro-organisms and contaminate soil, water and other vegetation. Packaging has also been cited as particularly environmentally unfriendly in the cannabis industry, with several organizations using single use plastic for their products, due to the strict guidelines attached to packaging products of a medical or pharmaceutical nature.
So as the CBD, medical and even adult use cannabis industries become increasingly commercialized across the globe, there is risk cannabis might start moving in the wrong direction when it comes to sustainability.
Still relatively new, the cannabis sector is nascent and exciting, with the global cannabis market size valued at $10.60 billion in 2018 and projected to reach $97.35 billion by the end of 2026. Yet as the industry grows, so too will its footprint.
I’ve seen it first-hand. The industry being hugely competitive, so for companies vying for precious investment and fighting for a spot on the stock market, often, sustainability is the last thing on their minds. In my opinion, this is wrong. Not only morally – we all play a part in looking after our planet – but it’s also a poorly calculated business decision.
It’s no secret sustainability and ESG have become a hot topic when it comes to investing. Just yesterday, Credit Suisse told CNBC that the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards sustainable investments. The bank has even introduced an exclusion strategy whereby those investing can actively exclude controversial sectors.
So with the environment firmly on investors’ minds, cannabis firms need to realize that actually, if they want to secure the support of forward-thinking shareholders, they need to consider more than just the bottom line and truly take the sustainability of their operations into account.
Luckily, there are practices which cannabis cultivators can take on board to reduce their environmental footprint. To start with – growing outdoors. This enables cannabis farmers to harness the sun’s natural power, saving them money on electricity bills and increasing energy efficiency. With cannabis being a rather thirsty plant, water use is also a major concern – although this is nothing compared to the amount of water used by cotton plants. However, it is in fact possible to design indoor operations which recycle close to 100% of the water use, including capturing the perspiration from plants – at AltoVerde this is something we are looking to implement in our upcoming Macedonian sites.
Firms keen to improve on sustainability should also cultivate in a way in which soil is fully replenished and repaired after use – this is called regenerative farming, and it’s extremely effective for maintaining and improving soil quality, biodiversity and crop yields. Another interesting concept is the use of hemp. Some farmers have started using hempcrete – a concrete-like material made from harvested cannabis plants. As if the recycling aspect wasn’t good enough, hempcrete is actually carbon negative, meaning the production of hemp for hempcrete removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces.
It’s been incredibly exciting to be a part of the cannabis industry and I am excited to watch its growth in the years to come. It’s taken hard work for the sector to improve its traditionally poor image and to be accepted across the globe, so now, cultivators must lead by example and stop industry from being branded as one which pollutes. By transitioning to more environmentally sustainable practices, firms will be doing their bit for the planet, attracting the investors of tomorrow and ensuring their own success for years to come.
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