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Biros' Blog

Sustainability of Cultivation in 2016, Part I

By Aaron G. Biros
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A few weeks ago, it was that time of the year when people set new year’s resolutions hoping to accomplish a set of goals or somehow better themselves. More often than not, those expectations never get met and those resolutions remain unfulfilled, lofty ambitions.

The cultivation of cannabis is a production process that is notoriously inefficient and energy-intensive. Indoor growing requires a very large carbon footprint. In 2015, we saw the country’s cannabis market grow to roughly $2.7 billion. Looking forward to 2016, we can expect more growth with multiple states voting on recreational sales including California and Nevada, leading to more growers and a higher volume of cannabis production across the nation.

I am suggesting a resolution for cultivators to adopt: Grow your cannabis more sustainably. This might seem unattainable, but the key to a good resolution is a force of habit, setting small goals to improve your production process and make your operation more efficient, ultimately saving you money and reducing your carbon footprint. This series will delve into some of the tools cultivators can use to grow cannabis more sustainably.

Environmental, social and economic sustainability are the three pillars of sustainability to keep in mind. Many describe it in terms of people, planet and profit in reference to the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Essentially, cultivators should adjust their standard operating procedures and business model to include their responsibility to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

The challenge of growing cannabis efficiently is understandably daunting. A research study published in the journal, Energy Policy, suggests, “One average kilogram of final product [dried flower marijuana] is associated with 4600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.” That translates to an enormous carbon footprint, the equivalent of roughly three million cars.

The use of pesticides is also a tangible social and environmental issue of sustainability because of the potentially harmful effects on the cultivation environment and the consumer. Just last week, Denver recalled almost 100,000 edibles due to concerns of dangerous pesticide residue. Growing pesticide-free marijuana is more sustainable across the board for obvious reasons; it is safe for the consumer, less harmful to the environment and more marketable as a clean and safe product.

There are a lot of tools in the cultivator’s arsenal they can use to work toward a more sustainable operation. Some of these include more energy efficient technology, like LED lighting and efficient HVAC systems. Some tools require more effort to implement like moving toward greenhouse growing, using post-consumer products, support fields, composting and others.

In this series, we will hear from growers offering advice on some of the steps you can take to grow your cannabis with sustainability at top of mind. Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, a cultivation and processing business in Washington, will share some insights on the sustainable technologies you can implement to improve efficiency in your grow operation. Stay tuned for Part II of Sustainability of Cultivation in 2016.

From Produce to Cannabis: The Future of Indoor Agriculture

By Aaron G. Biros
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Throughout the United States, a majority of cannabis for medical and adult use is grown indoors, which requires a tremendous amount of energy and is generally inefficient. State regulators and cultivators alike are beginning to notice the benefits of greenhouse and outdoor-grown cannabis, primarily for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Basil plants ready for packaging and shipping at the Edible Garden facility in Belvidere, New jersey
Basil plants ready for packaging and shipping at the Edible Garden facility in Belvidere, New jersey

Terra Tech, a publicly traded company, cultivates environmentally sustainable produce through its subsidiary, Edible Garden, in Belvidere, New Jersey. Utilizing Dutch hydroponic cultivation methods, integrated pest management and computer-controlled automation, Edible Garden grows certified organic herbs such as thyme and basil in their greenhouses in New Jersey.

Poinsettias ready for distribution at Edible Garden facility in Belvidere, New Jersey
Poinsettias ready for distribution at Edible Garden facility in Belvidere, New Jersey

Edible Garden is certified by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which provides internationally recognized benchmarks and guidance for managing food safety and meeting standards. According to Ken VandeVrede, chief operating officer of Terra Tech, the company plans to take these cutting-edge practices and standards from cultivating produce to the cannabis industry to grow quality, sustainable and safe cannabis in states where it is currently legal.

The company is actively making its operations more environmentally sustainable via greenhouse cultivation, Dutch style hydroponics, shipping locally, and integrated pest management. “We plan on implementing guidance from our two years of GFSI certification and our organic certification along with all of our practices from the food side and bring them to cannabis; for us, it is just another plant,” says VandeVrede. With the help of computer automation, he says they can cultivate cannabis at the commercial scale, creating more homogeneity by removing human elements and utilizing environmental controls. Through computer automated blackout curtains in their greenhouses, they plan to minimize energy usage by using natural sunlight when possible.

“The procedures are very similar across industries so we are creating our own internal standards for cannabis cultivation,” says VandeVrede. “We are trying to be at the forefront of the industry and set the standard for growing cannabis, because right now, there are no standards in place.”

Mint plants ready for harvest at the Edible Garden greenhouse
Mint plants ready for harvest at the Edible Garden greenhouse

Terra Tech has already started its move into the cannabis industry via its subsidiary, IVXX LLC, which makes medical cannabis extracts for dispensaries in California. The company has also broken ground on cultivation and production facilities in Nevada and dispensaries in California, and submitted an application for licenses in Maryland. “Terra Tech is doing everything with vertical integration in mind; we will control the cultivation, bringing experience from our agricultural background to cultivate high quality and high yield cannabis, making oil and extracts with it to sell in our dispensaries,” adds VandeVrede.

Looking to the future of cannabis cultivation, Terra Tech’s plan is to keep environmental sustainability at top of mind. “As a company we are growing indoor, but moving toward greenhouse cultivation across the board”, says VandeVrede. “Our focus on expansion will be [include] greenhouse-grown cannabis, which is a lot more efficient, saving us money but more importantly reducing our overall carbon footprint.” With more companies adopting these sustainable farming practices, the industry might soon usher in a new era of environmentally friendly cannabis cultivation.