Tag Archives: sustainability

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Sustainability for the Cannabis Industry: Part I

By Olivia L. Dubreuil, Esq., Brett Giddings
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The cannabis industry is an unusual creature. It is so new and fluid that nothing in its space is yet crystallized. Product types, brand names, generally accepted processes and procedures are all still being invented and tested. Consumer market segments are defining themselves as the progression of legalization advances through the states. Seniors, children, veterans, women, and professionals of all backgrounds are feeling the health and wellness benefits of the flower that is slowly losing the negative stigma inherited from the so-called war on drugs. The potential is enormous. Money is already flooding to the lucky entrepreneurs with enough foresight to work in the space, and corporate business leaders from many other traditional sectors are slowly, but steadily flocking to the market.

This is economically encouraging. A whole new industry that creates new jobs, generates tax revenue and creates wealth. But there is a worrying scenario. In that scenario, traditional cannabis business owners and entrepreneurs are pushed out of the market as corporate competitors enter the game. In that scenario the industry grows faster than its regulatory framework, with little to no voluntary regulations, no sustainability leadership, and the industry’s practices and reputation finish in the gutter. In that scenario, federal and state regulators ramp up indiscriminate bans and phony prohibitions. In that scenario the new cannabis industry exacerbates the world’s social and environmental problems by being non-inclusive, by creating a divide within communities, by adding its own share of pollution, by pushing unhealthy and unsafe products – all for the sake of an easy buck.

That scenario is not a certainty – it does not have to see the light of day. This industry has the potential to be different. It has the unique opportunity to integrate sustainability practices from the start, to create a space where business meets mindfulness, and where corporate profits do not trump consumer health, worker welfare, community engagement or environmental preservation.

Sustainability strategy is the best risk management tool available to the cannabis businesses emerging today that hope to stay relevant in the future. A sustainable cannabis industry is one where women and minorities feel included, where the consumer recognizes and is loyal to brands and labels, where businesses are thriving while having a positive influence on their peers, a positive impact on their community and on the environment, where the race to the top breeds best practices and innovation.

Three levers can push sustainability: the consumer, the industry (and the businesses that comprise it) and the government (local, regional, national and international). Surprisingly, businesses can have a significant influence on all three. Consumers make and shape a market. What will happen when the consumer becomes aware of fossil-fuel (benzene) extraction in the age of climate change, when they request organic flowers that fits their ‘Wholefoods lifestyle’, or when they boycott non-biodegradable packaging? What will happen when a scandal breaks, linked to an avoidable health and safety accident, or when they realize people of color do not have equal opportunity in a cannabis business?

It is preposterous to think, that in this day and age – where information travels at the speed of light, some type of potentially damaging information about a product manufacturing process will not get out at some point or another (in some cases they have). There is absolutely no need to gamble with that. The solution is simple: adopt sustainable practices from the start.

The third lever is the government – we will come back to the second lever later. The cannabis industry, better than any other industry, knows how the government can make or break a business. If the government decides, like they did in Colorado, that in nine months cannabis packaging needs to be resealable and childproof, businesses will have to sit on several weeks worth of sales until they can find new suppliers, they will probably have to rethink their processes, while absorbing the costs of the packaging they had bought in advance. Worse case, they also have marketing and merchandising to rethink. All of that is costly.

However there is good news; government can be channeled, generally speaking, by doing the right thing. If an industry actively demonstrates a desire to do the right thing, and there is not an exaggerated amount of complaints (or accidents), then regulators will leave it alone. Businesses can and should invest as a group into drafting and endorsing generally accepted industry practices and organizing industry self-regulations. Those will guide governments when they draft regulations, but they could also preempt a lot of nonsensical top down rules

The second lever is the most important, and that is the business lever. Cannabis businesses can make or break this industry. Those who believe that the unsustainable practices that worked in the context of an illegal/black/grey market will work in the context of a 21st century legal industry may need a reality check. Those who continue to promote and endorse them are dangerous for the industry because they breed a climate of distrust, and they bring the industry under closer scrutiny. The cannabis industry needs businesses that display exemplary behaviors, think about their impact, and elevate the discussion as well as their peers.

Whether a business is small, large, mature or emerging, developing a strategic response to these challenges can and will create a sustainable business model. Businesses can gain robust competitive advantages over their peers, reap the rewards of having loyal customers, create thriving communities, and foster healthy natural environments by doing the right thing and embedding sustainability within their business decisions.

Tomorrow’s cannabis industry business leaders will be those that chose to be part of the solution, those that understood that sustainability was vital to their business model and took action early on.logo name1


Editor’s Note: Project Polaris is a California non-profit corporation, offering sustainability coaching and guidance to cannabis industry businesses. By becoming a member of Project Polaris, businesses have access to sustainability experts throughout the year, to set, support and carry out cost-effective, meaningful and impactful sustainability solutions.

Hemp-Derived Products with a Contract Manufacturer

By Aaron G. Biros
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Based in Santa Monica, California, Sagely Naturals was founded in the summer of 2015, with the goal to produce a sustainably sourced, topical CBD cream with no psychoactive effects to treat daily aches and pains. The co-founders, Kerrigan Hanna and Kaley Nichol, have extensive backgrounds in the food service industry, and as a result they pride themselves in quality controls and proper safety procedures. Since the launch of Sagely Naturals, they have been selling their Relief & Recovery Cream online and in a wide variety of retail outlets beyond just cannabis dispensaries. Their ability to distribute outside of dispensaries is due to the fact that the product’s active ingredient, Cannabidiol (CBD), is derived from hemp, instead of cannabis with higher levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

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Co-founders Kaley Nichol (left) and Kerrigan Hanna (right)

Their attention to detail in consistency and quality makes them stand out as cannabis processors, using a contract manufacturer with good manufacturing practices (GMPs) along with the proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place. “All of our contract manufacturer’s corrective and preventative actions (CAPAs) are outlined in the company’s SOPs, which are in place for everything including specific manufacturing processes, receiving and shipping materials and testing batches,” says Hanna. “The contract manufacturer also provides certificates of analysis (COAs) for every product they make.” According to Hanna, they exclusively use current GMP-certified facilities. One such SOP lays out the responsibilities for the quality control department in order to release and approve ingredients of their products.sagely_naturals_logo_400x400

There are some SOPs that could pertain specifically to the processing of hemp or cannabis products, according to Hanna. “Receiving and handling raw materials like hemp, batch coding, the actual formulation and manufacturing process, quality controls and cleaning and sanitation [could be tailored to pertain to cannabis],” says Hanna. Proper SOPs laid out in the manufacturing process include the cleaning and sanitation of machines, as well as adjusting settings, formula ratios and initialing and dating product labels on every batch, among more specific operating procedures.

The cream is made with natural ingredients like safflower seedily and peppermint.
The cream is made with natural ingredients like safflower seed oil and peppermint.

According to the co-founders, they spent a large amount of time vetting their hemp supplier, making sure they are using cutting-edge technology, growing it sustainably, and adhering to strict SOPs. “The team includes a Ph.D. chemist, who also is a founding member of our supplier and extractor,” says Hanna. “We work with CO2 extraction because we wanted the most control over the compounds that end up in our product. We are able to purposefully choose which cannabinoids end up in our product.” Through supercritical carbon dioxide extraction and post-extraction processing, the team is able to eliminate any trace of THC, guaranteeing the consumers will receive no psychoactive effects.

In looking toward long-term growth, the co-founders emphasize the importance of environmental sustainability. “Having honest ingredients is one of our company missions along with having honest practices,” says Hanna. “None of our ingredients are tested on animals so we are an animal cruelty-free organization.” Their hemp is grown using organic and environmentally friendly practices. “We prioritize using plant-based ingredients, so the formulation of our Relief & Recovery Cream relies on using organic and raw materials—such as essential peppermint and safflower oil.” Companies like Sagely Naturals using contract manufacturers to process hemp could represent the future of the cannabis industry. When safety, sustainability and quality issues come into the spotlight more, so will the need for outlined SOPs, proper documentation and extensive lab testing.

NCIA Brings Cannabis Business Summit to Oakland

By Aaron G. Biros
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The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) with their California affiliate, California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), hosted over 3,000 business professionals at this week’s Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, CA. According to Aaron Smith, executive director of the NCIA, this event drew their largest-ever gathering of attendees and well over 100 sponsors on the expo floor. In an exclusive interview prior to the event, Smith expected this would be a wildly successful year. “Last year we had just over 2,000 attendees in Colorado and we are expecting over 3,000 this year in California,” says Smith. “There is tremendous interest in the California market and it is so great to be here with all of the excitement leading up to the ballot initiatives in November.”

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Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA

The theme of the conference was set early on from industry progress to sustainable growth. “I am really proud that NCIA’s events always bring out the best and brightest in the industry,” says Smith. “It is mostly members of NCIA attending, which are the folks invested in the future of the industry and not just in it to make a quick buck; they are here to build a new business sector.” On Tuesday morning, Smith gave his opening remarks and introduced the first keynote delivered by Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and chief executive officer of Numi Organic Tea alongside Kayvan Khalatbari, founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting, to discuss the triple bottom line in business, emphasizing the need for social responsibility, which includes environmental stewardship, fair labor and trade laws and community integration among cannabis businesses. California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom also delivered a keynote address that was received with a standing ovation after discussing the November ballot initiative, which would legalize, regulate and tax the adult use of cannabis in the state.

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The first keynote panel of the Cannabis Business Summit

Newsom’s speech highlighted the state’s opportunity to make considerable progress in the cannabis legalization arena this November. The substance of his speech echoed that of many attendees focused on moving the industry forward sustainably. “We need to right the wrong of the failed war on drugs in America,” says Newsom. Boisterous cheers and applause followed almost every sentence as he continued to emphasize the need for social and criminal justice reform. “We are not doing this to be the next California gold rush or to make tax revenue; our purpose and focus is social justice,” adds Newsom.

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote

The Lieutenant Governor also mentioned the sheer massive size of California’s market opportunity and their pragmatic regulatory framework in development. “The entire retail of recreational and medical [cannabis sales] in Colorado was just shy of $1 billion last year; we are talking about our 58 counties up in the northern part of this state that produce anywhere from $9-13 billion [sic] of wholesale cannabis- it’s a game changer,” says Newsom. “We have had the benefit of seeing where other states have fallen short or struggled [in regulatory frameworks] and will present that to voters this November.” Newsom also mentioned that members of the cannabis industry need to act as stewards of the environment and protect the small farmers.

Panel discussions throughout the afternoon and following day deliberated a wide variety of topics from laboratory testing standards to the state of affairs in education, training and certification across the country. John MacKay, senior director of strategic technologies at Waters Corporation, led a panel titled Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods with Cynthia Ludwig, director of technical services at the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), Shawn Kassner, senior scientist at Neptune and Company, Inc. and David Egerton, vice president of technical services at CW Analytical Laboratories.

The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods
The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods

The panel addressed many of the current problems facing the cannabis testing space. “It is a very difficult plant to work with and labs are doing their best to provide reproducible results,” says Mackay. Cynthia Ludwig emphasized the need for collaborative studies and method validation in cannabis labs. “We [AOCS] provide official, validated laboratory testing methods, but the cannabis industry really has no official methods to work with,” says Ludwig. Egerton echoed Mackay’s concerns over difficult sample preparation and the difficulty of working with cannabis in the lab. “The problem is the matrix of the cannabis sample; the matrix is a critical aspect of method validation- ensuring we find the signal through the noise,” says David. “In the absence of official methods, cannabis labs need to perform method validation in-house for each type of sample, ranging from dry flower to different types of infused products and concentrates.” In addition to those difficulties of providing robust and reproducible lab tests, the panel emphasized that there is currently no laboratory accreditation program required by California regulators.

The cannabis industry in California is still rather unregulated and lacks consistency in safety standards across the market in almost every sector. Attendees seemed to look forward to the November 8th vote on the ballot initiative in California as a solution for the state’s current problems, hoping consumers and patients alike will find solace in a more regulated, standardized and safe market. The NCIA will be hosting a “Seed To Sale Show” focused on best practices and case studies January 31st and February 1st, 2017 in Denver. The next Cannabis Business Summit will be held from June 12th to the 14th of 2017 in Oakland, CA.

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Soapbox

Cannabis, Soil Science and Sustainability

By Drew Plebani
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The average commercial cannabis cultivator seems to be following the modern agricultural paradigm. That model is based on questionable and, one might say, ineffective soil systems management.

In the high-yield cannabis world, amidst decades of prohibition, following the lead of the modern agricultural model has resulted in the adoption of cultural practices that go something like this: Use and destroy the soil, then dispose of it once it is rendered lifeless and useless due to repeated heavy applications of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other poisons.

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(Left) unimproved site soil next to (right) improved site soil. Notice the root mass developing on the right

Certainly conventional agricultural food production and the soil management systems underpinning them are faltering, evidenced by soil systems deteriorating many times faster than they are being improved. This qualifies as a failure in my book.

What will be the fate of profit margins, sustainability and medicine in the cannabis industry if we continue to follow blindly in the footsteps of chemical agriculture? Perhaps it is time to turn over a new leaf.

A little context for the discussion: scientists say the Earth has lost a third of arable land in the past 40 years, and some say soil erosion is the number one challenge facing the world today. Why? How?

Well…world agricultural production accounts for about three-quarters of the soil erosion worldwide. This steep decline in arable soil is occurring during a time when the world’s demand for food is rapidly increasing. It is estimated that the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050, and it is important to note that, the total volume of food necessary, remains relative to the nutrient density of the food.

Time for a radical solution, and cannabis can lead the way.

Currently, cannabis is the most profitable crop per land area and very likely the most resource-consumptive crop grown (due to the current legal and regulatory climate and thus limited supply vs. demand).

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, now more than ever we have the opportunity, and I believe the responsibility, to cultivate in ecologically mindful ways, improve the end product and it’s positive impacts, increase both short-term and long-term profits, decrease or eliminate waste and lower the carbon footprint of cannabis cultivation operations.

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A cover crop under trellis’ with cannabis plants

Most importantly, we have the opportunity to fund, implement and lead the way in research and development of sustainable, medical, phytonutrient-dense crop production methodologies.

Only by implementing more rigorous scientific methods to cannabis cultivation can we hope to provide truly meaningful improvements in and contributions to the fields of agriculture, science, medicine and human health.

While dumpsters of potting soil continue to roll off to the landfill, complex health and human science and the cultivators truly engaged in science will continue to provide meaningful data regarding plant compounds and what factors influence the best outcome for the desired end product.

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The same crop pictured above, now two weeks into flowering, using cover crops

I am willing to bet that what is best will not be coming from the business models employing antiquated, wasteful and destructive cultivation strategies, and that in due time these models will fade into distant memories.

This is the first in a series of articles, in which we will explore topics related to the pursuit of high yield, phytonutrient-dense “high brix” cannabis production.

The next article will provide a historical and geologic context to the cannabis plant, as viewed from the scope of soil biology and the progression of ecosystems and soil types, and how maximized genetic expression, through maximized soil and plant health influence the production of high quality cannabis.

Ask the Expert: Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security, Part II

By Aaron G. Biros, Bruce E. Lesniak, Lezli Engelking
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In this week’s Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security, we answer a reader’s question about traceability in quality processes and offer some practical advice for building a safety and security strategy. Travis Lodolinsky from Gleason Technology submitted this week’s question. For a response, we sit down with Lezli Engelking, founder of the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), to help answer your questions. If you have questions about safety, defense and security in cannabis, please ask them in the comments section below and we will address them in the next edition of Straight Talk on Safety, Defense and Security.

T. Lodolinsky: How are safety processes being tracked in the industry to ensure regulations and quality assurance are being uniformly enforced throughout?

Lezli Engelking: In related industries, such as herbal products or pharmaceuticals, the FDA has created guidelines, or current good manufacturing processes (CGMP) that control for the quality, consistency and safety of the products being produced. Businesses must be certified by independent third parties to demonstrate they are following CGMP to protect public health and consumer safety. CGMP is a proactive approach to quality assurance. A basic tenant of CGMP is that quality cannot be tested into a product after it is made; quality must be built into the product during all stages of the manufacturing process. One common misconception is that CGMP only covers the process of manufacturing itself. CGMP actually covers all aspects of the production process including materials, premises, equipment, storage, staff training and hygiene, how complaints are handled and record keeping.

Because cannabis is federally illegal in the US, the FDA has not developed cannabis-specific CGMP guidelines, so lawmakers do not have the benefit of having those guidelines available to base regulations on. So to answer your question, state cannabis regulations do not track processes and procedures used by cannabis businesses to control for safety or quality because they do not have the federal guidelines. Instead, most state cannabis regulations currently take a reactive approach to safety, mandating only for testing of the final product. While testing is an extremely important and valuable part of any quality management program, just analytics is not enough.

This is precisely why FOCUS was created and how they assist business owners and regulators, while fulfilling the mission of protecting public health, consumer safety and safeguarding the environment. The FOCUS standards are a cannabis-specific system of guidelines (cannabis-specific current good manufacturing practices) to ensure products are consistently produced according to quality standards. FOCUS provides detailed guidance and independent, third party auditing services for all key aspects of the cannabis industry including cultivation, extraction, infusion, retail, laboratory, security, packaging, labeling and sustainability.

CannabisIndustryJournal: What advice can you offer to cannabis businesses for product safety, defense and security prior to standardization?

Bruce E. Lesniak: Businesses that make products infused with cannabis (I call these businesses “plus one” companies because they produce products that include one more ingredient than traditional food products), require a carefully written master plan that specifically addresses the unique qualities, sensitivities and critical areas of the business. When building a comprehensive plan I address three questions:

  • Why (identify the why, this is your preventative, overarching strategy)?
  • How (addresses the “why question” with products, services and training)?
  • What (what is your reactive strategy that addresses actions and activities to be performed in the event of a breech)?

First and foremost, consumer-facing businesses must safeguard their products to the public. One product recall or illness related incident could spell disaster. Build your plan correctly the first time. Contact an industry expert to review your facility and help build and implement your plan. This will save you money by quickly exposing vulnerabilities and providing corrective measures specific to your business needs and requirements. Even though product safety and defense are closely related to security and should share a complementary strategy, product safety and defense are unique (due to standards and regulations), and should be treated as such.

Banks not accepting industry money complicates normal business operations and security planning, causing retail operations to handle and store large sums of cash. I asked industry expert and security professional, Tony Gallo of Sapphire Protection LLC, what is the single most important piece of security equipment you are currently providing for the retail and dispensary owner? “Design an air tight policy of handling money,” says Gallo. “Remove money often from cash registers and place it into the best safe for your application!”

Spend time familiarizing yourself with all things product safety and defense (there are volumes written on food safety and food defense, thus the “plus one” reference). This a great starting point and protecting the consumer protects your business. When it comes to designing your security application, consult an expert! Take into account that the cannabis industry is unique due to its “plus one” ingredient. Therefore you need to build your security systems, applications and policies to systematically protect your employees, facility, suppliers, transportation, manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, supply chain and brand.

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Biros' Blog

Sustainability of Cultivation in 2016, Part II

By Aaron G. Biros
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In the second part of this series, I speak with Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, to find out what particular solutions growers can use to increase efficiency. Last month, I introduced the challenge of growing cannabis more sustainably. To recap, I raised the issue of sustainability as an economic, social and environmental problem and referenced recent pesticide issues in Colorado and carbon footprint estimates of growing cannabis.

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The growers at Solstice put their plants under a trellis net to increase yield.

Alex Cooley is the vice president of Solstice, a cultivation and processing business based in Washington. Solstice is at the forefront of the industry for innovating in energy, water and raw materials efficiency. I sat down with Cooley to discuss exactly what you can do to grow cannabis sustainably.

“Switching to outdoors or greenhouse will always be more sustainable than indoor, but depending on the type of facility, energy efficiency and specifically lighting should be at top of mind,” says Cooley. “Just looking at your bottom line, it is cheaper to use energy efficient lighting sources such as plasma or LED lighting, which will reduce your need for air conditioning and your overall energy consumption.”

Looking into sustainable technologies is one of the quicker ways to improve your overall efficiency. “We are big believers in VRF [variable refrigerant flow] HVAC systems because it is one of the most energy efficient ways to cool a large space in the world,” adds Cooley. “Use a smart water filtration system that gets away from wasting water by catching condensate off AC and dehumidifiers, filtering and then reusing that water.”

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Indoor cultivator facilities use high powered lights that give off heat, requiring an efficient air cooling system like VRF HVAC.

Utilizing your waste streams is another relatively simple and cost effective practice to grow cannabis sustainably. “Our soil and biomass goes through a composting company, we recapture any of our waste fertilizer and runoff for reuse,” says Cooley. “We try to use post-consumer or fully recyclable packaging to reduce what would go into the waste streams.”

So some of the low hanging fruit to improve your bottom line and overall sustainability, according to Alex Cooley, include things like reusing materials, composting, increasing energy efficiency and saving water. These are some of the easily implementable standard operating procedures that directly address inefficiency in your operation.

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The tops of plants are beginning to flower in this Solstice indoor facility.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss Terra Tech’s approach to sustainable cultivation, which utilizes the “Dutch hydroponic greenhouse model” on a large scale growing produce such as thyme and basil, but are now taking their technologies and expertise to the cannabis industry. I will also discuss the benefits of using a third party certification, Clean Green Certified, to not only help grow cannabis more ecofriendly, but also market your final product as such. Stay tuned for more in Sustainability of Cultivation in 2016, Part III.

Reasons for Hemp Production: The Need for Sustainable Paper Production

By Tyler Dautrich
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Currently in the United States, there are 27 states that have removed barriers to the production of industrial hemp. Not all of those states have actual licenses in place that would allow farmers to do that. In Pennsylvania, a bill to legalize industrial hemp (SB 50), sits in the house awaiting a final vote.

For those less familiar with the hemp plant, it has been labeled a miracle crop that can produce such products as paper, plastic, fuel, food, clothes and rope to name a few. Almost all of these products can be produced by hemp in a more sustainable and environmental friendly way than they are currently being produced. For this column, I will focus on paper.

Currently the world consumes around 300 million tons of paper each year and 30% of that is consumed in the US alone. A majority of this paper is created via paper mills that cut down trees, applying different chemicals to create a paper pulp.

We have cut down an estimated 4 billion trees around the world to supply the paper industry on every continent. As we continue, just remember that one tree, creates enough oxygen for three people to breathe.

Each year millions of pounds of highly toxic chemicals such as toluene, methanol, chlorine, dioxide, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde are released into the air and water from papermaking plants around the world, making the industry the 3rd largest industrial polluter of air, water and soil. After the paper is made, sold, and used it ends up in landfills where it decomposes, and releases methane gas, a gas that’s 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. The paper industry is also one of the world’s largest consumers of water. It takes 324 liters of water to make 1 kilogram of paper.

An extreme cost to the world for something as simple as a piece of paper. Hemp is a much better solution. While trees take an average of 25 to 30 years to be ready for paper products, hemp regenerates in months. Hemp paper can be recycled up to seven times, while regular paper is recyclable three times. Most importantly, hemp paper does not need to be bleached with chlorine, and is naturally acid-free. A much cleaner and more environmentally sustainable solution.

It is hard to ignore such wasteful processes, particularly when there is a much more sustainable and sensible method that yields the same results. As states begin to allow the production of industrial hemp back into the economy, it creates the opportunity for us to reverse the damage that we have done to this planet.

Imagine, walking into your office one day and seeing all of your documents printed on hemp paper. What do you think? Should we go back to using hemp paper?

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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.

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The Organic Certification of Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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News of potentially harmful pesticide use on cannabis grown in Colorado, along with new legislation in California that would develop guidelines for pesticide use, highlight the need to cultivate cannabis that is not only safe to consume, but also environmentally friendly. Cannabis cultivation is a rapidly expanding industry and as growers scale up their operations, the question of sustainability remains.

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Chris Van Hook performing a routine inspection of a Clean Green Certified crop

Clean Green Certified is a third-party certification program that incorporates aspects of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), international organic programs and sustainable farming practices. Cannabis is not eligible for USDA organic certification because it is not a federally recognized crop, so Clean Green Certified is the closest certification nationally available. More than 200 cultivators are currently Clean Green Certified in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Nevada.

Chris Van Hook, attorney and founder of Clean Green Certified, started the program in 2004 out of requests from growers to certify their cannabis as organic. Van Hook has decades of experience working in environmental law and USDA organic certifications. “About 95% of the Clean Green Certification is based on the USDA’s NOP,” says Van Hook. “The Clean Green Certified cannabis farmer would be eligible for an organic certification as soon as it becomes available, so we are helping the industry get accustomed to the regulations, inspections, and audits that come with getting organically certified.”

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A close-up of an outdoor Clean Green Certified crop

Getting Clean Green Certified requires an initial application. Upon inspection, Van Hook’s program examines all the inputs, including water and energy usage, nutrients, pesticides, and soil, along with inspecting the actual plants for agricultural vitality. “We follow the plants from seed to when it is harvested, checking for clean surfaces and containers, as well as drying, curing, trimming, and processing practices,” says Van Hook. “Just like organic farming, the cultivator needs to be an engaged manager and heavily involved with the plants. Much more monitoring is involved to prevent pest problems from getting out of control without using pesticides.”

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Van Hook inspecting the flowers on an outdoor plant

The initial screening process takes into consideration traceability and legal compliance, which in cultivation and processing alike is an eligibility requirement. “We use USDA organic standards as guidance for processor facility reviews as well, which include concentrates and edibles manufacturers, breaking it down to labeling, food handling, standard operating procedures, mock recalls, and more,” says Van Hook.

“In a market so used to a lack of oversight, there definitely are some challenges, but we are bringing the necessary agricultural and food handling regulations into the cannabis industry,” adds Van Hook.

The option to grow organically and acquire a third party certification for it can benefit cultivators across the country looking to market their product as environmentally sustainable and pesticide-free.