How to Best Practice Sustainability in Modern Cannabis

Cannabis Plant

[Editor’s Note: What you do matters. Your support of cannabis businesses practicing sustainability, makes the whole industry better. Read on to find out more.]
We often think about the marijuana industry as this sleeping giant, but it’s really just a baby.

This space so many of us have chosen is still in its infancy, and the choices we make today — as consumers and as cannabis professionals — have the power to impact the future of this still-growing economy, especially as it relates to the future sustainability of legal marijuana.

Sure, sometimes we feel powerless and insignificant, as if our individual actions aren’t enough to counter the seemingly insurmountable tide of “progress” and commercialization. But because legal and regulated cannabis has yet to even celebrate its fifth birthday, the opposite is actually true.

What you do matters. An entrepreneur’s intentional and thoughtful choices on difficult sustainability decisions are meaningful, and a customer’s discerning approach to the brands he or she is loyal to creates a vote-with-your-dollars relationship that rewards the most responsible businesses.

Also, while we need to remember that we have a voice, we also need to stay aware and educate our policymakers on how they can implement policies that will guide the industry in an environmentally friendly direction.

Here are two things that need to change right now for industry pioneers and consumers who want to make conscious decisions that will collectively make for a more sustainable cannabis industry in the years to come.

Alternatives to Modern Cultivation & Packaging

Let’s start with the obvious. Any conversation about cannabis sustainability in 2018 is incomplete without talking about cultivation and packaging, in that order.

For the most part, we are growing cannabis indoors out of necessity. Marijuana cultivators were driven indoors throughout prohibition, and now many regulated markets mandate indoor cultivation for “security” and “safety” reasons.

But because marijuana is a plant and a commodity crop and more aligned with traditional agriculture than pharmaceuticals — and because cannabis kills 0 (that’s zero) Americans each year, while alcohol kills 90,000 and nicotine kills nearly 500,000 Americans annually — most cannabis of the future will be grown outdoors, sans the misguided concerns about it being a safety or security concern.

Like it already does in California, Washington, Oregon and extremely limited parts of Colorado, marijuana will eventually grow under the sun, not under the High Intensity Discharge grow lights that have become so common in Denver and Oakland warehouses. This will lighten power grids’ loads and widen cultivators’ margins, and it will make the industry more sustainable.

Of course, legal markets are also hamstrung on the issue of packaging, as most consumers already know. The child-proof containers and exit bags required by law aren’t known for their earth-friendliness or recyclability, but that’s starting to change with design-minded entrepreneurs who are readying packaging alternatives that will keep cannabis out of children’s hands — and product packaging out of landfills.

Mass Adoption of Corporate Social Responsibility

Here’s what I tell friends and colleagues at least once a week, and most of them agree with me: “If you’re making money and not giving back, you’re doing it wrong.”

Outside of a few shining stars like Bloom Farms in California and The Clinic in Colorado, corporate social responsibility has not yet fully infiltrated the cannabis space. And this is a problem.

Mind you, the idea of “corporate social responsibility” and sustainability are not the same thing. But I would argue that a business with a thoughtful CSR program is inevitably a more sustainable business.

I’m particularly fond of how the International Organization for Standardization defines CSR: “responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment through transparent and ethical behavior.”

These are questions all entrepreneurs should be asking themselves: How is my business impacting my environment? My community? And what can I do to offset or even out that impact?

Cannabis needs to go that extra mile and donate that pinpoint-targeted extra dollar to show the world that we’re serious about not only creating successful businesses, but also about bolstering the communities and the world around us. Perhaps more importantly, this spirit of sustainable giving fits nicely in with the sharing-is-caring spirit of cannabis itself.

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