How to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint to Make Your Business Sustainable

How to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint to Make Your Business Sustainable

Resource Innovation Institute Executive Director Derek Smith shares his take on ways cultivators can reduce their environmental impact.

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February 12, 2018
Melissa Schiller
Grower/Agriculture Interviews & Opinion

Don’t miss Derek Smith speaking with Cannabis Certification Council’s Ben Gelt and Yerba Buena’s Casey Rivero on the panel “Environmental Sustainability and the Cannabis Industry” at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, March 12, at the Cannabis 2018: Cultivation Conference! Smith will help share the latest emerging legal and regulatory trends that are sure to impact your business and its practices, strategies for improving your environmental footprint and more. For more information, visit www.cannabiscultivationconference.com.

As the environmental impact of the cannabis industry begins to generate attention and questions, legal trends and regulations are emerging that will impact cultivators’ business decisions and practices. Here, Derek Smith, executive director of the Resource Innovation Institute, a non-profit organization that addresses energy and water conservation in the cannabis industry, discusses sustainability issues that are arising, ways for businesses to improve their environmental footprints, and the Cannabis PowerScore, a tool that allows growers to assess their energy performance and lower costs.

An example of a PowerScore final report, which allows growers to assess their energy performance and how it compares to other like growers on key energy performance benchmarks.

Cannabis Business Times: What are some areas of the industry that have been questioned in terms of their environmental impact?

Derek Smith: I think energy is the most emerging topic in sustainability in the industry. We will be launching our Cannabis PowerScore tool, which is a non-profit effort to help growers understand their energy performance and how they are comparing to other like growers on key energy performance benchmarks. The two benchmarks that we will be showcasing data on are kilowatt hours per square foot and grams per kilowatt hours, or pounds per kilowatt hours.

Smith stands next to a computer displaying a PowerScore final report.

In this era of price drops that are happening state-by-state and at an increasing rate with massive markets coming up this year in California and Massachusetts and Canada, this is the year where this data on how to most efficiently run a facility will be critical in helping investors and business operators and cultivators know how best they can control their second or third largest cost without impacting quality or yield.

In addition to energy—it’s not our focus right now, but I think waste is becoming another key issue.

CBT: What is an example of a sustainability-related regulatory trend that has emerged that businesses should be aware of?

DS: A number of local jurisdictions have developed policies or regulations that often prevent efficient cultivation. For example, they make decisions because of concerns about odor and security and visibility to ban outdoor and greenhouse production, even in climate zones where the type of production would be highly relevant. In essence, they’ve forced production indoors, which has obvious energy and carbon, as well as economic development impact.

At the state level, Oregon is currently the only state that requires energy reporting at the annual licensing anniversary date. In other words, producers have to report on how much energy they’ve consumed over the previous year.

California released their emergency regulations to get production started Jan. 1, and they noted that they will require energy reporting as of 2022 and a phase-in of efficiency and renewable targets from 2023 and forward. There is a clear indication that on the near-term horizon, states that are leading on energy and cannabis are wanting to address the energy and carbon impacts of the industry.

Massachusetts and Canada are writing their rules right now, and we may see some steps that they take that are on a narrower-term horizon than California.

CBT: What are a couple of ways cultivators can improve their environmental footprint and ensure sustainability?

DS: No matter the type of production, essentially all cultivation operations have an energy or carbon impact, and the main issues are lighting and HVAC. [At the Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference,] I will be showing data across a range of production types—indoor, outdoor, greenhouse, hybrid—and at various stages of production—mother, clone, veg, flowering, drying and curing—with examples of what can be done at each of those stops, at each of those phases of operation.

I think [with lighting,] the choice in fixture is key.  … There are changes throughout the operation when you make a lighting choice [change], and so it’s important to hear from growers who have taken these steps and can explain potential differences in watering rates and nutrient delivery.

I would also add that regardless of lighting or HVAC choices that may have already been made, automating your facility is something that almost anyone can do and that can save not only energy, but [also] labor. Automation runs the gamut. You can automate fertigation—water and nutrient delivery—lighting and HVAC. Most elements of the operation can be automated in some way.

CBT: How does sustainability differ based on the type of cultivation? Are there certain issues that are unique to outdoor, greenhouse and indoor grows?

DS: The definition of outdoor generally means flowering outdoors, so there is often an energy impact associated with lighting and HVAC in the veg stage or possibly [the] mother and clone stages. There are definitely HVAC energy-related impacts with drying and curing bud on site. The range of energy issues isn’t that different, regardless of the type of production that you’re doing.

With greenhouses, you may be introducing additional fuel like natural gas or propane or even wood stoves, so that adds more sources of energy.

Obviously, there’s a great opportunity to do solar when you’re outdoor because your electricity load is lower, and you can more easily cover a larger part of your energy footprint with renewable sources. I would say that with outdoor, you also are looking at different sources of carbon impact—for example, generators or heavy equipment use.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Images courtesy of the Resource Innovation Institute

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