Improving the Industry’s Footprint: Part I

by Christopher Machnich


There’s no doubt that the national awareness of energy consumption has increased, and businesses across many sectors have taken note. Automobiles have become less dependent on traditional fuel sources, the GrowSpan offices and warehouses have been outfitted with green, LED light bulbs and here in the Northeast, the prevalence of solar panels seemingly doubles each month. With many industries actively reducing their footprint, the emerging cannabis industry has come under fire. 

The industry is in a unique position. As growers scramble to get involved and legislatures mull the legal options, no other industry seems so primed and ready for absolute success. However despite this imminent success, the industry also appears to be on the verge of economic and environment reform, and this reform is almost entirely based on energy consumption.

Energy Associates and Evan Mills, Ph.D. released a study Energy Up in Smoke: The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production. The study was filled with interesting stats that shocked many and served, partially, as the impetus for addressing energy consumption within the industry. Some of the statistics from the study include: 

  • The industry spends $6 billion per year on energy
  • Cannabis production consumes 1 percent of the nation’s electricity
  • One joint requires approximately 10 lbs. of CO2 emissions
  • Normal greenhouses spend about $5 per square foot a year on energy, while indoor cannabis spends about $55 a year. 

As the industry develops, many of these numbers will grow with the industry. Find out more about this study here.

Are there solutions?

Luckily, the cannabis industry’s consumption of energy can be fixed, but it will take a group effort to do this. Reducing energy requirements will depend on help from dispensaries, customers and, most importantly, lawmakers will have to address the crop’s legality. 

Since the production of marijuana had been illegal for so long, growers were forced underground. This caused production to traditionally take place in less than ideal grow rooms. These rooms could be found in warehouses, basements and other spaces that could be kept a secret. The documentary The Union even depicted one operation growing in train cars that had been buried underground. All of these growing spaces depend on equipment to create a controlled environment. From lighting to heating and cooling equipment, these illegal and underground – sometimes literally – operations created a standard for grow ops that required vast amounts of energy. 

As states began to legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis, businesses needed to hire growers. Instead of hiring those with greenhouse or outdoor experience, many opted for those that had been producing cannabis in the existing, energy-dependent fashion. This has certainly played a role in cannabis becoming one of the highest consumers of energy in American agriculture. 

It appears that legalization is a trend that will continue, and besides legalizing cannabis, many believe that the industry will be able to naturally rectify its energy use. As more and more businesses enter the industry, competition will increase. This will hopefully lead to many businesses looking to cut costs in order to stay competitive, and implementing energy-efficient growing methods is a quick and obvious solution. 

There is also help from existing organizations that promote energy-efficient and sustainable growing methods. The Cannabis Conservancy has created a set of standards and certifies growers that meet their standards. Holding groups like this in high regards and purchasing products that meet their standards will further help to improve the industry, and it may also expedite the process. 

This was Improving the Industry’s Footprint: Part I. Next week in Part II, proven, energy-efficient growing practices and how GrowSpan can help will be addressed.