The Carbon Footprint of Legal Cannabis

The Carbon Footprint of Legal Cannabis

The global legal cannabis industry is often described as a “Green Rush,” yet many experts are concerned that this industry is not ‘green’  in its carbon footprint. As more countries legalize cannabis production and the number of consumers explodes, the demand for grow sustainability is mounting. In particular, countries with colder climates, struggle with how to produce large quantities of high-quality cannabis while minimizing their carbon footprint.

In today’s blog, we are looking at the carbon footprint of cannabis – but first the basics.

What is a carbon footprint of legal cannabis?

The term ‘carbon footprint’ refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced to support human activity. The impact of GHG emissions, or global warming potential (GWP), is expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2e) released over a hundred years. 

In simple terms, the sun sends energy. Some of this is absorbed by the Earth and the rest is radiated back along with energy produced by the Earth. GHGs collect and form an insulating barrier in the atmosphere that traps in energy. Therefore, instead of escaping into space, this energy stays close to the Earth’s surface, causing climate change. The two main GHGs responsible for climate change are methane and carbon dioxide, both of which have increased dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. 

Today, we know that the GHGs produced by human industry are causing serious environmental damage and there are inititaives to limit emissions. The global commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of our activities will directly impact the survival of our planet. 

legal cannabis carbon footprint
Carbon footprint’ refers to the greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced to support human activity.

Is legal cannabis sustainable?

Unfortunately, the legal cannabis industry is producing a staggering amount of emissions. According to the Global Footprint Network, just one joint generates around 1.5 kg of CO2  emissions, roughly the equivalent of leaving a 100-watt lightbulb turned on for an entire day. This adds up to 4600 kg of emissions per kilogram of cannabis, or the equivalent of 3 million cars. In total, this adds up to $6 billion in energy expenditure. 

These numbers aren’t consistent across all methods and stages of legal cannabis production. Depending on the type of electricity, local climate, and use of energy-preserving technology, growing weed can be green.

One of the main factors in cannabis production sustainability is whether the grow is outdoors, indoors, or in a greenhouse. Asparagus Magazine, an environmental periodical published by Medium, dove into the difficulties facing Canadian growers. The authors conclude that even high-tech indoor grows and greenhouses in the Great White North have a substantially bigger carbon footprint than those in warmer climates. 

According to the Global Footprint Network, just one joint generates around 1.5 kg of CO2  emissions, roughly the equivalent of leaving a 100-watt lightbulb turned on for an entire day.

The joint-to-pollution ratio relates mainly to the energy demands of indoor cultivation. Lighting, heating, cooling, and drying cannabis generates huge energy bills, while outdoor grows can reduce their consumption to nearly zero. For example, comparing a Colorado indoor grow to a Columbian greenhouse, the greenhouse is 370-times more energy-efficient.

This discrepancy is due to Colorado’s reliance on emission-heavy coal energy. When electricity is generated by renewable sources like wind or solar, the carbon footprint is dramatically reduced.

Apart from the environmental impact of carbon emissions, cannabis is a water-hungry crop. Every plant requires an average of 23 litres of water per day for 150 days straight. When the forecast isn’t calling for rain, this is a high environmental cost. Other challenges to the sustainability of legal cannabis include clear cutting, fertilizer and pesticide leaching, and ground erosion. 

With the level of emissions generated by legal cannabis projected to double in the next year, it is high time to make the Green Rush greener.

indoor cannabis carbon footprint
Indoor cannabis grows have a larger carbon footprint

What is the carbon footprint of a cannabis conferences?

As a cannabis conference platform, CannaTech is taking stock of its environmental impact and making changes to reduce its carbon footprint. On average, a conference for a thousand people over three days generates 584 tons of emissions. While paper and food waste at conferences is significant, 70% of emissions come from attendee air travel. 

A transnational flight emits nearly 1000 kg of CO2, with air travel accounting for 2% of the total amount of man-made emissions every year. Cars and taxis and electricity-hungry hotels also contribute to the carbon footprint at conferences.

 What can we do to make legal cannabis greener?

Countries and corporations around the globe are trying to stabilize GHG levels with compliance conventions like the Kyoto Protocol. The legal cannabis industry could implement similar standards to reduce its carbon footprint. With conservationist practices, such as using sustainable energy, cannabis production and conferences could actually go green.

Another potential measure is carbon offsetting. In the voluntary market, individuals and smaller companies are reducing emissions with carbon offsetting projects. Carbon offsetting adds a cost to emission-producing activities to promote environmental projects. This compensates for the carbon footprint, making activities ‘carbon neutral’.  Projects include reforestation, developing renewable energy sources, or providing clean-burning cookstoves to developing countries. 

As a world-leading platform for cannabis innovation, research, and investment, CannaTech is exploring other means of reducing emissions, both in Cape Town and at all of our future events.

According to a 2018 report by Ecosystem Marketplace, $191.3 million of carbon offsets were purchased in the voluntary market in 2017. This represents 63.4 million metric tons of CO2e reductions. While this is significant, 32 billion metric tons of emissions were produced in that same timeframe. Basically, we still have a very long way to go to carbon neutrality.

In an effort to do our part, CannaTech is, for the first time, offering carbon offsetting to help neutralize the impact of our upcoming Cape Town cannabis conference. As a world-leading platform for legal cannabis innovation, research, and investment, CannaTech is exploring other means of reducing our carbon footprint, both in Cape Town and at all of our future events.

Let’s reduce the carbon footprint of legal cannabis – together we can make the Green Rush greener.

cannatech capetown
Corinne Berzon

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