There’s a green revolution in America, and no, we’re not talking about marijuana. Climate change is becoming more of a pressing matter, and an increasing number of civilians are growing concerned about pollution and plastic waste.
In 2019, 70% of millennials admitted that they would pay more for products made sustainably. Meanwhile, 83% said they consider a product’s environmental or social impact before they purchase. Younger generations care a lot about the future of this planet – and it’s a good job they do!
Of course, cannabis is also growing in popularity with younger generations. In comparison to baby boomers, millennials are more likely to be in favor of cannabis legalization movements. With a millennial interest in sustainability, the cannabis industry needs to focus on its global impact moving forward.
Fortunately, the cannabis plant has tons of potential benefits for the planet – if the industry grows it and uses it to its full potential. Let’s find out more about the sustainable potential of cannabis.
The History of Hemp and Cannabis
First, let’s get some essential details about the plant at hand out of the way. Cannabis sativa L. is a unique species of plant, distinctive because of its growing habits and its potential to influence the human body. The cannabis plant is packed with cannabinoids, compounds that can affect the body; the most common ones are THC and CBD.
There are multiple sub-types of Cannabis sativa. Hemp is a member of this species, but it contains low levels of the intoxicating cannabinoid THC. Hemp is common in agriculture as a food crop and in the textile industry.
Marijuana, meanwhile, is a form of cannabis containing more THC. People have used marijuana recreationally for millennia. When consumed, marijuana makes the user feel euphoric and ‘high’ as a result of the THC. More recently, scientists have explored marijuana for its healing potential and it is increasingly becoming a popular form of alternative therapy.
Both types of cannabis hold potential for a sustainable future. However, their growing habits are quite different. Hemp grows wild and unruly, springing up almost anywhere and growing without interference. Marijuana, meanwhile, takes a lot of careful care and cultivation; it often requires a lot of water and intricate temperature control. There are a few landrace strains – strains that naturally occur in the wild – that don’t need much care. However, marijuana for human use often needs intervention to achieve a high yield.
There have been some concerns about how to make the burgeoning marijuana industry sustainable. Is it even possible at all? Below, we cover five ways that the cannabis sector could contribute to a more sustainable future.
Five Ways That Cannabis Can Contribute to a Sustainable Future
In the following sections, we will be talking about both marijuana and hemp. The term ‘cannabis’ is used to refer to both sub-types.
1. Legal Grows Conserve Energy
Unfortunately, many cannabis grows operate in states where cannabis is illegal. Growers must perform these crop operations under clandestine circumstances; in other words, growing the plants inside. Cannabis plants favor warm and humid climates with natural light.
Secret growing options require a lot of energy. Growers are forced to use high-powered lights to ensure the plants thrive. However, the lights use tons of electricity and cause problems for the planet.
What about states where cannabis is legal? Well, the plants can be grown outdoors in natural conditions. Without the need for grow lights, humidifiers, and heating elements, cultivators can save lots of energy. Not only is this good for their wallets, but also good for Mother Nature.
Growing outdoors is a sure-fire way to reduce carbon footprint. If the plant were legalized on a federal level, better agriculture planning would allow cannabis plants to be grown in areas with the best climate, leading to high yields without the intervention of electricity.
2. Cannabis Can Be Grown in Water-Poor States
Similar to the above, legal cannabis grows can also help with water conservation. Lots of cannabis companies are itching to improve their sustainability, and this leads to better farming methods that do things like conserve water.
GrowX has been experimenting with aeroponics, a system that involves suspending the roots in a moist environment. It’s different from hydroponics, though. Aeroponics could use up to 95% less water than outdoor crops, and up to 40% less water than indoor hydroponics set-ups.
Contrary to popular belief, hemp uses quite a bit of water compared to some other crops. Certain strains of hemp and marijuana struggle to grow without proper irrigation. Finding new techniques, such as aeroponics and dry farming (a method that aims to grow without any water at all) can help to save a lot of water – in the cannabis industry and beyond.
Plus, such techniques ensure that even water-poor states like California can grow successful cannabis crops, reducing the need for emission-emitting transportation.
3. Hemp Can Help the Soil
Hemp is a bio-accumulator, which means it sucks everything up from the soil. This is part of the reason why it survives in various climates the world over; it’s a hardy plant that can improve soil quality and settle into any environment.
Farmers often plant hemp as a beneficial crop to support other agriculture efforts. The roots of hemp go deep, holding the soil together and reducing erosion. It also loosens the earth for the benefit of other plants. And as these roots suck up bad things in the ground, the quality is improved for future crops. Hemp has been used numerous times in soil cleaning efforts.
After harvesting, farmers can return the remnants of hemp to the soil, nourishing it to feed plants the following year. In other words, it’s recyclable!
With pollution and soil erosion becoming encroaching threats, hemp could be the answer to some of humanity’s farming problems.
4. Cannabis Plants Provide More Than Just Body Benefits
Marijuana is enjoying popularity as a medicinal plant at the moment. Hemp, meanwhile, is harvested for its high CBD content. Proponents believe that CBD has many health benefits but without the psychoactive high of THC.
However, cannabis offers so much more than just physical benefits for the human body. Hemp, in particular, has a lot to offer for our future.
Currently, some hemp seeds are consumed in the nutrition industry. Hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids – a rarity in plant-based protein sources. Also containing Omega 3 and Omega 6, alongside tons of nutrients, hemp seeds are growing in popularity. Hemp seed oil, too, is being enjoyed for its nutritional content and subtle, nutty flavor.
The rest of the plant, meanwhile, can be used for other things. The fibrous stalks and leaves make excellent textiles. Forget organic cotton: Hemp t-shirts are taking over! Hemp textiles grow softer with use, retain color better than cotton, and are less prone to wear and tear. Plus, farmers can grow hemp more sustainably than cotton.
Innovators are also looking to hemp for other uses. There is potential to use hemp in bioplastics and sustainable construction. Early Ford cars used hemp plastics before hemp fell out of use. As a durable and ethical material, we’re likely to see more hemp bioplastics in the future.
So, here’s a quick summary on the sustainability and uses of hemp:
- Flowers: Packed with CBD, these can be used to produce therapeutic and nutritional products.
- Seeds: Full of essential amino acids and nutrients, hemp seeds can be eaten raw or turned into an oil.
- Stalks: The fibrous stalks can be used in bioplastics, construction, and textiles.
- Leaves: Farmers can return hemp leaves to the soil and compost them to provide nutrients for future crops.
Talk about zero waste!
5. Organic Growing Practices Avoid Fertilizers
Most cannabis growers aim to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Hemp tends to manage well without fertilizers, so this isn’t much of a problem. Marijuana, on the other hand, is more challenging to grow, but cultivators try to stick to natural plant nutrients rather than flooding the soil with chemicals.
Cannabis is often prepped for consumption. With an increasing focus on sustainability and health, consumers are intently searching for organic cannabis, driving the industry away from chemicals all together.
As a result, you can rest assured that most cannabis products are chemical-free, benefiting the environment and the ecosystem.
Challenges in Cannabis Sustainability
It isn’t all perfect. If every cannabis company in the industry followed all of the above points, we would be living in a sustainable utopia. We’re not quite there yet.
Humans are facing many challenges, including a high cost to sustainable growth. It’s true that lots of cannabis companies are making an effort to reduce carbon footprint and be more sustainable, but it’s often impossible to tick every box. Until farming techniques like aeroponics are widely used, water consumption will forever remain a problem.
Of course, the biggest obstacle is legality. Clandestine grows pose a considerable threat to the environment. And even in legal areas, a lack of regulation and land use planning means that we aren’t being as sustainable as we could be.
Still, there are some positive indications that we are moving toward a better future. Hopefully, the growing support of cannabis means that the industry will only get more sustainable.
Final Thoughts on Ways Cannabis Can Make the World More Sustainable
There is hope for a sustainable future where we support the Earth, and the Earth supports life. It might take a long way to get there, but every little step is an improvement.
The Cannabis Certification Council, a non-profit focusing on education in the cannabis sector, now runs the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium. The event has been running for five years. Experts gather to discuss sustainability challenges in the industry and work toward a better future. If you’re interested in sustainability and the marijuana industry, you might consider attending.
Meanwhile, you can take steps to fight climate change by using hemp textiles, checking where materials are sourced from, and using organic cannabis products.