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How Cannabis Brands Tackle the Environmental Elephant in the Room

It's all about process, place, and profits.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The first Earth Day celebration was held 52 years ago, a gathering of more than 20 million people, peace and environmental activists alike, across the U.S. and world. 

Hybrid Marketing and Botani

With April 22 once again upon us, it’s the perfect time to explore how the cannabis community practices what it preaches — an appreciation of nature and all its glorious plants.

When it comes to carbon footprint, all consumer goods companies are under a microscope by federal agencies requiring reports on ‘climate-related risks', as well as consumers looking to make an impact with their choices.

For the cannabis industry, there’s a 100,000-ton plastic waste elephant in the room. This undeniable problem continues to escalate with no signs of slowing down.

When consumers debate which flower to buy at the dispensary, or when cannabis businesses decide which manufacturers to partner with, one useful strategy is to consider the three P’s: Process, Place, and Profits.

Process: With a cursory understanding of manufacturing processes and inputs (i.e., materials and chemicals), any environmental impacts become apparent.

A sustainable and environmentally friendly crop, hemp can be used to create endless amounts of consumer products. For every ton of hemp produced, 1.63 tons of carbon is removed from the atmosphere.

Hemp has been used for centuries as a strong, durable fabric and paper, but until recently it wasn't fully recognized for its environmental benefits. It's now used as substitute for meat in products like Hemp Protein powders, formed into plastic, and utilized as a viable resource for paper production.

Today’s cannabis brands are also employing the most up-to-date technology to leverage hemp as an eco-friendly solution.

Hemp to the rescue

Hemp is such a gamechanger in the world of paper, it caught the eye of a 400-year-old paper milling pioneer that recently made its foray into the cannabis industry: Botani.

Botani creates customizable hemp paper products for cannabis businesses, such as rolling and blunt wraps that are derived from natural resources and eco-friendly processes. Botani inherits a rich history in natural fiber technology, weaving centuries-old traditions with today’s technology to help some of today’s most well-known cannabis brands innovate and scale.

Not only is Botani is leveraging the use of hemp, an annual crop, it also employes a unique process of whitening called TCF (totally chlorine-free) to create a more natural end-product.

Compliance in the cannabis industry, unfortunately, requires lots of single-use plastic containers, such as ‘doob tubes’ used throughout the pre-roll market.

Canadian cannabis company Mood Ring aims to combat this problem by using hemp plastic for fully compostable pop-tubes. Since disposable vape pens also contribute to the industry’s carbon footprint, Mood Ring will launch new vape cartridges that use 20 percent less plastic than a traditional vape, simply because the mouthpieces are made with hemp plastic.

Corn fiber

Corn fiber is another viable crop to consider for creating a more sustainable future. Nearly 400 million tons of corn goes to waste each year, paving the way for possible innovations leveraging corn parts for fiber.

Corn fiber is derived from naturally occurring plant sugars and is fully eco-compatible. Using corn fiber means less greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere. When products made from corn fiber are used up, they can be returned to the earth, completing the life cycle of production, consumption, disposal, and re-use.

Not only are corn fibers more sustainable, they have a low odor retention, making it an ideal material for filtering cannabis products that often leave lingering aromas. This was an intriguing idea for product innovation company Moose Labs that offers a variety of proprietary filters created to protect your lungs while inhaling cannabis.

The custom filters were created to fit perfectly inside the Moose Labs MouthPeace, the first physician-backed, germ-preventing accessory designed to fit joints, glass pipes, and vape pens, preventing direct oral contact with a variety of shared smoking devices. The MouthPeace Filter was created to enhance the smoking experience with proprietary triple-layer filtration system that reduces resin, contaminants, and tar.

As Moose Labs continues to encourage consumers to be more mindful of their consumption habits from a germ-spreading standpoint, the company also launched a new product inviting consumers to be more eco-conscious of their habits as well.

In celebration of Earth Day, today Moose Labs launched a new natural Corn Fiber MouthPeace Filter. While Moose Labs’ original Filter’s fibers are a non-woven design with a layer of activated carbon, which has natural sanitizing properties, the new more eco-friendly version leverages natural corn-fiber filtration and is completely biodegradable.

Water and energy

Indoor cannabis cultivation requires tremendous amounts of energy, mostly driven by horticultural lighting, heating ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and dehumidification systems. Nonprofits in the world of agriculture closely monitoring this issue as they continue to search for solutions. The Resource Innovation Institute (R.I.I.) is one such organization with a mission to advance resource efficiency to cultivate a better agricultural future.

In partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), RII has embarked upon on a three-year project titled Data-Driven Market Transformation for Efficient, Sustainable Controlled Environment Agriculture.

Collaborating with leading greenhouse and vertical producers, RII and its supply chain partners will benchmark cultivation facilities using industry standard KPIs on energy, emissions, water and waste. Increasing producer resilience, profitability, and productivity are just a few goals of this endeavor.

Jesce Horton, CEO of Oregon cannabis producer LOWD is working with RII as a member of Oregon’s ‘Task Force for Cannabis Environmental Best Practice’ to help the organization on its journey to create energy efficiency solutions and standards for the global cannabis industry.

“At LOWD, we’re passionate about efficiency-focused protocols in our grow room: condensate water reclamation, mixed spectrum lighting, fabric ducts to improve airflow and reduce the need for more fans, Variable Refrigerant Flow HVAC systems, irrigation systems designed for water conservation, ergonomic trim stations improve trimmer efficiency, quality and utilization, energy monitoring and reporting,” says Horton.

Place: Local sourcing is optimal but not always an option. How do companies source and transport products in the most environmentally friendly manner?

Even if a product’s ingredients or inputs are sustainable, the location in which they were purchased should be kept in mind. According to the Founder of Green Takeover, a platform aiming to simplify the complexities of climate change, transport emissions can throw a wrench into things.

“A company may choose to source plastic-free products, which checks the box for ‘environmentally friendly’ because it isn't turning to synthetic materials that find their way into the soil or waterways, polluting natural resources, hence disrupting local ecosystems," says founder of Green Takeover Hebah Saddique. "At the same time, sourcing plastic-free materials from China would have a much higher carbon footprint due to transport emissions than buying locally made plastic items. Add to that the type of energy used to produce and transport the supplies and it can get overwhelming, and confusing."

“In a perfect world we would source local items made from natural materials, though since that's not always feasible, it's important for companies to have a well-rounded understanding of the levers that trigger climate change and environmental pollution, and accordingly make eco-conscious decisions that would have the highest impact for their unique operation,” Saddique adds.

Since these solutions may vary across businesses, most would be wise to educate themselves through climate and carbon literacy training that can inevitably drive business growth, while lowering their environmental footprint.

Profits: When reporting profits, does a company have a reinvestment strategy for the continued improvement of the organization? Do they donate their time or a portion of proceeds to sustainable causes?

By the year 2050, our oceans could inevitably contain more plastic than fish. This bleak statistic is deeply concerning to cannabis packaging companies like AE Global that are putting in efforts to remedy our plastic waste issue, as so much of it sadly ends up in the ocean.

AE Global has joined 4G Recycling, an organization that claims to have recovered nearly 24 million pounds of plastic in its first year, to clean up Miami’s beaches on Earth Day. Ocean Recovery Group, a joint venture between AE Global and 4G Recycling, is driven by decades-worth of experience within the recycling industry.

Another holiday honoring Mother Earth, Arbor Day, takes place on April 29. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the day when communities around the globe come together to plant trees. The tradition began in 1872 when more than one million trees were planted by Americans in a single day.

Across various languages and cultures, the word ‘arbor’ represents trees of all shapes and sizes. For Arbor Hemp, a reliable hemp brand offering several clinically studied tinctures and capsules, the word means so much more.

“The Arbor name ties us back to our roots in the Colorado mountains and our appreciation of nature, which is why we also want to pay homage to this historic global tree-planting holiday,” says Arbor Hemp founder and CEO Michael Scherr. “The hemp plant is not only the lifeblood of our company, but we know it has the power to replace timber and lumber as a resource, transforming how we make fiber, construct buildings, and reduce our carbon footprint. In that regard, hemp producers could be saving more trees than they may realize."

To support these efforts and help reforestation projects across America, Arbor Hemp is donating 10% of Paril profits to support reforestation through the Arbor Day Foundation, the largest 501(c)3 nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees in communities throughout America and around the world. To date its planted more than 350 million trees to ensure a greener and healthier future for everyone.

Overall, there’s much to consider before slapping an eco-friendly label on a particular product, especially in the world of cannabis. Understanding a company’s manufacturing process and the resources used, along with where products are sourced from, and how they are reinvested into the environment are all just great places to start.