The state of Colorado has officially started accepting applications for a program that will provide cannabis cultivation businesses with technical assistance to help them increase their energy and water efficiency.
Titled the Cannabis Resource Optimization Program (CROP) the program “is designed to provide eligible cannabis cultivation businesses with no-cost technical assistance, including a facility audit and analysis of previous resource use, to better understand energy and water use and identify cost-effective resource management opportunities,” according to the Colorado Energy Office (CEO).
The Energy Office stated that in addition to the on-site facility audit, it would also partner with the Colorado Clean Energy Fund and a lending institution to provide financing for program participants who want to implement efficiency measures.
To be eligible, a cannabis cultivation facility must be registered with the state of Colorado and have a combined monthly electric and gas utility bill of $5,000 or more. The facility must also not already have access to energy-specific technical assistance through its utility provider.
In a press release announcing the launch of the program, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said “providing innovative ways for cannabis cultivation operators to improve energy efficiency will save business owners money and reduce energy use in the industry.”
Speaking to Colorado’s KUNC radio station, Libby Lee, the Sustainable Cannabis Program Manager at the CEO, stated that “we are providing those technical assessments for cannabis businesses to understand where they stand, how much energy they’re using, the opportunities to make these changes and how that will improve their facility.”
The energy demands of cannabis
According to a 2018 report by the Colorado Energy Office, “the state’s marijuana cultivation industry can potentially be consuming about 2% of Colorado’s annual electric generation.”
The report also states that “by simply upgrading their lights, cultivators could reduce their lighting demand by 20-50%, resulting in huge reductions in a cultivation’s energy bill.”
Speaking during a Rootwurks webinar held last week, Justin Miller, the CEO and Founder of High Life Solar said there are clear steps cannabis companies can take to boost their energy efficiency.
“There are definitely some routes you can do - updating your lighting, updating your HVAC, insulating your building, all of these things do have a positive impact in regards to lowering your electricity consumption, but ultimately the only way to truly make an impact if you want to is renewable energy.”
High Life Solar is a renewable energy company devoted to achieving carbon zero in the cannabis industry. Miller said that state governments can play a key role in helping companies reduce their carbon footprint.
“When people are applying for licenses for cultivation if they give them a list of resources that they can use to implement renewable energy and have low energy use. It would be an added cost for these cultivators initially, but in the long run, it would save them money exponentially.”
Reducing waste in cannabis
The high energy demand of growing cannabis isn’t the only environmental issue that companies and consumers should consider. There is also massive amounts of waste produced by the cannabis industry, in particular in packaging.
The legal cannabis industry produces millions of pounds of plastic waste per year. According to a 2019 study in Canada, between 12.7 million and 14.1 million pounds of plastic cannabis packaging made its way to landfills in the country between October 2018 and August 2019.
Speaking in the same Rootwurks webinar last week, Melinda Kadinger, the CEO of the Colorado-based Smokey’s Cannabis Company stated that cannabis consumers must pay more attention to the products they consume and how they are made.
“As a consumer, if you can pay attention to what your product is when you purchase it, that’s probably the number one way that consumers can help reduce the enormous amount of packaging waste.”
Smokey’s uses regenerative agriculture for its cultivation and is part of the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program. The company is also working on a “zero waste initiative” for its cultivation and retail operations.
According to Kadinger, such efforts will always be more difficult for small cannabis operators to implement. Kadinger also said that cannabis compliance regulations and the demands they make on packaging play a vital role in the problem and that “we have to consider the environment in every rule and regulation we write.”
To hear more from Melinda Kadinger and Justin Miller about sustainability issues in cannabis, check out our on-demand webinar “Sustainability in Cannabis: What Steps Can the Industry Take” by clicking here.