By Andrew Myers, CEO of ProGrowTech
The cannabis industry looks nothing like it did 20, or even 10, years ago. As more states have legalized the crop, its reputation has dramatically shifted from vilified “gateway drug,” to a widely enjoyed and mostly normalized product, delivering a myriad of mental and physical health benefits. Just as the plant’s reputation has shifted, so have the demands of its primary consumer base. The “stoner” stereotype no longer applies. Instead, cannabis consumers are educated, aware and focused on health and wellness.
Discerning cannabis customers are no longer only concerned with THC or CBD percentages, but also how the cannabis was grown. High quality, clean cannabis – grown sustainably, without chemical pesticides, and tested vigorously for mold – represents the next major movement in the blossoming cannabis industry.
Growing Awareness in the Cannabis Industry
It isn’t only about preference: access to clean cannabis is integral to the health and safety of cannabis consumers. Inhalation (still the most popular way to consume cannabis) can introduce harmful chemicals immediately into the bloodstream if there are any residues on the plant, as it bypasses the filtration system offered by the liver. In addition, many medical consumers have weak or compromised immune systems, making them even more vulnerable to dangerous residues.
Moreover, our society is becoming more aware of products’ environmental impacts. According to a 2017 study by Cone Communications, 76% of those surveyed expect businesses to support issues like climate change and 63% hope businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change moving forward, even in the absence of governmental regulation.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow, so will the demands for healthy products and transparent, environmentally conscious practices. Cannabis companies – in particular, growers – will need to examine their approach to meet the needs and demands of an increasingly prudent audience.
Indoor Growing is Great… There’s Just One Big Problem
While cannabis has historically been cultivated outdoors (in the infinite, free light of the sun), prohibition pushed many growers indoors and into the shadows. It’s only within the last 10 or so years that cannabis has been slowly legalized and normalized. But still, most cannabis in U.S. markets is grown indoors, whether due to state laws or grower preference.
Further, there are numerous advantages to growing cannabis indoors in a highly controlled environment over growing it outdoors and exposed to the elements.
- The growing season is 365 days per year, meaning more harvests and more profits.
- With proper protocol, there are fewer pests and plant pathogens.
- It’s a closed loop – indoor growers can conserve water and avoid outdoor growing issues like toxic runoff and soil degradation.
- Some cannabis species simply do better indoors, after being bred in an indoor environment for decades.
However, indoor grow facilities have been criticized for their energy consumption, and the critics have a point.
According to data from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, cannabis cultivation consumed nearly 4% of Colorado’s annual electric generation. About two-thirds of our nation’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels – adding up to a lot of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere in order to put cannabis on dispensary shelves.
Outdated technology and archaic techniques can lead to ballooning energy costs, too. For decades, indoor growers relied on high pressure sodium (HPS) lights – which are affordable and deliver enough light intensity, but they run particularly hot and consume substantial electricity. Balancing a facility’s temperature, humidity and light intensity can be hard and costly.
Coming into the (LED) Light
So, what are cannabis cultivators doing to address these sustainability concerns – without sacrificing the quality of their end-product?
The answer lies in using the right tools to create the most efficient facility possible. And, in most cases, it all starts with your lighting. Just as the sun is essential for life on Earth, your indoor lighting technology is vital for the survival of your plants. A lot of your grow facility’s success hinges on how effective your lights are.
That’s exactly why more and more growers are turning to LEDs – and reaping the benefits of this innovative lighting technology. LEDs marry sustainability and effectiveness: they perfectly align with the goals of cultivating high-quality, clean cannabis, for a few different reasons.
- LEDs use a fraction of the electricity of other lighting technologies. They also last 10 times longer than traditional fluorescents.
- Because they run much cooler than other lighting options, LEDs keep temperatures in indoor facilities cooler. Additionally, these lower temps will reduce water lost to evaporation.
- LEDs not only result in lower temperatures, they also prevent dramatic swings between hot and cold, which can result in excessive condensation. Condensation offers an ideal environment for mold and other plant pathogens to thrive.
Many of the innovators pushing the cannabis industry forward have set high standards for sustainability and quality. Some grow facilities are even adopting solar and wind energy to fuel their lighting technologies, further reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.
The fact of the matter is that consumers care about how their cannabis is grown – and the impact it could potentially have on their health and the environment. While indoor facilities haven’t always been the most environmentally sound, the right tools are paving the way for a greener, brighter future.
Andrew Myers is CEO of ProGrowTech, which helps commercial horticulture operations increase profitability, yield and energy efficiency with industry-leading LED lighting systems. For more information, visit progrowtech.com.