We’re hearing the word “sustainable” a lot these days. It’s coming from activists and journalists, from politicians and the marketing agents, writers, anyone in public life. I hear it talking with friends. Sustainable agriculture, sustainable development, and sustainable living – I certainly use the word, myself.
So, when I use the term “sustainable,” I try to maintain a clear understanding of what I mean. And, really, it’s pretty straightforward. If we can keep doing it the way we’re doing it year after year, generation after generation, without running out of resources and trashing our living environment, then it’s sustainable. The details can add a world of nuance, but that’s the basic idea.
Growing cannabis sustainably means growing plants in ways that will keep working in the short term and long term while returning a profit. Sustainable business models work in the natural environment AND perform on the bottom-line. If we’re growing Cannabis and we’re doing it sustainably, then we’re going to stay in business, by definition.
Sustainable growing can reduce costs in the long-term and short-term, grow the kindest quality product, and sustain and preserve health in our own living environment. It benefits the growers, the consumers, and pretty much everyone else. Sustainability offers us a win-win-win situation. Assessing an operation for sustainability begins with analyzing energy-use and materials-consumption in the working environment, equipment and materials, and horticultural methods. And, it requires analyzing associated production costs. In assessing equipment and materials, direct impact on ecosystems is part of the picture, but so is “embodied energy” – the energy required to create these items.
Assessing methods means understanding how our growing techniques affect our environment. Are they life sustaining? Are they a source of throw-away costs? Do they degrade the quality of our goods? Sustainable responses include increasing efficiencies and “closing loops,” which both cut costs. If we can produce an equal or superior product for less money, then profits increase. If we save money by using super-efficient lighting without sacrificing quality and pay for the investment with the savings within a reasonable time frame, then why not? Closing loops means local-sourcing and re-using materials whenever we can – for instance recycling our bio-abundant soil mixes and composting vegetative residues (fan leaves and root balls) into valuable soil amendments. Or, closing loops could include developing nature’s “environmental services,” such as encouraging insects that kill pests. With some imaginative thinking and a little number crunching, we can pick the low-hanging fruit and benefit immediately.
When it comes to benefiting, who can argue with cutting costs, especially when the outcome includes better quality and value in the product? As the market becomes savvy to the benefits of healthy-grown plants – including the taste benefits – the value of sustainably grown Cannabis can only rise. People can taste fertilizer salts, and they can taste pesticides. Anyone who has tasted high-quality organic flowers will never go back to “chem pot” and they’ll pay premium for the good stuff. The same holds true for folks who eat herbal products or rub creams on their skin. As lab testing becomes the standard (and it will), the ability to detect chemical residues will improve. People will be able to tell the difference. And smell the difference. And customers will start asking for the good stuff. Sustainable, indeed.
In future posts, we’ll offer some more detail on ways to close the loops and increase efficiencies – and ways to grow Cannabis that maximize the benefits of good plant genetics while producing outstanding flowers.