The Environmental Impact of Indoor Cannabis Farming

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The environmental impact of indoor cannabis farming New study finds indoor cannabis farm carries up to 370 times higher ecological footprint than outdoor farms

It could be considered common knowledge that the retail price of outdoor cannabis is typically less than that of indoor. But data from a new study comparing farming methods in Colombia, Washington, and Colorado shows that the cost of indoor may be higher than what’s on the price tag.

Canada is presently stampeding toward legalization, with Health Canada streamlining its application processes for new growers to receive production licenses, and with the country’s most established licensed producers doubling down on production. All of which still leaves Canadians—and the federal government—a little nervous about whether authorized supply will meet overall demand in a post-legalization landscape.

But while the captains of industry charge headlong into converted factories and warehouses, it may be important to remember that every new industry (especially one launching on a national scale) should, in a climate-conscious zeitgeist, be approached with an eye toward sustainability and environmental impact.

With that in mind, California-based nonprofit Global Footprint Network recently conducted a study, funded by PharmaCielo Ltd, in which the ecological footprints of three industrial-scale cannabis cultivation sites were calculated and compared—one an open greenhouse in Colombia, one an indoor production facility in Colorado, and one a hybrid greenhouse in Washington State.

Dr. Patricio Stocker, CEO of PharmaCielo, said at the project’s launch that the goal of the study was “to quantify overall resource demands of all stages of the cannabis cultivation and production life cycle, including waste production and management, nutrient use, energy consumption, water use, byproducts, etc. against alternative growth and production methods.” What the study found was that the ecological footprints of the three sites varied dramatically.

Ecological footprint is measured in global square meters, or global m2, which represents one square meter of space with the world average biological productivity. As an example, to raise one cow for slaughter, enough farmland is required for roughly 6,000 pounds of corn to be grown throughout the cow’s life, in addition to the land the cow itself occupies. The corn feeds the cow while it grows to a weight where it will yield close to a thousand pounds of beef, which means every pound of beef has roughly the same ecological footprint, or global m2, as six pounds of corn.

When comparing methods of cannabis cultivation, the differentials are even more staggering. The open greenhouse in Colombia was calculated to have a footprint of 10 global m2 per kilogram of dried cannabis, while the indoor facility in Colorado was calculated at 3,700 global m2. The Washington-based hybrid facility, which consisted of a closed greenhouse with mechanical ventilation and electric lights to supplement the sun, registered at 80 global m2.

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