Glass House Farms Is Ready to Prove Sustainable Cannabis Is Possible
Written By Graham Farrar
President, Glass House Farms
First and foremost, no matter our differences or similarities (which far outnumber our differences), we are all citizens of the planet.
An area that we particularly care about has recently developed a desperate need for clarification: What is the environmental impact of cannabis and how should we be developing our country’s “newest” industry.
We have the opportunity to build this industry in the image of being ‘the change we want to see’ in the world… so where are we and what do we need to do to do that?
A study conducted by Nature Sustainability, for example, found that “emissions associated with growing 1 ounce of cannabis indoors is about the same as burning 7 to 16 gallons of gasoline, depending on where in the U.S. it’s grown.” A thoughtful blog post from Flow Kana’s CEO Mikey Steinmetz cited statistics from New Frontier Data which suggest that indoor-grown cannabis is the most energy-intensive and environmentally harmful agricultural product in the U.S. today. It also concludes that the annual carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production in the U.S. is equivalent to emissions from 3 million American cars.
These numbers are not the change we want to see. We want to help lead agriculture to a brighter future, not be leading the charge to a worse one.
But if we only focus on indoor growing, we’re missing a vital piece of the puzzle: the enormous opportunity created by sun-grown cannabis, particularly sun-grown greenhouse cultivation.
Using greenhouses has only become really feasible because of the waning of Prohibition. In fact, the whole purpose of growing cannabis indoors wasn’t because it was the best, but because it was the least likely to be discovered by a government bent on trying to prohibit a plant. I think we all know now that the “War on Drugs” is bullshit. It was never a war on drugs, but is, and continues to be, a war on people and specific people at that. While we still have a lot of work to do there, thankfully we are making progress.
That progress means that hiding no longer needs to be at the top of the priority list, or even on the list at all. This throws open the door to greenhouse cultivation. Growing in greenhouses allows us to achieve tremendous efficiency, reducing both our environmental impact and the cost to grow our products, which can then be passed onto consumers. If we understand where we are today, and invest in improving for tomorrow, we can build a cannabis industry that delivers top-shelf quality that is both sustainable and accessible to everyone.
It will take work. There are things we as an industry need to continue to put more energy and resources into.
First off, one of the biggest challenges to helping people to understand the immense opportunity created by greenhouse cultivation is a simple one: lack of data. To properly gauge the cannabis industry’s overall impact, we need cultivators to establish reliable benchmarks for their carbon impact. As the saying goes, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”, and on the other side, you optimize what you do measure, so data is where it starts. Without a broad base of real-world measurements, we don’t have a way to make meaningful comparisons to show the benefits of sun-grown techniques or to improve our methods.
Second, we need to establish better standards for creating a common method of measuring things like carbon footprint. While some progress has been made, confusion persists. At Glass House Farms, our commitment to sustainability led us to commission our own carbon benchmarking analysis. We enlisted the help of Seinergy, a cannabis energy consultancy, who found that Glass House Farms’ environmental impact is an order of magnitude smaller than that of the average indoor operation. In parallel, groups like the Resource Innovation Institute and its PowerScore tool are helping to make sustainability benchmarking as consistent and easy to execute as possible for cultivators. This is something we as an industry should all get behind.
Our entire industry starts with the plant, and the plant starts with the planet.
In the Seinergy study, when comparing EPA carbon data, we found that one ounce of Glass House Farms flower generates 90% less carbon than the average indoor grow, and 40% less carbon than the average greenhouse. Contextualized in a different way, that same ounce of GHF flower generates the same carbon as charging your phone 6.5 times, or a little less than a week’s worth of energy used by your phone. By contrast, one ounce of average indoor generates the same carbon as charging it about 86 times (~3 months’ worth). To learn more about our Seinergy study, please see our sustainability page.
Our analysis also found that there was a great disparity between GHF’s operation and greenhouses in other geographies. There are several reasons for this, most importantly the incredibly kind and favorable climate of Southern California where we raise our plants. As a result, the cooling we do can rely on the natural environment, encouraged by the design of our greenhouses. The sunlight we receive is abundant and consistent, giving us for free from the sun what must be replicated with non-renewable resources when growing indoor. These two components go a long way to raising our yields for every unit of resources consumed.
Ideally, sharing data like this would be enough to convince consumers to support cannabis cultivators who prioritize sustainability. The truth is more complicated. Many still believe that indoor cannabis is always of higher quality than greenhouse. But in our blind testing (and in others’) this is far from always the case; consumers often preferred greenhouse-grown flower when they didn’t know which was which. Some even believe that the full-spectrum light from the sun naturally produces a richer, broader terpene profile that results in superior effects. As innovation in greenhouse techniques continue to evolve in a post-Prohibition world, the quality gap will continue to shrink, lightening the load on both consumer’s wallets and the planet. Fundamentally, ‘indoor’ growing is shorthand for great climate control and light. When growing in the right climate, with the right facilities and tools, we can replicate that near-perfect environment using the sustainable resources generously offered to us for free by Mother Nature.
And someday, when cultivators are allowed to distribute their products across state lines, it will be possible for growers in the least environmentally impactful places (e.g. California) to transport their product to states where growing cannabis is resource-intensive. Just like other agricultural businesses do.
Without prioritizing sustainability, we are building a brittle future for cannabis. At Glass House, we’re committed not just to growing this amazing plant as best we can every day, but also to doing it in the most sustainable way, and to growing the industry as best we can too: for the long-term. We believe that greenhouse growing is the path to a sustainable, efficient industry. In fact, we’re so dedicated to sun grown glass house cultivated cannabis, we put it in our name. Learn how we are growing green for Earth Day 2022.
Next: Meet The Weed Wizards Behind Glass House Farms’ Tangelo Flow.
Graham Farrar founded Glass House Farms in 2015 and currently serves as President of Glass House Brands, its parent company.