Growing marijuana might not be as green as you once thought it was, and there is actually serious concern over how un-green the process of indoor cannabis cultivation has become. Indoor grow operations are consuming immense amounts of energy, harming the environment and increasing its cost for the consumer. Below is a TED Talk from Dan Sutton managing director of Tantalus Labs, which focuses on the subject of what he calls “cannabis’s dirty secret,”and offers his opinions on how consumers/growers can change the industry. Spoiler alert; Save money and the earth by growing your cannabis in a greenhouse!
In his TED Talk Sutton uncovers some concerning numbers in regards to the environmental impact of indoor cannabis cultivation. He states that it is estimated that over 15 million kilograms of black market cannabis is produced and consumed across North America each year. 90% of this cannabis is grown indoors using artificial lighting, and on average one of these plants from seed to harvest produces around the same carbon footprint as driving a car from Los Angeles to New York 11 times. It is also estimated that 3% of California’s total annual electricity production is used for indoor cannabis cultivation. A percentage of electricity which is more than whats produced annually by the Hoover Dam.
To support Sutton’s numbers I did some quick research and found an article in “Energy Policy,” called “The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production,” written by Even Mills. This research study not only verified Sutton’s claims but also mentioned costs from the producers’ perspective. This article is a little outdated, published in 2012, but I can only imagine that these numbers have only increased.
The study researched into the items that contribute to the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis cultivation and their cost to the producer:
Specific energy uses include high-intensity lighting, dehumidification to remove water vapor and avoid mold formation, space heating or cooling during non-illuminated periods and drying, pre-heating of irrigation water, generation of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuel, and ventilation and air-conditioning to remove waste heat. Substantial energy inefficiencies arise from air cleaning, noise and odor suppression, and inefficient electric generators used to avoid conspicuous utility bills. In result, the national-average annual energy costs are approximately $1000 per pound of finished product. -Mills
$1000 in energy expenses per pound sums up to about half of its wholesale value. Add in all of the other costs associated with a successful indoor grow operation and the profit margin on that pound turns out to be very discouraging. I am not agreeing that it is impossible to grow cost efficient pot indoors, considering the efficiency upgrade
s to lighting and the use of solar. However, if consumers want the price of cannabis to stay low, and the environmental impact to be minimum, then they should demand for the marijuana industry to move “out of the warehouse and into the greenhouse.”
If all of the high polluting grow ops were to be moved into greenhouses it would save 20 trillion wat hours or electricity every year. This is enough to power Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco all year long, just by growing black market cannabis in greenhouses. -Sutton
Overall, it is hard to ignore cannabis’s ability to help patients around the world, and it is exciting to think of its potential to battle the pharmaceutical industry with some home grown remedies. I agree with Sutton when he states that the carbon footprint created from growing marijuana indoors is a social cost that gets ignored. I also side with his opinions supporting that the cannabis industry need to capitalize on growing in greenhouses to benefit from their “natural inputs and tight environmental controls.” To me its clear, the future of cannabis belongs in a greenhouse.
Do you have any experience with this topic? Do you see greenhouses as the best way to grow cannabis? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.