Contributors to this article include current and former members of NCIA’s Sustainability Council: lead author Laura Wilkinson Sinton, Shawn Cooney, David Schwartz, Fred Whittlesey, Gabe Cross, Emily Long, and NCIA’s DEI Manager, Mike Lomuto.
“Everyone talks about changing the world. Nobody talks about changing themselves.” – Leo Tolstoy
Sustainability can be a confusing term for cannabis companies. The reality is, in a still- federally-illicit market, individual businesses taking active steps towards reducing their own environmental impact (no matter how small) is the catalyst for systemic change across the broader industry. Does sustainable mean to recycle? Does it mean regenerative farming? Compostable packaging?
It means some – or all – of those things, depending on your industry vertical. It means a collection of all of the seemingly little steps toward a larger collective impact.
Sustainability is the ability to exist and develop in the current generation without depleting our natural resources for future generations.
Here are our top 3 reasons why you should pay attention and take action.
Your future depends on it.
As the cannabis industry seeks legitimacy with both private and institutional investors, institutional and private investors have made it clear that a robust sustainability plan is mandatory. The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) will be instituting reporting standards for publicly traded companies, and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) reporting will be required. If you are or will be looking for capital and investors in the near future, you need to start reporting metrics today. If you have to play catch up, it may play out like musical chairs – leaving you with a “nosebleed” seat at the money table, if at all. Another point to consider – the number of women in cannabis has been rapidly declining, so pay attention to your hiring practices and be aggressive on inclusion. Women sit on investor boards and will be looking closely at your leadership gender balance metric when you court them. It’s both environmental AND social statistics they’ll be looking for and inclusion gives you a competitive advantage. The inclusion of minorities and those affected by the “War on Drugs” should be on your roster as well.
Your customers are demanding it.
According to a recent Calivate survey, 79% of cannabis retail customers (the revenue drivers) indicate through their purchases that environmentally conscious brands get their preference. Companies like Wyld, with their forward-looking ESG reporting and social justice activism, demonstrate the power of their market positioning. It has become a major competitive advantage for Wyld. You can make it yours, too. The ICR-Spectacle 2021 showed customers prefer to buy their weed from women (46%) and from people of color and veteran-owned businesses (44%). Sustainability and ESG reporting of these types of metrics go hand in hand. It will bring different perspectives (and customer acquisition viewpoints) to your strategy. It’s not just about the cheapest price point or highest THC anymore. And all indicators show that ESG reporting will play an even more crucial role in the future, with both investor and customer loyalty,
It’s actually easier than you think.
Depending on your vertical, you can easily start measuring and setting benchmarks today. Most of these metrics you already measure, but not for sustainability reporting. Efforts to improve them will impress investors with both prudent money-saving strategies and social indicators. Here are a few easy ones to start quarterly or monthly, depending on your company.
Water. Indoor and outdoor grows and most manufacturers already measure water usage. Establish a benchmark of where you currently are and measure quarterly for seasonal changes. Then you can develop strategies to reduce usage, including, as simply as installing low flush toilets and watering less volume but more frequently throughout the day to reduce wasted runoff
Electricity/Power. Everyone, regardless of vertical, pays a power bill. Establishing a quarterly benchmark and implementing reduction strategies (including time of day use and working with local utilities) will save both money and power usage e.g. lower wattage LEDs. Avoid bandaid approaches to environmental controls such as installing more and more systems providing a single function, like additional large dehumidification units. You don’t want to be using diesel generators for your indoor cultivation facility in a major Port of a major California city on the water adjacent to a low-income population area like these guys. It will get you in trouble with every authority, and likely cost you your license (and any downstream customers). The news cycles will hammer you and your brand’s reputation in the worst possible way. Be mindful of the perils of making a quick buck with cheap, polluting energy. It comes at a cost. It’s unsustainable.
Waste. All verticals can measure their waste output. Organic waste with cultivation can be included in the metrics of landfill-waste diversion (and there’s a simple way to calculate this measurement in “cars taken off the road.” Plastic waste – which so many manufacturers must use for child-proof packaging – is a fertile arena for reduction. Several cannabis packaging companies like Sana Packaging use oceanic plastic lids on glass bottles, which are recyclable. Wyld is now using compostable child-proof packaging which is a revolution in our industry. Manufacturers have different takes on waste depending on process type.
The most important thing is to just get started. Even if you think you don’t need it today, you will tomorrow. And make sure your CEO is onboard 100%. If you don’t have the backing of your CEO and investors, you will have an uphill battle that will make your sustainability goals nearly impossible. Make sure you bring them the data and the reasons why your company will benefit financially from these actions and get them to engage in this process. This may mean hiring an environmental sustainability professional or consulting firm to help collect the data to bring to the executives showing the clear financial benefits. If you are a smaller company, try it yourself.
If you feel overwhelmed, try this free sustainability website to input sample data and see instant graphs. It’ll start you on the path, and prepare you for the future of cannabis.
But only if you plan to be around for it.