Cannabis plants use up around twice as much water as maize, soybeans, wheat, and wine grapes, according to a 2021 study in the Journal of Cannabis Research. Additionally, growing indoors requires extensive lighting and climate control, making it particularly energy intensive. Morningstar estimates that cannabis cultivation will account for 1% of total U.S. electricity demand by 2030.
It’s a problem that the industry is trying to address — but cultivators have a long way to go, according to Bloomberg's interviews in the run-up to last week’s industry meeting, called Regenerative Cannabis Live, at the United Nations. Cannabis’ federal illegality means there hasn’t been much research into its environmental footprint.
“People are looking at cannabis as if it’s just up the ladder from crypto mining in terms of sustainability,” said Chris Hagedorn, executive vice president of Scotts Miracle-Gro and division president of Hawthorne Gardening Co., a subsidiary that provides lighting, nutrients, and other materials for indoor and hydroponic growing. Mining for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, which requires vast computing power, is famously harmful to the environment.
For the nascent cannabis industry’s small, young companies, the initial challenge of getting up and running has largely outweighed questions about environmental impact, but that’s beginning to change, Hagedorn said. Since Hawthorne started offering more energy-efficient LED lights to customers in 2019, they’ve quickly become 70% of the company’s lighting sales, he told Bloomberg.
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