The Carbon Footprint of Cannabis Production

Indoor operations are blooming with CO2 emissions.

Indoor cannabis production throughout the world has a long history of being seen as an energy-intensive practice. The industry of indoor cannabis production, both legal and illicit in some places, uses high energy-intensive processes and is said to be highly inefficient. To put this into perspective, one kilogram of final product is associated with emissions of 4600kg of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. These CO2 emissions are largely attributed to electricity production and natural gas consumption from indoor environmental controls, high intensity grow lights, and the supply of CO2 for accelerated plant growth. 

So why isn’t outdoor production going more mainstream?

One of the factors that contribute to it in certain places are the regulations that need to be followed to start an outdoor growing operation. In Canada, some of these regulations include: a completed controlled and secure site (i.e no one can have access to the plants except by forced entry), having a surveillance system to watch all the plants, as well as your trimming, harvesting, and packaging stations needing to be in separate rooms or completely sanitised between tasks. 

Another reason that indoor cultivation is preferred could be because of security. If your cannabis farm just looks like a normal building from the outside, it isn’t as obvious to thieves. However, if you have fields or greenhouses, it’s a lot more obvious and could put you at a higher risk to robbery. The biggest problem with this arises in that cannabis producers may get into trouble with authorities if they’re found to be operating under compromised security. 

The age question of Outdoor vs Indoor.

Apart from security, another concern is the quality of the final product. Some growers strongly believe that the quality of greenhouse weed doesn’t come close to that of a well-dialed-in indoor setup. A lot of factors contribute to the quality of cannabis produced and these factors include genetics and environmental factors while it grows. In an indoor setup, you can control everything precisely – from temperature to light to CO2 levels. This would make it much easier for indoor growers while outdoor growers have to deal with conditions they can’t change.

Overall, indoor growing tends to be preferred by growers who benefit from yields being much higher, rarely having to worry about pest problems and the light cycle being easier to control. These factors along with climate control (Considering some weed growing regions experience harsh weather conditions) make indoor growing appear far superior to outdoor.

There’s also the question of whether this is more of a green energy issue than an indoor farming one. As a society we are going to have to expand our energy production exponentially over the next century regardless. Another possibility is looking at green energy like harnessing solar power and other renewable sources of energy best.

So what’s the best way forward for the cannabis growing industry? A possibility could be relooking at how the energy is sourced and not blaming the issue on indoor farming. A move to stop burning fossil fuels and rather using clean energy could help lower the carbon footprint. Whether growing cannabis outside and in greenhouses will become mainstream is a longshot but it could also be determined by how authorities structure regulations and the direction that the industry grows in as it becomes increasingly legalised. 

Is a Hybrid solution the way forward?

The alternative could be a hybrid solution that uses indoor lights powered by solar power but also benefiting from the natural light of the sun.  With a system like this natural light can be used whenever it’s available and artificial lights powered by solar power can compensate for changes in weather and unfavourable weather conditions. This will allow growing to take place outside but make the environment more controlled like an indoor environment. This solution allows you to get “indoor quality” with a reduced carbon footprint

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