Although it’s true that the health of the entire planet is threatened by climate change – the added strain of colonialism, exploitation, and discrimination has made historically disenfranchised–communities of color–that much more vulnerable to its potentially catastrophic effects. Twenty years after racial bias was found in the locations of toxic waste dumps in the United States, sadly, little has improved.
It doesn’t take too long to find more unfortunate examples. Recent studies have shown that African American, Latinx, and low-income children are more likely to be exposed to air pollution in their public schools. Puerto Rico is still struggling with destruction wrought by Hurricanes Irma and Maria as well as political and economic neglect. Even the crisis in Syria has been linked to water shortages on our warming planet.
Making Sustainable Choices
As an industry, cannabis can not only limit our negative impact, but also mediate ongoing injustices. Because the effects of climate change overwhelmingly affect low-income communities and communities of color, choosing sustainable business practices has substantial environmental and equitable social impact. Using an environmental justice framework in our business allows us to go beyond asking “what” and also ask “who” – Who is impacted? Who benefits? Who will live with the consequences of our actions in the long-term?
Starting Locally: Environmental Justice & Community Responsibility
For instance, we want to conserve water and electricity for environmental and business efficiency. Environmental justice asks us to also think about how our use of resources affects other people in the community. Can the local power grid handle our usage along with its regular load? If there is a crisis, like a drought or a brown-out, how do we balance our business needs with the human needs of the community? Proactively engaging with the surrounding residents empowers them to communicate their needs and allows us to create solutions together.
Therefore, whether we are in growing, manufacturing, or distributing, cannabis companies have the duty to use resources effectively, manage waste responsibly, and determine the impact that our businesses have on our communities. Don’t know where to start? Consider hosting a community forum to hear the concerns of your neighbors and to understand what needs are challenging them most. Then, follow-up with opportunities to co-create a solution.
Using Environmentally-Friendly Packaging
Supply chain and packaging matter too. For example, environmentally-friendly packaging is a real concern for products in all markets. In Canada’s first year of legalization, it is estimated that the industry contributed 10,000 tons of packaging waste, mostly plastic.
However, there are companies out there with their minds on sustainability. Cannabis Doing Good 2019 Award Winner, Sana Packaging, sources reclaimed ocean plastic for their cannabis packaging as well as using hemp plastic, which has a smaller carbon footprint. Using recycled materials – and making reusing and recycling more convenient for consumers – can make a significant impact on the pollutants that we put into the air, water, and landfills.
Giving consumers more options regarding the disposal of packaging can cut down on cannabis-related litter around retail locations and also related nuisance complaints that weaken our relationships with neighbors. Lightshade, another Cannabis Doing Good 2019 Award Winner, offers recycling programs at each of their retail locations. Wana has new sustainable biodegradable product storage, and Terrapin Care Station has won awards for eco-friendly packaging, one of the most important aspects of the supply chain in implementing environmentally responsible practices at the production/retail levels.
Facing Climate Change Together
With an issue as crucial as climate change, no single company is going to be able to make a significant impact entirely on its own. So, be sure to talk to your supply chain partners about how they are addressing social and environmental challenges. Are they aware of how their waste is being managed and who is affected by it? How do they minimize the use of pesticides? Are there ways that you can work together to reduce pollutants? Just as consumers have told us that they are interested in environmentally sustainable products, we can tell our fellow business partners also value the environment and our community.
As an emerging market with substantial growth opportunities, the cannabis industry can model how environmental justice can be a guiding principle in corporate social responsibility work. The stakes have never been higher and the potential has never been greater! Together, we can work with affected communities to reverse the impact of climate change and the global legacy of injustice.
Has your business developed a sustainability program that promotes environmental justice? Are you interested in doing more to support equity? Contact us today!