Boulder County cannabis growers move toward carbon neutral production

Matt Whittaker

By Matt Whittaker

Some Boulder County cannabis farms have slashed their carbon emissions while working with a certification program, but program completion is far from universal, a recent report shows.

Since launching in 2020, just 29% of cannabis cultivators in unincorporated Boulder County have completed the Boulder County Carbon Conscious Certification program to move away from fossil fuels. One grower in the city of Boulder has done so.

Those who have completed the program have improved energy efficiency by using LED lights; more efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; and locally sourced renewable energy, the county said Friday.

Growers participating in the voluntary program all reduced the energy required to produce a gram of dried marijuana flower, the report said.

"We're excited to see the progress these cannabis cultivators have made in reducing energy consumption and carbon pollution," said Boulder County program coordinator Ambra Sutherlin. "They're leaders in the cannabis community, dedicated to going carbon neutral and making a real difference in the fight against climate change."

Under the program, a local boutique cannabis company called In the Flow reduced its carbon emissions by 70% and increased its energy productivity by 25%, the report said. The company optimized purchasing and delivery systems to reduce transportation emissions, installed a high-efficiency irrigation system and converted all its lighting to LEDs, among other efforts.

“It's important to our company that we do everything we can to address the issue of energy-intensive cannabis cultivation,” said Bonnie Bahlmann of In the Flow.

Meanwhile, marijuana growers Karing Kind, The Republic and Vera Cultivation averaged a 7% reduction in carbon emissions.

“The certification validates all of the efforts we've undertaken from the efficient design of the facility to how we operate day-to-day,” said Vera Cultivation CEO Alex Park. “We live in an era of rapid natural resource depletion and scarcity… and this commitment is meant to create a sustainable product and address some of these challenges.”

In Colorado, the cannabis industry sucks up about 2 percent of the state’s energy generation, with much of that electricity coming from coal-fired power plants. Electricity and natural gas consumption used by indoor cultivation in the state produce only a little less greenhouse gas than coal mining.

Because of the marijuana industry’s significant contribution to climate change, Boulder County already requires commercial cannabis growers to offset their electricity use with local renewable power or pay an extra charge per kilowatt hour.

The voluntary certification program—a joint initiative by The Cannabis Conservancy and Boulder County's Energy Impact Offset Fund Committee—offers workshops, equipment recommendations, marketing assets and other services.

The certification program dovetails with a state initiative designed to help cannabis growers save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To combat the cannabis carbon footprint, the Colorado Energy Office has created the Cannabis Resource Optimization Program.

Under contract with the energy office, California-based clean energy services provider Resource Innovations provides technical assistance, including a facility audit and analysis of historic electricity, gas and water use to identify ways to use fewer resources.

Once those upgrades are identified, cannabis growers accepted into the program can get low-interest loans from the Colorado Clean Energy Fund to make the upgrades.

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

Lakewood, CO

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