A closer look at the Aster Farms sustainability report


It may be green, but the modern cannabis industry is not environmentally friendly.

The commercialization of cannabis and the continuous expansion into new markets mean that this sector is devouring a growing number of resources.

Julia Jacobson, CEO and co-founder of Aster Farms. All photos courtesy of Aster Farms.

With the release of his Sustainability Report 2020, Aster Farms is a cannabis company that has chosen to directly address the sustainability issues of the industry.

Inspired by other eco-pioneers Patagonia and All Birds, CEO and co-founder Julia Jacobson seeks to build a transparent, green cannabis brand in the north. California.

Aster Farms is the first grower to publish details on the environmental impact of its cultivation and production activities.

By exploring data on water consumption, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and more, Jacobson and his team have learned a great deal about their victories in sustainability as well as areas for improvement.

Sustainability is a long-term project for Aster Farms

Building a truly sustainable cannabis brand is a global and never-ending goal.

Every aspect of cannabis cultivation requires careful consideration from the point of view of its environmental impact.

All options, from floor to transport packaging, contributes to the final emissions of carbon and waste produced, and energy consumed.

The complexities of sustainability are why Aster Farms started with the basics. They grow most of their canopy outdoors under the sun, that is, without growth lights or air conditioning.

They currently have 33,000 square feet of outdoor deck and counting.

According to 2012 The study on the energy consumption of the sector, the cultivation of cannabis indoors and with mixed light in the US produced a whopping 15,000,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, equal to the production of three million American cars.

Aster’s seemingly simple initial choice to grow outdoors has had an immediate impact on the farm’s carbon intensity per pound of flower grown.

In 2020, one pound of flower from Aster’s greenhouse and outdoor cover produced 9 kg of CO2 emissions according to its report. This is a remarkable feat, especially compared to an industry average of 1,000 kg of CO2 indoor and 580 kilograms of greenhouse.

Another factor that makes Aster Farms a leader in the green cannabis movement is its dedication to living land, uncultivated agriculture and other regenerative farming practices.

On land, this means planting directly in the field and focusing on the living soil, which requires far fewer amendments than traditional potting soil preparations.

As Jacobson details, this is not the industry standard for outdoor farms. “A lot of outdoor growers are growing on land in pots,” he said. “And that means, for the most part, not necessarily developing living soils. Which means they’re important soil, pumping it in with amendments, and often removing that soil.”

At the moment, the compost and potting soil for Aster comes from local facilities within a 40-mile radius and is delivered in bulk, not in bags.

Jacobson hopes to have his own soil and composting production up and running soon. However, as it “actually takes years to develop physically” from the organic waste produced by its cultivation, this is a long-term project that requires a bit of patience.

One last impressive detail from the Sustainability Report is the farm’s commitment to water conservation.

According to the report, indoor cannabis normally uses 198 liters of water per square meter of cultivation, the greenhouse makes 80 and the outdoor, 11 liters.

When Aster reduced the numbers, its mixed outdoor and greenhouse canopy pulled 22 gallons per square foot of crop. In an effort to reduce water consumption, the farm is adapting to local conditions, which are higher and drier than similar farms in its region. One such adaptation is a 400,000-gallon agricultural pond, which captures spring rain for use during the driest months.

More than a few surprises in the Sustainability Report

Jacobson is the first to admit that the 2020 report captured some surprises about his approach. One of the biggest impacts was the root cause of the farm’s carbon footprint.

When they started collecting data, mileage of employee travel became a clear issue. “It accounts for the majority of our greenhouse gas emissions, and I’m the main offender,” Jacobson said. About 90 percent of CO2 produced on the farm comes from the mileage of employees displaced to work.

Another surprise was the role that current regulations now play in the development of solid waste. As the report points out, “The millions of tracking and tracing labels issued to growers, the millions of zip ties needed to secure labels on plants, and the need for child-proof packaging are flagrant offenders when we work for sustainability “.

However, Jacobson is not deterred by these surprises. This report has given Aster the tools he needs to learn, adapt and plan. Jacobson said: “This was one of the things that our sustainability report did for us. Helping us focus on what our quick wins are and what the most important things we want to do in the future are “.

The farm plans to make more than a few adjustments in response to the findings of its first report. Jacobson has already enrolled in a carbon offsetting program, made plans to expand solar power on the farm, and will begin experimenting with biodegradable zip ties.

Sustainability: a new conversation for the cannabis industry

Even for a company launched with the premise of organic cannabis, Aster’s first sustainability report was a wake-up call. As Jacobson said, “It’s the only industry where we’re getting a clean slate and we’re building from scratch. We have a chance to address these things from the start and build the foundations of the legal industry on a better trajectory.” . She wants this report to inspire other companies to investigate its environmental impact.

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