The move may cost more mon­ey upfront, but it will end up sav­ing you mon­ey, ener­gy, and time.


6 min read

Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.


For many cannabis cul­ti­va­tors, the strongest impe­tus to redesign their indoor facil­i­ty is to ensure sus­tain­abil­i­ty and reduce their car­bon foot­print. And for good rea­son: Grow­ing cannabis indoors can be an ener­gy-inten­sive endeav­or and bad for the envi­ron­ment. Cul­ti­vat­ing a sin­gle crop from seed to har­vest is accom­pa­nied by lit­er­al tons of car­bon emis­sions — not to men­tion high ener­gy costs.

But before jump­ing into a project like this, you should be aware that design­ing a grow facil­i­ty can be a com­plex process that shouldn’t be rushed. Many small yet crit­i­cal details need to be con­sid­ered oth­er­wise you may be on the path to seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions down the road.

RELATED: These Entre­pre­neurs Are Let­ting the Sun Shine on Indoor Cannabis Cul­ti­va­tion

Questions To Ask

Pri­or to knock­ing down any walls, ask your­self these key ques­tions:  

  • Do you have finan­cial sup­port? A suc­cess­ful redesign requires fund­ing. Facil­i­ty own­ers and oper­a­tors should inves­ti­gate financ­ing options to pay for con­struc­tion or need­ed equip­ment. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers offer leas­ing pro­grams and, depend­ing on your loca­tion, ener­gy rebates may be avail­able.
  • What is your pro­duc­tion sched­ule? What will hap­pen to your cur­rent crops as you embark on a redesign? Plants can be eas­i­ly harmed or exposed to con­t­a­m­i­nants dur­ing the con­struc­tion process. You may choose to move your plants to a room that will not be affect­ed or wait to ger­mi­nate seeds for the next cycle until your facil­i­ty is back in work­ing con­di­tion. It’s bet­ter to pro­tect your plants or hold off on plant­i­ng a new crop than risk wast­ing mon­ey when your plants are con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed or shocked.
  • What are your future goals? Align your redesign with your long-term goals. For exam­ple, do you see your­self expand­ing your facil­i­ty soon? Intro­duc­ing new crops, such as hemp? Or, per­haps, you’d like to add an extrac­tions lab. Keep these mile­stones in mind as you pri­or­i­tize and make cer­tain changes.  

After lay­ing the ground­work for your redesign — allo­cat­ing funds, set­ting a sched­ule and iden­ti­fy­ing goals — envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious grow­ers can begin to explore addi­tion­al equip­ment and design con­sid­er­a­tions.

Lighting

Lights are a piv­otal aspect of your indoor grow facil­i­ty. If you’re cur­rent­ly using flu­o­res­cent or HPS fix­tures, con­sid­er mak­ing the switch over to more ener­gy-effi­cient LED options. The Depart­ment of Energy’s 2018 study on LEDs for indoor hor­ti­cul­ture found that LED light­ing offers 24 to 30 per­cent reduc­tion in elec­tric­i­ty con­sump­tion per square foot across ver­ti­cal­ly racked farms, non-stacked indoor farms, and as sup­ple­men­tal light­ing in green­hous­es. Sure, they’re more expen­sive at first, but they pay off in reduced elec­tric­i­ty costs and ben­e­fits such as spec­tral tun­ing and low­er oper­at­ing tem­per­a­tures.

The LED plat­form is also hardier and less dis­pos­able in com­par­i­son to oth­er light­ing tech­nolo­gies. Met­al halide lamps, HPS, and flu­o­res­cent have short­er shelf-lives and are full of tox­ic heavy met­als, mak­ing dis­pos­al more com­plex and poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous.

Already com­mit­ted to LED lights? It might be time to upgrade to even more sophis­ti­cat­ed fix­tures, such as new­er mod­els uti­liz­ing automa­tion or arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), Blue­tooth con­trol, or more advanced diodes.

RELATED: How Big Data Is Dri­ving Pre­ci­sion Cannabis Cul­ti­va­tion

Watering Systems

Eco-con­scious grow­ers — espe­cial­ly those liv­ing in arid cli­mates such as Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia — will want to exam­ine their cur­rent setups for water effi­cien­cy. You may be wast­ing water cur­rent­ly due to out­dat­ed equip­ment or exces­sive evap­o­ra­tion. Some valu­able con­ser­va­tion tech­niques that are pop­u­lar among indoor grow­ers include aquapon­ics and hydro­pon­ics. Hydro­pon­ic gar­dens grow plants with­out soil, instead of cul­ti­vat­ing them in water or an inert media and nutri­ent mix­ture.

Hydro­pon­ic gar­dens are extreme­ly effi­cient, using 10 times less water than oth­er agri­cul­tur­al meth­ods, accord­ing to a case study com­plet­ed by the Glob­al Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Insti­tute. Hydro­pon­i­cal­ly-grown plants also need less space to grow.

Grow­ers who are inter­est­ed in pro­duc­ing fish as an addi­tion­al rev­enue source may inves­ti­gate aquapon­ics, which uses fish efflu­ence as fer­til­iz­er for the plants. Because it’s a closed sys­tem, it also reduces water usage. The catch: Due to the extra space and resources need­ed for a pond, it may not be the right option for every busi­ness.  

Grow­ers in water-scarce areas — or areas where water costs increase dur­ing peak times — may want to estab­lish water catch­ment sys­tems that col­lect runoff from rooftops and store the water for future use. Uti­liz­ing rain­fall is cost-effec­tive and pro­vides a use­ful sup­ple­men­tal water source for irri­ga­tion needs dur­ing dri­er times.

Environmental Controls

Invest­ing in the lat­est equip­ment for envi­ron­men­tal con­trol, such as HVAC, light­ing, mon­i­tor­ing, and air con­di­tion­ing — can help grow­ers main­tain an ide­al bal­ance among humid­i­ty, light and tem­per­a­ture to keep cannabis plants hap­py and healthy. Of course, cannabis busi­ness­es will want to pro­tect their equip­ment and upgrade when need­ed to ensure their tools are per­form­ing at the high­est poten­tial.

In addi­tion, recent tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments are anoth­er impe­tus to invest in new equip­ment. For exam­ple, AI is increas­ing­ly preva­lent in con­trollers, whether for your fer­ti­ga­tion, tem­per­a­ture, or light­ing sys­tem, tak­ing real-time con­di­tions and counter-judg­ing them against a deep data pool. This allows your team to make more informed choic­es and for more sub­tle­ty in adjust­ments, which both lead to vast ener­gy sav­ings and improved qual­i­ty.

AI offers great poten­tial across many grow­ing con­texts. In green­hous­es, where con­di­tions change con­stant­ly — not only as the sun moves across the sky, but also as clouds and wind affect your dai­ly light inte­gral — new sen­sors can trig­ger auto­mat­ed adjust­ments to main­tain opti­mal con­di­tions for your crop, ren­der­ing the delay (and human error) with hands-on adjust­ments obso­lete.

Vertical layouts

Rather than think­ing big­ger, think smarter. Adding to your facility’s square footage can quick­ly spike your ener­gy bills, as there’s sim­ply more air to con­trol and mon­i­tor. Smart design options, such as ver­ti­cal rack­ing, reduce the square footage need­ed to grow crops — tak­ing advan­tage of the ver­ti­cal space that is so often ignored. Recent advance­ments in LED light­ing allow them to be ver­ti­cal­ly racked while main­tain­ing per­for­mance and keep­ing ambi­ent heat low.

It Just Makes Sense

The cannabis indus­try isn’t going any­where — but nei­ther is cli­mate change. Cannabusi­ness­es have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to exam­ine their own prac­tices, use resources responsibly,and inte­grate sus­tain­able mea­sures to reduce their car­bon foot­print.

But it’s not only about the moral­i­ty of going green. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty can have a pos­i­tive impact on cannabusi­ness’ prof­it mar­gin, as well. Cul­ti­va­tors who redesign with effi­cien­cy and the envi­ron­ment in mind end up sav­ing mon­ey, ener­gy, and time. With fluc­tu­a­tions in the price of cannabis, the busi­ness that embraces effi­cien­cy to low­er their oper­at­ing costs will find more sta­bil­i­ty and sav­ings as the indus­try matures. Improv­ing a facility’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty can assist in the long-term suc­cess of any cul­ti­va­tion — and push the indus­try toward a smarter and more effi­cient direc­tion.

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