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Sustainable Development = Success for the Cannabis Industry – Cannabis Maven

Sustainable Development = Success for the Cannabis Industry


I’ve been working on an exciting consulting project on Sustainable Development. It has the potential to shift the developmental direction the cannabis industry is headed. This blog comes out of the conversations about sustainability with my client, Catherine Drumheller as we create a service pitch tailored to this business sector. Read the post and let’s continue the dynamic discussion, our future depends on it!

When new infrastructure is being built in developing nations, Sustainable Development principles are utilized for the progress. Sustainable Development (SD) is a programmatic approach applied to large and small projects to ensure successful implementation and effective continuity. Three principle elements: environmental resources, people and the economy are incorporated into the project planning. SD programs find integrated solutions for long term project success.

Cannabis businesses and the cannabis industry need to voluntarily integrate SD principles because long term success depends on creating continuous structures and principles, like environmental management, community engagement and relationship building into the economic development of this newly legalized industry.

For individual businesses, sustainability is a practical program with beneficial impacts for the company and the community it resides.  The SD program creates metrics to measure and evaluate company performance. This program can be scaled small or large depending on budget and designed to flex and adapt over time.  The program metrics examine relationships, employee needs, company diversity goals and community development. By being transparent with company goals, a sustainability program shows engagement and performance to employees and the business becomes a positive community partner.

The SD project model integrates the operational structure with efficiency while developing strong community ties for continued economic growth and success for the company.

Voluntary efforts like a company sustainability program normalizes cannabis business.

When most people think of sustainability, they think about energy usage. Colorado, in the first three years of legalized and regulated marijuana sales to adults, is experiencing a surge of energy consumption from indoor growing and the demands of the nascent market. Current business regulations for most counties in Colorado, except progressive thinking Boulder and Pueblo Counties, ban outdoor grows and greenhouses, which forces indoor only cultivation. High energy usage is a problem for all legalized marijuana states. Energy consumption will change when cannabis business regulations stop treating marijuana as a controlled substance and start treating it as an agriculture crop. The demand for energy is not sustainable and cannabis business and the industry has a responsibility to shape itself by evaluating and becoming a truly green economy.

As Colorado experiences the initial and subsequent cannabis industry regulations, there is an opportunity, through sustainable development, to evaluate the effectiveness and flaws of enacted policies. If a larger state wide, regional or industry program is developed, practical alternatives can be developed to avoid mistakes. If an analysis of industry performance isn’t done, problems will be exacerbated as more states and countries legalize marijuana and model the framework of Colorado regulations.


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Fortunately, steps toward evaluating current industry practices and providing sustainable alternatives is underway. City of Denver has created a Cannabis Sustainability Work Group that meets once a month to discuss environmental impacts and suggest best practices.

Catherine Drumheller is a member of the Cannabis Sustainability Work Group and President of Oak Services, a woman owned engineering, technical, and sustainable development service company. Oak Services is a network of environmental professionals who establish metrics, run performance evaluations, strategize for optimization, and provide technical solutions for businesses and organizations.

In addition to evaluating environmental impacts and suggest resource management strategies, Drumheller wants to see a holistic approach to sustainability. Drumheller says, “when environmental justice and social justice issues are decided separately the solutions are less effective.” It’s important to study the social and community issues in the new industry for long lasting development. Social evaluations include examining relationships, employee needs, racial disparity, social justice issues and community needs.  By evaluating relationships, SD becomes a tool of transformation.

Catherine has a concern marijuana business regulations are creating a vice industry, which ultimately suppresses the industry potential. Marijuana business shouldn’t be primarily sidelined to poor neighborhoods or the outskirts of town. Let’s engage this issue through SD principles and change these relationships. “If we don’t evaluate now, inequality gets enshrined in the legal structure,” says Drumheller. With a developmental approach, relationships can be transformed between communities, other business sectors and marijuana companies.

In addition to integrating SD programs into individual businesses, Drumheller is in the preliminary stage of developing a sustainability think tank. The think tank will apply a programmatic approach and perform research to benefit the organization’s goals and provide integrated solutions to industry problems.

If Colorado is in the forefront as a testing ground for legalizing and regulating marijuana, cannabis businesses and the industry needs to examine its progress and adapt towards a green economy.

Contact me for more information about sustainable development programming for your cannabis business.

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