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The greenhouse gas emissions of indoor cannabis production in the United States

Abstract

The legalization of cannabis has caused a substantial increase in commercial production, yet the magnitude of the industry’s environmental impact has not been fully quantified. A considerable amount of legal cannabis is cultivated indoors primarily for quality control and security. In this study we analysed the energy and materials required to grow cannabis indoors and quantified the corresponding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions using life cycle assessment methodology for a cradle-to-gate system boundary. The analysis was performed across the United States, accounting for geographic variations in meteorological and electrical grid emissions data. The resulting life cycle GHG emissions range, based on location, from 2,283 to 5,184 kg CO2-equivalent per kg of dried flower. The life cycle GHG emissions are largely attributed to electricity production and natural gas consumption from indoor environmental controls, high-intensity grow lights and the supply of carbon dioxide for accelerated plant growth. The discussion focuses on the technological solutions and policy adaptation that can improve the environmental impact of commercial indoor cannabis production.

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Fig. 1: Life cycle GHG emissions and energy intensities from indoor cannabis cultivation modelled across the United States.
Fig. 2: Breakdown of life cycle GHG emissions contributions from indoor cannabis cultivation.
Fig. 3: Sensitivity analysis of ACH.

Data availability

All data analysed or generated during this study are included either in this published article (and its supplementary material) or are available at GitHub at https://github.com/haisummers/research. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The custom computer code used to generate the results of this study, supporting data files for the code and data results from the code can be located through GitHub at https://github.com/haisummers/research.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the Colorado State University GIS Centroid for generating the US results maps, specifically E. Tulanowski, S. Linn and C. Norris. We also acknowledge individuals for their continued support in reviewing this work, namely D. Browning, D. Quinn, J. Barlow, D. Trinko, K. DeRose and W. Stainsby.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

J.C.Q. conceived the study. H.M.S., J.C.Q. and E.S. designed the study. H.M.S. and E.S. developed the HVAC modelling approach and LCA framework. H.M.S. developed the code, performed the analysis, wrote the initial manuscript and designed figures, excluding the US maps, with contributions from E.S. and J.C.Q. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results, discussion, revisions and messaging of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jason C. Quinn.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Melissa Bilec, Michael Martin and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–11, Method 1 and Tables 1–12.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Raw data for Fig. 1.

Source Data Fig. 2

Raw data for Fig. 2.

Source Data Fig. 3

Raw data for Fig. 3.

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Summers, H.M., Sproul, E. & Quinn, J.C. The greenhouse gas emissions of indoor cannabis production in the United States. Nat Sustain 4, 644–650 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00691-w

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