Writing for BusinessCann Toby Shillito, Chair of the Cannabis Industry Council’s Environmental & Social Responsibility Subgroup, elaborates on the importance of corporate responsibility in an industry ‘born with reputational issues’.
LAST month’s COP26 summit placed the idea of corporate responsibility firmly into the global spotlight.
Unlike the majority of the multinational corporations in attendance, cannabis companies have, until now, been hampered from developing positive corporate responsibility due to prohibition.
Though this presents the industry with many disadvantages, it also presents a real opportunity because we are emerging from nowhere. We have the opportunity to shape it in our way as we emerge from the dark into the light.
We are at a rare moment in history where we can ensure we get it right from the beginning.
Founding Principles For All CIC Members
To try and achieve this, the CIC’s ESG subgroup, which consists of around 15 to 20 members, is aiming to establish a core set of principles which can be applied across our eclectic membership.
This is easier said than done. An office-based company, which many are, has a completely different set of issues to deal with compared to a cultivation company, which would have a far greater focus on issues like reducing electrical usage and disposing of nutrients.
We therefore have to make them a broad set of values, and we’ve done that by merging a set of principles generated by the United Nations General Compact, with a set of principles designed by Prince Charles’s charity Business in the Community.
These break down into the four following areas.
Cannabis cultivation remains a staggeringly pollutant one, in large part due to prohibition pushing it indoors.
This has resulted in the need for things like High Intensity Discharge lighting and air conditioners, made to mimic the natural world, requiring masses of electricity.
Climates perfectly suited to the natural growth of the plant, such as in California, are forced to grow indoors, sucking up several percentage points of California’s grid capacity.
Other products used in cultivation such as rockwool are environmentally devastating, requiring rocks to be heated to 1600 degrees in order to manufacture them before being wrapped in plastic and shipped around the world.
This leaves me with a heavy heart in a sense, but there are some really interesting things that people are doing to combat these issues, and it is down to the cannabis cultivators to band together and start these conversations.
Companies must not only begin accurately measuring and reporting their environmental impact, but explore what the data they have gathered means for how they manage the fundamentals of their business.
This becomes a ‘ladder of achievement’, and on every rung a company may find new marketing, cost reduction or commercial opportunities.
I don’t want to force people through this, but I want people to be aware that there’s always another peak to conquer.
As the industry at large becomes increasingly regulated, so must the treatment of its expanding workforce.
This goes beyond simply ensuring that grow room workers are given suitable protective gear and paid a fair wage.
Each company should ensure they have diverse hiring strategies which are based on individual merit.
Furthermore they must ensure they train their employees and encourage them to develop themselves, as well as actively sacking any bullies within their company.
Thankfully, the cannabis industry already has its share of role models to encourage diversity, including Canopy Growth’s Chief Advocacy Officer Hilary Black.
She was Canada’s first out-of-the-closet cannabis dealer when she founded the British Columbia Compassion Club Society in 1997 to offer an access point for cannabis patients in need, and has now emerged as a serious and skilled cultivator at one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies.
On a basic level this looks to ensure your business is doing its part to support the local community, through programmes like giving to charity.
However, on a higher level this asks how we support society to produce the kind of skills that this new industry is going to need in the future.
For example teaching horticultural skills on indoor cultivation, which is quite technical and is not always covered in all the syllabuses in the training colleges.
We must also engage in constructive debates about where the commercial meets the sustainable.
For example, as a cultivator I may choose to use mechanical trimmers to separate the leaves from the bud. In scale, this will keep my overall costs to a minimum, but I may reduce the THC in my product from 25% to 20%.
An alternative if you have an ambition on your social impact agenda to employ local people, and therefore support your local community, would be to hire 10 people to hand trim the flowers from nine-to-five.
This could add probably 15% to your cost base, a huge increase in a competitive market.
Some companies will favour the cheaper option, but I would encourage others to see this as an opportunity to involve the local community and contribute.
Fourthly and importantly, is focusing on our marketplace. It is becoming increasingly important to consider issues like how we talk to the regulator, how we go about raising standards for everybody in the cannabis industry, and how we go about encouraging companies not to develop products for patients that make money but don’t contain any meaningful amount of cannabinoids.
Public scrutiny and transparency can benefit both consumers and manufacturers.
Independent laboratory testing reports into the products available on the market can enable patients to more safely determine which strain or dosage is suitable for them.
It also allows them to ensure that they are not consuming heavy metals, pesticides or pathogens.
In turn this rise in empirical data drives a more detailed understanding of the idiosyncrasies of each strain and how it could be used to alleviate certain conditions.
As an industry, we should want to help society nurture the talent and skills that we will need in our workers.
Why Corporate Responsibility is So Important for the Cannabis Industry?
No matter what area a company operates in, there will always be an issue to think about and improve upon.
Why? Because this is the antidote to the moralistic stigma that is still so strong when the general public thinks about cannabis.
Corporate responsibility is so important to us in the cannabis industry at this very moment because we were born with reputational issues. It’s not our fault, but unfortunately to many that’s how we’re seen.
I was never able to speak to my parents properly about my passion and my role in the industry over some 30 years. And I think it’s a real shame, because we want to be able to be loud and proud. But there are some barriers to that.
And what helps us be loud and proud is to genuinely say we are building a clean, transparent, open, thoughtful, considerate industry.
It’s at this stage in this industry, before people really realise the benefits of this plant to society, we have the chance to shape it how we want it. Let’s introduce it to them in the right kind of way.
This feature is part of a BusinessCann series with the heads of the CIC sub-groups.
Toby is the Master Grower at Hellenic Dynamics