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Promoting Sustainability

As more cannabis products become available and the legal marketplace grows more vibrant, alternative form factors and methods of consumption are becoming readily available to consumers. These are exciting times for cannabis retailers, who can finally offer a wide variety of smokeless products that consumers are looking for.

Along with the wider availability of cannabis edible, vapes, and topicals comes new considerations for retailers. Manufactured products with multiple ingredients mean buyers have more factors to consider when stocking their shelves, including the sustainability of their inputs. Instead of just looking at energy usage during the grow cycle or packaging, retailers must now consider several other factors as well.

ACCRES’ member retailers are starting to ask if there are impacts certain ingredients might have on the health of the customer and the planet, driven by feedback from customers concerned about the environmental impact of their buying choices. Chief among these concerns is that some of the ingredients that are becoming common in new cannabis products are inherently unsustainable.

The ACCRES Sustainability Committee, a volunteer committee of cannabis retailers dedicated to pushing our industry towards better stewardship practices, has identified the reduction or elimination of palm oil in particular as a significant priority.

Reducing the Use of Palm Oil

The cultivation of palm oil presents a significant threat to native, biodiverse forests. Palm plantations compromise indigenous forests’ important role as carbon capture sinks, and industrial scale palm oil production requires the destruction of vast swaths of forest.

This deforestation represents a serious threat to all wildlife, but is having an especially devastating effect on orangutans, whose populations are in crisis due to significant habitat loss. Human activity related to this cash crop is pushing these incredible primates to extinction.

Palm oil also comes under scrutiny as it carries some potential detrimental effects on human’s cardiovascular health. Even “sustainable” palm oil production is largely a greenwashing endeavor with limited oversight and many instances of dishonest behaviour on the part of producers. Since there is little transparency in the palm oil supply chain, it is effectively impossible to ensure your oil is sourced sustainably.

With so many drawbacks around palm oil, why is this an ingredient producers are turning to? Simply put, the use of palm oil, which is inexpensive and readily available in mass quantities, reduces production costs. Tight margins on products and a heavy regulatory burden have pushed cannabis production companies to save pennies at every available opportunity, including on the oil used as a cutting agent in oral tinctures and other products.

While we recognize that business needs are at the top of mind for all companies, many of ACCRES’ members are expressing concerns that there is a greater cost and higher stakes than simple savings on the bottom line. To that end, the Sustainability Committee has received a mandate from our membership to work in partnership with licenced producers to reduce our sector’s environment impact.

Partnering to Reduce our Environmental Impact

ACCRES is also encouraging provincial distribution branches to factor in sustainability of ingredients and manufacturing methods as part of their purchasing metrics, and to make the labeling of ingredients like palm oil mandatory for cannabis products. This will allow retailers and customers alike to make purchasing decisions based on sustainability along with other factors like price and quality. An ingredient like palm oil, which has so many obvious drawbacks and numerous available analogs for use in products, is a great place for our industry to start the conversation about environmental impact.

As an emerging industry, the regulated cannabis sector has an opportunity to make better choices, and to set standards for ingredients that don’t cause harm to the earth and the health of the consumer. ACCRES believes that cannabis retailers have a key role to play in this task, and we are committed to ensuring that production practices in the Canadian cannabis industry are world-class, not only in terms of the safety of the products, but in their sustainability as well.

If you are interested in getting involved in this initiative to encourage producers and distributors to make choices and pursue policies that take into consideration environmental impacts and not just the bottom line, please contact us at Jaclynn@accres.ca to get involved.

Jaclynn Pehota is on the Advisory Board of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) and can be reached at jaclynn@accres.ca.