LEDs, the climate catastrophe and how banking regulations are fueling the cannabis carbon problem


LEDs are paving the way for sustainable cannabis cultivation. They have been proven to be more economical, more environmentally friendly and maintenance free compared to traditional lighting systems which are not only inefficient but harmful to our planet.

The Guardian recently published a report, “The climate catastrophe is here1, before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26)2. The conference brought together government and societal leaders to discuss climate policy.

To put the climate catastrophe in perspective, The Guardian explains that the Earth has “warmed by about 1.2 ° C on average since the pre-industrial era, pushing humanity beyond almost all historical borders.1

The report1 explains that increasing the heat of the entire planet to this degree in just a century is unfathomable, which equates to our oceans being hit by the equivalent of heat3 of five atomic bombs from Hiroshima every second.

The climate catastrophe is not happening, it is here now. We need leaders in all sectors and industries to realize that we must use all the tools at our disposal to minimize our carbon footprint.

Cannabis’ carbon footprint is growing

Innovative, high efficiency lighting technology is out there and constantly improving, but we need everyone to use it, especially when it comes to growing cannabis. This industry is as dirty as coal when it comes to the carbon footprint. Indeed, in Colorado, the cannabis industry emits 30% more carbon than the coal mining industry.4.

According to a study by Colorado State University5, growing cannabis produces 2.6 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent6 (CO2e), while coal is responsible for 1.8 metric megatons.

To put this in perspective, the Colorado study – which was published in the journal Sustainability of natureseven – estimated that growing 1 ounce of cannabis indoors produces as much carbon as burning through a tank of gas8.

Associated article: Horticultural SSL market explodes, driven by the cannabis rush

The startling reality prompted calls for environmental regulations9 of the cannabis industry similar to that of the energy sector.

Lighting paves the way for energy savings

A simple solution is readily available today: When cannabis growers embraced new LED technology, average energy consumption fell by more than 20% between 2018 and 2020.ten. This means that if the industry were to switch completely to LED lighting, its energy consumption would drop and its impact on our environment would be greatly improved.

Additionally, the adoption of LED technology makes business sense for the cannabis industry. A higher initial cost of the luminaire is easily justifiable given the reduction in energy consumption and the improvement in product quality. California Lightworks provides a simple return on investment (ROI) calculator that demonstrates that the typical payback period for a cannabis grower switching from high pressure sodium (HPS) to solid state LED lighting is less than 12 month.

Other segments of the lighting market are rapidly moving to LEDs. From 2016 to 2018, “LED product installations increased in all applications, roughly doubling to 2,325 million units or 30.0% of all general lighting lighting,” according to the 2020 report. on the adoption of LEDs from the Department of Energy (DOE).11. The DOE also said that LEDs have the potential to reduce general lighting energy consumption by nearly 50% by 2030.12.

Associated article: HortiCann Day 2: Speakers build on business case for LEDs and CEA’s acumen

Regulatory reform can accelerate sustainability measures

So what can we do to accelerate the adoption of LEDs in the cannabis industry? Again, the answer is simple: regulatory reform. But not the regulations you would expect.

Some local utility companies offer discounts13 and incentives to encourage growers to transition to LED lighting systems. Funds for these types of incentives are usually limited, but when made available they make a big difference to growers and to our environment. We need to expand these types of incentives so that growers can switch from traditional HPS systems to LEDs. However, substantive banking reform would be superior to these types of incentives.

However, a major economic barrier still stands in the way of providing LED efficiency to cannabis cultivation operations. Under US federal law, no FDIC-insured bank can fund a cannabis transaction. The lack of banking regulatory reform for the cannabis industry is preventing growers from getting the financing they need to make a full transition and modernization.

The abject lack of banking reform not only harms cannabis companies, but it also harms our environment, and with the climate catastrophe unfolding today, we can no longer afford to wait for change.

To bring about reform, we need people on the front lines of policy change. This means reaching out to your legislators, both federal and local. Local policymakers can contact federal lawmakers on your behalf. We must broaden our support to enact the SAFE Banking Act14. The legislation would provide protections for financial institutions that serve legal cannabis businesses.

The SAFE Banking Act was successfully added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 202215 by its sponsor, Colorado Democratic Representative Ed Perlmutter, and is expected to pass in December.

Additionally, at the local level, support advocacy groups like the Washington, DC-based National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and the National Marijuana Law Reform Organization (NORML). And, of course, speaking out on social media and in your community to encourage others to join in will go a long way in advancing change.

Meet our expert

GEORGE MEKHTARIAN is the general manager of California light, an LED manufacturer that has proudly contributed to reducing 465,813 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.


1. O. Milman, A. Witherspoon, R. Liu and A. Chang, “The climate catastrophe is here” The Guardian (Oct 14, 2021).

2. United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

3. I. Kottasová, “The oceans are warming at the same rate as if five bombs from Hiroshima were dropped every second”, CNN (January 13, 2020).

4. D. Avery, “When Going Green Is Dirty” Daily mail (March 10, 2021).

5. A. Manning, “Insatiable Demand for Cannabis Has Created a Giant Carbon Footprint,” Colorado State University Tech News (March 8, 2021).

6. J. Quinn and H. Summers, “Growing cannabis indoors produces a lot of greenhouse gases – the amount depends on where it’s grown ”, The Conversation (March 8, 2021).

7. HM Summers, E. Sproul and JC Quinn, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Indoor Cannabis Production in the United States”, Sustainability of nature, 4, 644-650 (2021).

8. A. Fox, “Growing an ounce of a pot indoors can emit as much carbon as burning a full tank of gasoline. Smithsonian magazine (March 15, 2021).

9. S. Gill, “The Budding Marijuana Industry Meets the Climate and Environmental Crisis: A Call for Legislative Action” Journal of Oil and Gas, Natural Resources and Energy, Flight. 5, n ° 4 (April 2020).

10. N. Fertig and G. Bade, “An Inconvenient Truth (About Weed)”, Politics (August 10, 2021).

11. US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “Adoption of light-emitting diodes in common lighting applications” (August 2020).

12. United States Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Building Technologies Program, “Energy Savings potential of solid-state lighting in general illumination applications” (January 2012).

13. California Lightworks Blog, “Get Utility Discount Using LEDs Instead of HPS Lighting” (August 28, 2020).

14. HR1996 – SAFE Banking Act of 2021, 117th Congress (2021-2022).

15. J. Schroyer, “SAFE Banking status: Q&A with marijuana industry ally US Rep. Ed Perlmutter”, MJBizDaily (November 8, 2021).

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