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Running a sustainable cannabis business

Running a sustainable cannabis business

By MedCan, CIC member

If you haven’t heard of MedCan, we’re a producer of medical cannabis in South Africa. Our claim to fame is that we were the first South African company to be granted a licence to export high THC flower. More than commercial success though, we’re focused on running a sustainable business and creating jobs for the local community. 

Many organisations, particularly smaller ones, are worried about devoting part of their resources to sustainability and social initiatives. At MedCan, we’re trying to disprove this concern and show cannabis operators everywhere that you can make a real impact on the ground in your local community, as part of your everyday work – and still be a successful business.

As an indoor cultivator, we are very conscious of its impact on the environment as a result of the energy required to power our growing setup – particularly the lighting. The key thing for us is to not hide away from the reality we all face, and indeed we’ve already done quite a lot to make a positive impact on our local community and environment.

Making it happen

We have lots of initiatives to operate in the most sustainable way possible. Here are just a few examples:

  • Installed a 30,000-litre water tank that catches crop runoff and rainwater. Not only does this cut down on water usage it also stops dirty and nutrient-rich water from entering the sewage system and impacting natural waters.
  • The stems of cultivated plants are shredded, so the flowers make their way to the patients and we take the rest, making compost, which is given to members of our team to use in their own gardens. This reduces their environmental footprint but also further encourages home growing and supports our staff in learning even more about horticulture
  • We reuse and repurpose the plastic containers in which the nutrients arrive and that means they’re having an impact, however small, on global plastic production

We’re now investigating how solar power could contribute to our energy needs, and have a number of irons in the fire of positive change, ready to start when finances allow. We’re always the first to jump at the chance to make a positive difference, but have to make our business commercially successful at the same time.

Community outreach

Where we believe we’ve truly impacted our community is by building strong ties with it. Youth unemployment in South Africa is estimated at around 66%. A big part of our mission is getting more young South Africans into work. Whenever we’re hiring cultivators we always look to locals from community gardens who have an interest in farming.

On top of this direct community outreach, we also work with a local eco-therapist, called Scotch, and now donate our grow medium to his community garden in Katlehong. As a result, Scotch is now able to recruit more young people from the local area, and train them in all things horticulture. This has become a sort of academy, and Scotch’s best students often find themselves in roles at MedCan.

For those of you who aren’t keyed in on the chemical nature of growing mediums, ours is a mix of coco coir and perlite – with the coco coir being made up of coconut husk. It’s a fantastic growing agent for cannabis, but it’s also very high in carbon. By repurposing this used medium, other farmers can benefit from the nutrient-rich ‘used’ soil and can skip the part where it’s dumped and breaks down – releasing greenhouse gases like CO2 and CH4.

A broader outlook

A key guiding point for our work on environment, social and governance (ESG) is our membership in the Cannabis Industry Council, and its ESG working group. The working group has set out some clear areas of focus since it was established:

“The Group urges members to consider the environmental impact of their actions, including water and electricity usage, hemp vs plastic packaging, the importance of local suppliers and a general reduction in overall consumption wherever possible.

The Group highlights the need to employ diverse staff, train and promote from within, push for high industry standards, support small suppliers, and consider stakeholders and shareholders.”

Some of these are obviously lofty ambitions, but we believe that we have demonstrated that a range of actions can be taken in the short term, without losing the essence of running a successful business.

We recently gave a presentation to the entire CIC membership on our progress so far. The feedback was very positive, and indeed the CIC’s CEO, Mike Morgan-Giles, said that “Medcan can be proud that it is a leader among the industry in driving positive change at a local level and being innovative in tackling its carbon footprint.”

We know that ESG is not going to be an overnight operation, that only requires money to be thrown in its direction. We’ve proven that with an awareness of, and connection to, our local community we can start making a difference in the short term, and build over the long term to make lasting change that’s better for people and the planet.

Want to get involved with the CIC and help create a more sustainable cannabis industry? Get in touch today via our website.

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