Three CBD companies spoke to Johanna Perraudin about their journey to be more ecologically responsible – and the challenges they had to overcome along the way.
As concerns over the planet have never been higher – with 29 countries breaking temperature records between May and August 2019 and the year 2020 almost certain to be ranked among the four warmest years on record – more and more companies are trying to minimise their impact on the environment.
Hemp itself can be considered sustainable in comparison with other crops.
Being a resilient plant, it does not require any chemicals such as herbicides or pesticides to grow. It is usually grown outside, with no electricity and very little water required – less than a third of the water needed for cotton.
Hemp has also low carbon emissions and is able to capture emissions from the atmosphere.
Unlike other crops which can dry out the soil, hemp puts nitrogen back in and loosens it, creating a good environment for other plants to grow afterwards.
If hemp can be considered environment-friendly, how can CBD businesses be ecologically responsible too?
Christina French, is c0-founder of Essench, a UK brand selling vegan, cruelty-free and ethically produced products. Since 2019, Christina and her partner Jennifer O’Neill , have been determined to be as ecologically responsible as possible.
“As a business we are using nature’s creations, so it is only fair to give back to nature,” says Christina.
They carefully choose the ingredients they use, ensuring their products do not contain any palm oil and are made in the UK using Christina’s own formulas.
To reduce the brand’s carbon footprint and strengthen quality control on its ingredients, Essench’s founders are determined to grow their own plants and extract their own oils such as lavender and sunflower oils within two years.
However, due to British legislation they cannot grow and extract their own CBD oil, a major stumbling block in their objective to reduce their carbon footprint.
In the UK, hemp can only be grown to harvest its seeds and stalks and the flowers must be immediately destroyed. This means that CBD companies must go through a UK laboratory which imports hemp flowers from Europe or North America.
This is highly problematic given that imports are a major part of the UK’s carbon footprint, with around half of it coming from emissions released overseas to satisfy UK-based consumption.
Christina and Jennifer took part in the Seed the Future protest on 19 July. Campaigners congregated in their own areas and as a symbolic gesture, planted a hemp seed in a pot to contest the legislation around cannabis production.
“In the UK, the minute you put a hemp seed in a pot, you can be prosecuted for cultivation,” says Christina.
“Because of the stigma around hemp, the legislation does not allow us to produce it, even though hemp can provide so many things.”
Another challenge the Essench met in its effort to be environment-friendly, was packaging.
In 2019, Christina and Jennifer decided to remove all the plastic in their packaging, but it ended up being harder than they thought. They did find eco-friendly alternatives such as glass for their creams and scrubs, but couldn’t find any satisfying solutions for their dropper bottle pipettes. Even greener options, such as bamboo, were coated with plastic on the inside.
“There should be a lot more companies getting involved in packaging solutions,” Christina adds.
“At the moment, eco-friendly options are very limited and very expensive for a small company like ours.”
For Zero Waste Week, which took place from 7 – 11 September 2020, Essench launched its first zero-waste product. The serum comes in a glass bottle and when empty consumers can order a refill that will come in an aluminium bottle. Essench then pays the postage for the bottle to be sent back, sterilised and used again. Its goal is to expand this to other products such as oils.
Alex Hunter, CBD Centre’s director, has also made sure to incorporate ecology into his objectives.
CBD Centre provides raw organic products for customers to make use of it as it is, or to create their own products.
“You can actually make a lot of products yourself; you don’t need a lot of special ingredients,” says Alex.
“It will also probably be cheaper and better for you as your own products won’t contain any preservatives.”
CBD Centre has instructions for creating CBD butter, oil and a vegan smoothie on its website, and Alex hopes to eventually publish a book of recipes so that his customers can make their own products.
“It will be a way to offer an alternative to people with the aim of avoiding mass production, processing and the environmental implications that are associated with these,” he adds.
CBD Centre also worked hard to find a suitable solution for the environmentally-friendly packaging.
All its products are made from reusable or recyclable materials and you can see how to recycle each product on the website.
Its wax pots are made from untreated bamboo, which is biodegradable, although the inner plastic needs to be removed and recycled locally. Their oil bottles are made of glass which can be recycled locally, bamboo which can go into the compost bin, and plastic for the dropper which can go into the plastic recycling bin.
Although its flower pouches cannot be recycled locally, customers can send them back and the team will forward them to a company to be turned into fuel used for boats, machinery, and land vehicles.
As with Essench and CBD Centre, Green Active also struggled with its packaging. Business development manager Jo Devall, described the process of finding eco-friendly alternatives as “frustrating and challenging.”
The Green Active team spent six months working on finding the right packaging.
“It was an incredible learning experience for us and completely cemented our commitment to providing environmentally friendly packaging. The issue we faced was cost,” says Jo.
They had opted for vegan and vegetarian friendly inks, 100 per cent biodegradable packaging and 100 per cent recycled materials. Unfortunately, the initial cost was – and still is – too high, but he remains determined to find a 100 percent environmentally friendly packaging.
“For Green Active it has been a case of working out what we can do now and what we will do later.
“Whilst we make incremental changes to ensure a sustainable future, it is vital that cannabis companies like ours stay focused on the longer-term goals of the company,” Jo continues.
“When we come across a problem, to learn and develop, we focus on our why. Why are we doing this? Why does it matter? When we focus on the why, the ‘how’ we will achieve it, closely follows.
“When your ‘why’ is strong enough, people will always figure out ‘how’ to do it, and this applies as much for sustainable businesses practices as it does with anything else.”
For the delivery, Green Active opted for Royal Mail. Although it is one of the most expensive options, it appreciated the firm’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral.
All its products are derived from certified Cannabis Sativa L. which is grown to organic standards within the EU. Its supplier’s farms are fit for an organic stamp approval, but they continue to batch test for heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides, nonetheless.
Asked what one piece of advice Jo would give to CBD companies beginning their journey to become a greener business, he says: “Be humble. Accept that you may not get things right every time, you may not make the right call at the right time and that’s okay.”
“It’s important to remember that behind the brand name, company, title, there is just a human surrounded by more humans,” Jo adds.
“We aren’t perfect entities but generally the people that join this industry have a deep, unshakable desire to benefit those around us and when you have that outlook it’s acceptable to make mistakes with the right intentions.”
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