Harvesting cannabis hasn’t historically been great for the planet.
But at HEXO – one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies – minimizing the environmental footprint is front and centre to its expansive operations. From sustainable water practices and harnessing the power of the sun, to tree planting, HEXO Corp employs progressive practices that other companies may want to take note of.
Ensuring the greenest of practices is no small mission: As one of the largest licensed cannabis companies in Canada, HEXO Corp operates with 2.4 million sq.ft. facilities in Ontario and Quebec.
While things like green chemicals and cleaning products are a given, HEXO Corp’s cultivation systems are designed to minimize its ecological footprint. No detail has been overlooked.
“We want to ensure that everything we do is as sustainable as possible. We want to be good community members and neighbours,” said Valerie Roux, Director of Facilities and Security at HEXO Corp. “We want to leave as small a footprint as possible and always look to processes that are the least damaging and leave as minimal of an impact as possible. So, whether it’s light, water usage, or any other way we could potentially impact our surroundings, there is something front of mind for that.”
Of course, lighting plays a huge role in growing cannabis. Rather than relying solely on artificial lighting, HEXO Corp harnesses the sun’s energy through a complex system that’s responsive to the environment.
“The way that our systems work is that we have a control system that has a weather station that the intensity of the sun, the speed of the wind and the direction that it is coming from,” says Roux. “This gives us all of the information on the environment outside of the greenhouse, which then influences what is going to happen inside the greenhouse. So, whenever possible, we use the sun. Let’s say it’s a cloudy day or a dark winter day; instead of going from zero artificial light to 100 per cent, we can actually do this in increments.” A cloudier day, for example, may require 50 per cent of the artificial light.
Another notable feature of the greenhouse, says Roux, is the use of diffused glass. “Diffused glass captures the sun and allows for a good, even spread of sun throughout the greenhouse. This results in sunlight reaching all parts of the plants to help it grow more efficiently and is better than artificial light,” says Roux.
Lighting is only one element that’s been greened. Another is irrigation water. “Basically, there are control systems in place that include sensors in the soil of the plants in all zones of the greenhouse. These sensors give us the ability to read the water content in the soil, and only when the plants actually require watering will be when the irrigation turns on, supplying only enough water to the plants,” says Roux. “Whatever excess water may go through the soil for that process is collected and regenerated back to the irrigation room, where it is filtered and reused for irrigation. So, instead of the water going down the drain, it’s been collected and reused.” Taking it a step beyond, HEXO Corp also collects and treats rainwater, which is used as irrigation water. “Clearly that’s a lot better than using treated water from the cities,” says Roux.
The environmentally progressive operations don’t stop there. “There are additional features that were incorporated in the heating system, where we can recover CO2, and actually utilize that CO2 to reduce that amount of CO2 that then needs to be purchased and transported here, and put into a tank to be supplied to the greenhouses that way,” says Roux.
The next step for the company is one that could change the industry. “We’re finishing the construction of our last zone, in our million-square-foot greenhouse. And that last zone will be equipped with LED lighting. This will be a trial to hopefully prove that LED lighting is providing the same results – or maybe better results for that matter,” says Roux.
At HEXO Corp, community involvement is highly important, and the company has initiated town hall meetings to provide a platform for the surrounding community and inspire important conversations. In addition to sustainable growing practices, HEXO Corp has forged influential partnerships in the name of a larger social and environmental good with both local food banks and environmental organizations. The company partners with food banks, for example, to both donate food and build solar panels for refrigeration. Additionally, HEXO Corp has partnered with environmental organizations that deal with waterway conservation, tree planting and habitat conservation. Recently, HEXO Corp staff volunteered to pay it forward and plant 125 trees with Tree Canada near their operations in Masson-Angers.
So, in short, HEXO Corp is cultivating a lot more than cannabis.