Hemp: How Do We Use It & Why Is It So Great?

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Did you know that hemp absorbs more CO2 in a quicker amount of time while using fewer resources than any forest in the World?

Industrial hemp takes anywhere between 13 to 16 weeks to grow from seed to harvest, depending on the variety. The resulting harvest of 5 to 10 tons of biomass per acre sequesters anywhere from 7.5 to 15 tons of CO2. Comparing that to the sequestration rate of a typical forest after 15 years of growth, hemp absorbs 20-60% more CO2/acre/year. 

What about trees?

Photo by Matteo Paganelli

The buzzword du jour to combat a rise in CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases has been reforestation. The seeding and planting of forests to restore a more favorable O2/CO2 balance. It is even mentioned in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While reforestation is a noble plan, it is far from an optimal solution. 

It takes a newly seeded forest roughly 10-20 years to sequester measurable amounts of CO2. The first 5-10 years require extreme care and manpower to ensure the saplings survive. Eventually, the trees that make it to their teenage years to sequester approximately 20kg of CO2 per year. 

Most reforestation efforts aim to cut costs by focusing on monoculture. Replacing the once clear-cut original growth forests with fast-growing, low maintenance alternatives. In the process, neglecting bushes, shrubs, and grasses that drive forest biodiversity. 

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Going back to hemp, if we adjust the carbon sequestration rate for the average of 15 years a forest sequesters no measurable amount of CO2, the data becomes even more favorable to the almighty hemp plant. The rapid growth cycle of hemp often allows two plantings per year. Meaning one acre of hemp can sequester 15 to 30 tons of CO2 per year!

What these numbers mean at scale is truly revolutionary. Take, for example, the state of Colorado, vying to be the industrial hemp capital of the United States. With 60,000 acres of land allocated to growing industrial hemp, using the most conservative estimate of one planting per year and five tons of biomass/harvest, that amounts to 450,000 tons of sequestered CO2. That is the equivalent of the weight of 36,000 buses in carbon dioxide pulled from the air!

What do we do with all this hemp?

Photo by Terre di Cannabis

Unlike idle forests, hemp plantations also serve the economic needs of the community. Hemp has a plethora of uses from building materials and textiles, to food, and energy. 

Hemp building materials are carbon-negative for the first two to three years post-production. The textiles are more durable and less water-intensive than cotton. And Hemp provides a protein-dense alternative to the ecologically un-viable dairy industry while delivering a complete profile of amino acids. Biomass could even be converted to ethanol and hemp-diesel to replace fossil fuels at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact. If that is not enough, the age of electric vehicles will also benefit from hemp’s magic. Hemp batteries have the ability to store more energy than graphene and may eventually replace lithium.

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What is stopping us from utilizing this miracle plant? 

Photo by GDJ

Antiquated government policies rooted in last year prohibition, competitive lobby groups, and public distrust.

In order for hemp to take its throne as our sustainability savior, we must start at the top. Policy – Western governments have spent much of the 20th century enforcing hemp prohibition. Despite much of Europe legalizing hemp cultivation in the mid-1990s, and the U.S. in 2018, regulation and licensing is still rooted in distrust. Hemp contains no psychoactive or narcotic properties yet requires multiple levels of regulation to cultivate. 

These regulations are difficult to shift due to pressure from lobby groups – all fighting for farmland dominance of their employers. Be it corn, wheat, soy, or dairy farmers. The aggregate effect of antiquated government policies and well-fed lobby groups is, of course, public distrust. 

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What can you do to make a difference?

Photo by Erin Stone 

Start with your own home! Does your fridge have organic cold-pressed hemp oil for a delicious salad dressing filled with Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids? Does your pantry have hemp seeds to sprinkle on top of meals for a complete protein boost? Do you drink a hemp-shake after your workouts to restore and recover? 

Ensuring a stable end of the supply chain is the consumer’s way of dictating market dynamics and policies. Show the hemp farmers and politicians that you do not just care about hemp, you need it and use it daily. Then watch and marvel as our planet transforms!

Leo Kotlyar is the founder and president of DéWarrior Unlimited, a strategy and sustainability consulting company working to transform the way businesses grow through scalable sustainable development. 


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