We need to talk about the environmental impact of marijuana



Happy 420, everyone! Today is April 20, often known as the unofficial holiday when many people celebrate and enjoy their favorite leafy green, marijuana. Whether you partake or not, it’s worthwhile to learn more about America’s cannabis culture. As of 2021, most U.S. states have decriminalized marijuana in some form or another. In fact, as recently as March 31, New York joined the list of 14 other states that have decriminalized recreational marijuana use. With the marijuana industry expanding to new audiences, what do eco-conscious people need to know about this plant and its demands on the environment? From water usage to pollution, growing cannabis may have a larger footprint than you’d think.

A green marijuana plant.

Water use

Like most plants, marijuana needs water to grow, perhaps even more so than other crops. As Andrea Michelson wrote for Smithsonian, “cannabis [is] a particularly thirsty plant,” one that has even led the California State Water Resources Control Board to establish guidelines for regulating the industry’s water use. While there are often limited studies on marijuana due to legal complications, we do have some information on the crop’s water demands.

For example, during the growing season in California, each plant needs nearly 22 liters of water a day. According to information from a JSTOR Daily article on “The Environmental Downside of Cannabis Cultivation,” this water usage can reach a total of “three billion liters per square kilometer of greenhouse-grown plants between June and October.” That’s a significant amount of resources, but the industry’s environmental impact doesn’t stop there.

An indoor marijuana growth operation with arrays of indoor lighting and planters.

Energy consumption

How does energy use factor into growing cannabis? Growing cannabis indoors requires a significant amount of energy. These indoor operations appeal to many growers because they can allow faster production, but that production requires electricity to power everything from high-intensity lighting to heating systems and dehumidifiers. Some research estimates that the energy consumed by the indoor grow industry accounts for 1% of the total annual electricity used in the U.S. While that number may seem small out of context, it is actually the equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power 92,500 American homes for a year. As Smithsonian reports, “That’s 472 tons of electricity-related carbon—and the number is growing as the industry expands.”

Pollution and emissions

According to data from Grist, many “indoor growers plug into the grid, and about two-thirds of the electricity on the grid is generated by fossil fuels.” This means that every pound of marijuana produced creates about 1.95 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of three cross-country trips in a 44 mpg hybrid car, or 2,095 pounds of coal burned. That’s a lot of CO2 — in fact, it’s the same amount of carbon sequestered by “1.6 acres of U.S. forests in a year.”

While Smithsonian agrees that “indoor cultivation comes with a massive carbon footprint,” carbon emissions aren’t the only concern. To understand more about emissions from cannabis growth, let’s look at what happened in Colorado after the state began allowing the sale of recreational cannabis in 2014.

As detailed in JSTOR Daily, emissions from over 600 licensed growers in Denver alone were enough to raise alarm over air pollution. William Vizuete, associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health, investigated this issue, and “his research showed that cannabis plants produce volatile organic compounds or VOCs that can produce harmful pollutants,” journalist Jodi Helmer reports in the article.

In Vizuete’s own words, “if plants produce VOCs, there is a high possibility that under certain conditions, cannabis cultivation could impact the ozone.” These VOCs not only spell trouble for the environment but for human health, too. In high enough concentrations, VOCs are linked to conditions such as nausea, liver damage and cancer.

But licensed growers aren’t the only ones involved in the marijuana industry, and illegal growth operations present their own issues. Among these issues is the use of “banned insecticides and other chemicals” that can devastate local wildlife and water supplies. Some areas have already seen the direct effects of this pollution. According to Grist, “a recent study suggested that more than 85 percent of Pacific fishers near grow sites in the Sierra Nevada range were exposed to poison, which accounted for about 10 percent of all deaths of the threatened species.” JSTOR Daily provides further evidence of harm to wildlife with the example of decimated Coho salmon and steelhead trout populations after growers diverted streams in Mendocino, California. All this information may cast a harsh light on the marijuana industry overall, but there are important perspectives to consider for improving its environmental footprint.

Two people farming marijuana outdoors.

Perspectives and solutions

Meaningful changes to the marijuana industry don’t have to be out of reach. As Grist explains, “There are plenty of climate-friendly fixes that would make a lot of sense if we wanted to green the weed industry, and many of them aren’t unique to pot.” These measures include cleaner energy to alleviate emissions and standards for energy efficiency within the industry. Speaking of standards, JSTOR Daily points out that decriminalizing marijuana at a federal level could help “set emissions standards.”

To further illustrate the importance of decriminalization, JSTOR Daily enlisted Van Butsic, co-director of the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California Berkeley. As Butsic explains, “There are lots of technologies that capture VOCs before they enter the atmosphere that are required in other industries like gas stations.” But, “before [emissions] standards can be set for cannabis, we need recognition of the issue and long-term data to develop regulatory statutes—and we’re a long way from that because federal prohibition has hindered research and we don’t have the science yet.”

While Jennifer Carah, a senior scientist in the water program at the Nature Conservancy of California, acknowledges that unlicensed growers polluting and diverting waterways may not go away completely, it’s worthwhile to “entice growers into the legal market, [where] their agricultural practices can be regulated like other agricultural crops, which will go a long way to addressing potential environmental impacts.”

Via Grist, Smithsonian and JSTOR Daily

Images via Pixabay

The winners and losers of 2021's greenest states report



The personal finance site Wallet Hub has released its greenest states report for 2021, just in time for Earth Day. While the results aren’t shocking — with Vermont in the lead and five Southern states lagging at the tail end — they’re still interesting to peruse.

Wallet Hub used 25 key metrics to compare the 50 states. The most heavily weighted metrics were air quality, soil quality, water quality and energy-efficiency score. Climate change contributions — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated green-house gas emissions — also counted for a lot. The rest of the score came from a longer list of eco-friendly behaviors, such as average commute time by car, certified organic farms per capita and electronic waste recycling programs.

Related: Chicago snags green city spotlight for second year running

High-scorer Vermont got 76.66 out of a possible 100 points. The Green Mountain State was tops in environmental quality and eco-friendly behaviors, but ranked 32nd in climate-change contributions. New York (75.93), Massachusetts (74.08), Maryland (73.51) and California (72.90) filled the other top five spots. If you’re in suspense, Connecticut (69.64), which placed ninth overall, leads the way in climate-change contributions.

As for the losers, West Virginia leads the hall of shame with a paltry 18.77 points. It placed 50th for both environmental quality and climate-change contributions and 47th for eco-friendly behaviors. Other low-ranking states are Louisiana (26.34), Mississippi (34.70), Alabama (36.01) and Kentucky (38.17).

The results reveal that some states have a lot to be proud of, but every state has room for improvement. Despite placing in the top five, California was 50th in air quality. Thanks, wildfires and L.A. traffic. Soil quality is hugely different, with Wisconsin (16th place and 65.62 points overall) having 25 times better soil than tied losers Arizona (48th place, 50.08) and New Mexico (36th place, 50.59). Although you can’t totally fault these desert states for not topping the greenest list.

People probably won’t be surprised to learn that the Democratic-led states were more eco-friendly than Republican-dominated states. Blue states averaged a rank of being in about 14th place, while red states averaged 36th. See the full study results here.

+ Wallet Hub

Lead image via Pixabay

Southern NV Water Authority wants to ban useless grass



Does a city that went a record 240 days without rainfall in 2020 really need to water ornamental grass? More and more, Las Vegas residents are saying no. Now, it may be the first U.S. city to ban nonfunctional turf.

Also known as grass nobody ever walks on, nonfunctional turf or ornamental grass is greenery used in places like office parks and street medians. It’s all for show, not for play or picnics. The Las Vegas metro area has nearly 8 square miles of nonfunctional turf, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The water authority has asked the Nevada legislature to ban about 40% of this remaining turf.

Related: New study suggests it’s time to replace modern, grassy lawns

Instead, these spaces could grow succulents, cacti and other drought-tolerant plants that require only one-quarter of the water that nonfunctional turf needs. The water authority estimates the city could reduce water consumption by about 15% if it nixes this useless, decorative grass.

While there have been temporary bans on watering ornamental grass — such as in California during droughts — no state or large city has tried a similar permanent ban. “The scale of this is pretty unprecedented in terms of a full ban on this nonfunctional turf,” said John Berggren, a water policy analyst at Western Resource Advocates.

Ornamental grass’ days have been numbered since 2003, when the water authority said no to lawns in new subdivisions. Owners of properties that predate the ban are rewarded with up to a $3-per-square-foot rebate for tearing out old sod. But it seems like everybody who wanted to take advantage of this deal has done so by now. Meanwhile, southern Nevada’s water consumption keeps rising. Since 2019, it has increased by 9%. People are worried that the Colorado River, which supplies 90% of southern Nevada’s water, might not be able to meet demand. The river is admittedly stretched thin, having to supply Arizona, California, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado and Mexico as well.

Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones thinks people will be just fine without all the ornamental turf. “To be clear, we are not coming after your average homeowner’s backyard,” Jones said. But nonfunctional turf? It’s unnecessary. “The only people that ever set foot on grass that’s in the middle of a roadway system are people cutting the grass.”

Via AP News

Image via ariesa66

Yerba Buena is a new, green island community in San Francisco Bay



Yerba Buena Island, a ‘secret’ island of parks, open green spaces and beachfront, offers one of the most spectacular views across the San Francisco Bay. The rugged terrain and unique topography of the naturally formed Yerba Buena Island create an unparalleled opportunity for a luxurious green lifestyle.

buildings surrounding green courtyard

Yerba Buena was the original name of the settlement that became known as San Francisco in the 1800s. It’s also the name of a native herb that is abundant in the landscape.

Related: MVRDV’s Mission Rock tower breaks ground in San Francisco

gray and white apartment building

winding road leading to white and gray housing complexes

Outdoor amenities at Yerba Buena Island include the Hilltop Park, designed by Hood Design Studio and situated at the highest point of the island with 360-degree views of the Bay. The park showcases the steel “Point of Infinity” sculpture by renowned artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.

white living room with white sofa against large window

white sofa and blue chairs near fireplace flanked by large windows

A collection of remarkable LEED-certified homes is now for sale on the 72-acre island. The 266 contemporary-yet-timeless residences feature intentional environmental design by Hart Howerton, Meyer Davis and Aidlin Darling.

kitchen with long island facing wall of light wood cabinets

white and light wood kitchen with high ceilings

Most covetable are The Courtyard Townhomes. These luxury units feature private interior courtyards that define the residences and foster a daily connection to nature. Each three- or four-level townhome includes a dedicated entrance, attached garage and several private balconies to embrace indoor-outdoor living. The design of the townhomes follows the structure of the island’s hillsides.

large wood desk near wall of bookshelves

white bed in white and beige room

The Flats are private, single-floor residences within boutique buildings with dramatic vistas. Interiors open to expansive terraces across the 2,500- to 4,000-square-foot, two- to four-bedroom floor plans, all with sweeping views of the Bay. Living spaces showcase elegant finishes and grand windows. Each home is serviced by a private elevator, and the sleek interior design complements these spacious, single-level residences.

beige bed facing fireplace

The Bristol is a six-story, GreenPoint Rated condominium building perched on a forested hilltop. It offers 124 modern residences with views of Clipper Cove and the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Edmonds + Lee Architects created sustainable, interior designs that look out to a landscaped, open-air inner courtyard. Floor-to-ceiling windows maximize natural lighting. Communal amenities, including a fitness studio, children’s play room, viewing terraces, lounge areas and a rooftop deck with sweeping views of the Bay are included.

outdoor patio with lounge chairs

covered, open-air living room with views of San Francisco skyline

Protected areas of the island’s sandy beachfront invite calm waters for paddle-boarding and kayaking. Furry friends are even catered to and can play in a scenic, off-leash dog park at the center of the island.

outdoor patio with large sofa and chairs

hill overlooking townhomes

“Yerba Buena Island allows residents to experience San Francisco from a new perspective, in the manner in which it’s meant to be lived — with lush nature at your doorstep, a like-minded community, and access to the best of island and city life in one of the most spectacular settings,” said Chris Meany, partner at developer Wilson Meany.

walking trail with views of San Francisco

Certainly, with so many urban dwellers considering a move to the countryside, this unique development could turn the heads of those looking for a home that offers a near-to-nature living experience in one of the world’s most beautiful urban locations. But of course, such prime real estate won’t come cheap. The lowest rates for studios start at $800,000, with most residences on Yerba Buena Island selling for millions.

+ Yerba Buena Island

Images via Yerba Buena Island

Emeco's Za stools offer a lifetime of sustainable beauty



Emeco’s new line of stools is handcrafted with a sleek, modern design. These handcrafted, beautifully modern stools are guaranteed for life, made with recycled materials and maintain a small carbon footprint. In fact, the new Za stools have the smallest carbon footprint of any Emeco product.

Two images. On the left, a person in all black holding an aluminum chair in the air upside down. To the right, the same person posing next to the stool sitting on the ground.

Named after the Japanese word “za,” which means “a place to sit,” Za stools are constructed through a complicated 77-step process. Designed by Naoto Fukasawa, these stools are made with square aluminum tubing and round seats to create a simple, sleek design.

Two images. On the left, a short blue stool with books on top. To the right, a red/orange stool with a bowl of fruit on it.

Related: Emeco unveils Navy Chair made of 111 recycled Coke bottles

Made to look good wherever you put them, these stools work both indoors and outdoors. Plus, the round seats are made with a defied rim that helps you stay in place while sitting. Three heights are available: small, counter height and bar height.

Two images. On the left, three stools in blue, black and white, with a potted plant sitting on the black stool. To the right, three stools in white, green and beige in front of a wood wall.

Aluminum is lightweight, strong and non-corrosive. The material is also fireproof and stands up to disinfectant and cleaning solutions. Available in several finish options, you can choose from hand-polished, hand-brushed anodized and natural. Or, choose from six different powder coat colors to get stools in warm grey, light brown, green, orange, charcoal or light blue. In the powder coat and hand-brushed finishes, these stools are ready to withstand the wear and tear of the outside world.

A display of colorful stools, with an aluminum stool tipped over in front of the bunch.

Emeco has been making furniture with recycled materials for 76 years. The company’s motto reflects this, stating “begin with what’s left over, turn it into what will last.” The brand’s story began during the dark days of WWII when the Navy faced a shortage of chairs. Emeco answered the call to serve, creating the 1006 Navy Chair in 1944. This chair was built by hand using scrap aluminum. Emeco has been making furniture out of aluminum ever since. With designs this strong, Emeco stands by its lifetime guarantee for each item.

+ Emeco

Images via Emeco

World's whitest paint could be an A/C alternative



Engineers at Purdue University have developed a paint so white that it actually cools surfaces. They hope that the new paint can help fight global warming by reducing reliance on air conditioning.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts,” Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, said in a statement. “That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses.”

Related: Painting wind turbines may reduce bird collisions and deaths

The ultra-white paint reflects up to 98.1% of sunlight; compare that to similar paints on the market, which reflect 80-90% of sunlight. The new paint sends infrared heat away, which cools the painted surface. Paints currently on the market don’t have this power.

How is this paint so white? First, it contains a high concentration of barium sulfate, a chemical used to whiten photo paper and cosmetics. “We looked at various commercial products, basically anything that’s white,” said Xiangyu Li, a postdoctoral researcher who worked in Ruan’s lab. “We found that using barium sulfate, you can theoretically make things really, really reflective, which means that they’re really, really white.”

The other technological key to the bright white color is the size difference between barium sulfate particles in the paint. The size of a particle determines how much it scatters light, so the wide range of particle sizes means more scattering of the sun’s light spectrum.

Scientists have been trying to develop a radiative cooling paint as an A/C alternative since the 1970s. The new paint is the most successful attempt to date and can keep surfaces 19°F cooler at night than the ambient surroundings. Even in strong midday sunlight, the ultra-white Purdue paint can cool surfaces by 8°F.

While it’s possible to make the paint slightly whiter, the new paint is about as white as researchers can go without compromising quality. “Although a higher particle concentration is better for making something white, you can’t increase the concentration too much,” Li said. “The higher the concentration, the easier it is for the paint to break or peel off.”

+ Purdue University

Image via Jared Pike / Purdue University

Architects give 1890s home a Passive House retrofit



The idea of retrofitting is certainly nothing new, especially for historic buildings. But the Yannell PHIUS+ House project is turning a home built in the 1890s into a Passive House complete with modern style and amenities. The project, renovated by HPZS, is the first certified single-family Passive House in Chicago.

gray home with gabled roof and covered front porch

The Yannell House was awarded PHIUS+ certification in 2018, but it has also gathered a number of other accolades. It is considered a Zero Energy Ready Home by the Department of Energy, and the residence has earned Energy Star certification and an Indoor airPLUS label from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Related: World’s largest Passive House building to open in Kansas City

person sitting on tufted white sofa

This historic property is a five-bedroom, three-bath home with R-48 graphite-infused exterior insulation and closed-celled polyurethane interior wall insulation. The attic has R-100 blown in glass mineral wool insulation. All of this creates an airtight envelope that minimizes energy needs. Meanwhile, an Energy Recovery Ventilator harvests heat energy and turns the stale air in the house into clean air. The windows are triple-pane and filled with argon for added airtightness. Yannell House has a fiber-cement cladding.

person in gray and white kitchen

This beautiful home in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood is a blueprint for the future and a model for other homes to follow, both historic and brand-new. The roof includes a 2.8KW photovoltaic system.

Inside, high-end finishes and a neutral color scheme create a calming, luxurious space for the residents. The 3,884-square-foot home spans two floors plus a basement, all of which maintain comfortable temperatures thanks to the Passive House qualities.

person sitting in chair in corner of room facing a large bed

“While most homes built to PHIUS standards are for private homeowners, the client in this case is looking to create a precedent for speculative sustainable homebuilding in the Midwest,” the architects said.

Chicago-based HPZS is a completely woman-owned, full-service architectural firm dedicated to historic preservation, adaptive reuse, sustainable design and affordable housing.


Images via HPZS

Enter the WWF Observation Cabins competition for a shot at $17K



The Young Architects Competition (YAC) has teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to launch WWF Observation Cabins, a global competition seeking design proposals for a visitor center and observation cabins in the WWF Oasis of Orbetello, Italy. In addition to creating a space where visitors can enjoy a “tamed” version of nature, participants are expected to submit designs that help raise awareness of environmental destruction and inspire active stewardship of our planet. The competition offers a €15,000 prize pool, with an €8,000 award for the first place winner.

Located in the Lagoon of Orbetello in Tuscany, the competition site is a wetland home to hundreds of different species, from pink flamingos and mallards to boars and foxes. To highlight the site’s biodiversity, the competition has called for three different types of low-maintenance observation cabins that can be replicated around the area: an on-the-ground observation point that can host up to 10 people; a raised watchtower that can host up to five people; and a structure at water level that can be floating or fixed.

Related: Breathtaking alpine views await atop Iceman Ötzi Peak

lake at dusk

The brief also calls for a visitor center with space for a reception, a ticket office, a training center, a bookshop, an exhibition space, guesthouses and a restaurant. The site for the visitor center and guesthouses is located farther back from the wetlands. Dimensions are not provided to give teams design flexibility.

“The project is also an opportunity to develop and understand the relationship between contemporary architecture and the landscape,” reads a statement from the competition brief. “It means recognizing the significant expressiveness of architecture when it is perfectly integrated in its context.”

Late registration for the WWF Observations Cabins competition ends June 6, 2021, and the materials submission deadline is June 9, 2021. The competition results will be announced on July 19, 2021.

+ WWF Observation Cabins

Images via YAC

Aztec-inspired eco home sits lightly on the land in Mexico



When Mexico City-based architecture practice Mauricio Ceballos X Architects (MCXA) was asked to design a home in an ancestral place in Malinalco, it immediately knew that a minimal environmental footprint would be the key to success. The clients had carefully selected the sloped site for its unique micro-climate, abundance of mature trees and proximity to a pyramidal Aztec ceremonial center. To reduce site impact and to reference the site’s cultural heritage, the architects designed the house — dubbed Casa Mague — around the trees’ existing root systems. They also installed resource-saving technologies and used locally sourced, natural materials to blend the building into its surroundings.

trees growing around home with wood slats for cladding

Completed last year, Casa Mague takes inspiration from nature in both its materials palette and design. Natural and local materials such as wood, stone and Chukum (ancient Mayan stucco) are used inside and out, while the home’s layout emphasizes indoor/outdoor living and steps around root systems to avoid disturbing any mature trees. Multifunctional spaces that open up to the outdoors offer flexibility, an important feature given the clients’ work-from-home setup during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: Prefab alpine shelter boasts phenomenal views and a small footprint

volumes of wood home in a forest

glass dining table near raw wood bookstands against the wall

“Starting from the pre-Hispanic cultural context, and the predominant connection with nature, the concept is based on the Mesoamerican worldview, where trees have a ritual meaning,” the architects explained. “The roots symbolize the connection with the underworld, the trunks the earthly human life and the cups the connection with the Gods. To emphasize this idea, the project is divided into three levels: the first one, a mirror base that gives continuity to the natural terrain and the roots of the trees, and allows the main volume of the house to give the sensation of floating; then, the living space, all on the same level where everyday life occurs; finally the natural outer cover formed by the foliage of the trees.”

framed pictures of plants near large white bed

open-plan living and dining area behind a glass wall

Casa Mague’s connection with the historic site has been highlighted with the inclusion of a pyramid-inspired outdoor space built with blocks of wood. The eco home also includes a rainwater harvesting system, gray and black water treatment, energy-efficient lights and sensors, low-VOC materials and facilities for composting and recycling.

+ Mauricio Ceballos X Architects

Photography by Diego Padilla Magallanes via MCXA

Dreamy Costa Rican retreat uses a pavilion concept for minimal impact



Tucked into the trees where the rainforest meets the sea, the Sirena House is a Costa Rican retreat that combines separate pavilions to cause less impact on the local surroundings. The home features sustainable elements such as rainwater catchment, water recycling and energy-generating systems.

pathway surrounded by palm trees

Specifically located in the town of Santa Teresa, this beachfront hideaway, completed in November 2020, spans approximately 1,000 square meters. The architects at Studio Saxe decided to integrate the jungle experience into the design to help it blend in, creating a series of separate pavilions rather than one single structure.

Related: Luxury prefab Costa Rican home features dramatic wing-like roof

outdoor dining table under extended roof

home with walls open to outdoors

The pods have overlapping roofs with varying volumes and are divided into bedrooms, common rooms and service areas connected through both indoor and outdoor spaces. The fragmented layout means that less trees were affected by construction and that residents could become fully integrated into the landscape each time they moved from one area of the retreat to another.

large white sofas in room with glass walls

living room with walls open to outdoor dining area

The foundation is concrete, and the home construction uses wood and steel. Thin columns support the overlapping rooftops to give them the sensation of floating above the trees. The project’s multi-volume design allows for optimal cross-ventilation and creates comfortable temperatures without the use of electricity, while the extended rooflines help protect from the sun and rain. The addition of rainwater harvesting and water recycling systems help give this tropical retreat a sustainable edge.

white sofa at foot of large bed

bedroom with glass wall opening to a patio

Each bedroom pod can open or close through floor-to-ceiling windows to extend into the lush exterior. Bedrooms are oriented toward the pool and offer views of the beach landscape or the verdant jungle, with secret spots to recline and relax hidden throughout the property. An inviting oasis, the home has a respectful presence in a quiet, unique setting.

+ Studio Saxe

Via Wallpaper

Photography by Andres Garcia Lachner via Studio Saxe

lounge chairs by a pool

aerial view of home near beach