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The rise of new legal cannabis markets is prompting extraordinary innovation to keep pace with a growing demand for products. Technology solutions have allowed marijuana and hemp producers to scale their operations successfully and develop new products and increase harvesting, trimming, sorting, and packaging efficiency.
But cultivation facilities have unique needs, requiring expert guides from initial design to final construction to ensure they run smoothly while maximizing output. High-performance buildings add another layer of architectural intricacy — attaining the highest standards of environmental stewardship and sustainability.
Unfortunately, the industry lacks integrated design and engineering services to develop high-performance buildings for cannabis cultivation. Creating a genuinely high-performing structure with piecemeal design and systems integration is difficult. Some firms are now working to address this knowledge gap, bringing energy-efficient, functional spaces for growers and processors.
What is a high-performance building?
When designing buildings for cannabis growth, you must consider that they provide enough space, including vertical space, that allows the plants to grow and thrive. Flower rooms, ideally, should also be the same size and kept within optimal temperature and humidity ranges. The number of rooms should correlate to the harvest schedule. The correlation of plants in mother, veg, and flower must be considered and properly planned to maximize flexibility in cultivation methodologies.
Advancements in technology are occurring rapidly across many sectors of the cannabis industry. Automated trimmers and sorters require proper configuration and energy to encure efficiency and output. Automated packaging systems for flower, edibles, and non-edible products are equally important. These tools are increasingly essential for cultivators to grow at scale and lower their costs, unlike traditional hand labor. Understanding this technology and where it can be successfully applied is key to achieving success.
Matching the needs of cannabis to the benefits of high-performance buildings should become more prevalent in the future as the industry matures. Increasing demand prompts investment in facilities that can perform over the long term, keeping costs down and providing greater social benefits thanks to increased sustainability.
A history of high-performance buildings
High-performance buildings are not new. The term traces back to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, defined as those buildings that integrate and optimize all major high-performance building attributes — including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity. In short, high-performance buildings meet or exceed what is required by building codes and other regulations in efficiency and sustainability.
According to research by Legrand, a global provider of electrical and digital building infrastructure, for buildings to be considered “high-performance,” they must blend energy efficiency, sustainability, security, functionality, and profitability throughout their lifetimes.
Several factors continue to push the adoption of high-performance buildings, including lower energy bills, healthier living, comfort, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, maximum natural light, and minimal noise. Investors and owners of commercial real estate are placing greater importance on achieving these benefits, recognizing the need to reduce operating costs and increase net income.
Analyzing 10 years of data, real estate advisor Bentall Kennedy found that LEED-certified projects command 3.7 percent more in rent and 4 percent higher occupancy rates than non-certified buildings. ENERGY STAR-certified buildings can collect 2.7 percent more in rent and 9.5 percent higher occupancies.
Government statistics also back up the benefits of high-performance buildings. A 2018 study completed by the General Services Administration compared 100 high-performance buildings operated by the agency versus 100 so-called “legacy stock” buildings. GSA’s high-performance buildings had 23 percent lower energy use, 28 percent lower water use, 23 percent lower operating expenses, 9 percent less waste landfilled, and higher overall tenant satisfaction.
Many — if not all — of these factors are present in marijuana and hemp cultivation facilities. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy published research in 2019 analyzing the needs of indoor agriculture, finding that energy usage accounts for 25% of operating costs. Reducing energy costs is vital to the future of the industry.
Slow to adopt
Why has the adoption of high-performance buildings been slower to take in the cannabis industry when their benefits have been enjoyed for years in other sectors? The answer lies in the specific needs and setup of these indoor growing and cultivation operations. Proper design requires specific knowledge and understanding of the plant, its growing environment, and how new technology works.
There is a knowledge gap between cannabis cultivation and high-performance building design and architecture. A meeting of the minds is just now beginning to deliver these services in a comprehensive and specialized manner. With anticipated global growth in the hemp and marijuana industries, all eyes will be on producers to ensure they are responsible stewards of the land, water, and resources. High-performance buildings will have a major role to play in this revolution.