Jessica Rosslee   |   February 17, 2021

Can Hemp Cultivation Save the World?

Hemp is a versatile crop with dozens of uses, but how sustainable is it?
Jessica Rosslee is a former journalist who has dedicated her writing skills and passion for communication to the cannabis industry. Jessica has spent her life in the field of wellness and communication, committed to allowing people access to…

Industrial Hemp has industrial strength. As simple as that sounds, there are many eco-friendly alternatives to traditional materials on the market, but few offer the resilience and strength that hemp does. The plant seems to have it all. It can be reused, recycled, and it is entirely biodegradable.

Why is Hemp so Beneficial?

Sustainably speaking, here are just a few reasons why hemp is so popular:

  • No environmental pollution
  • Significantly reduces deforestation
  • Provides a profitable answer to environmental issues
  • Phytoremediation can remove radioactive elements in both soil and water 
  • By reintroducing essential nutrients and nitrogen, hemp enhances the soul it is grown in instead of depleting it

Is Hemp a Wonder Crop?

The answer may not be so simple. But, what we do know, is it is currently playing a critical role. And what about the future? Well, the future of hemp looks pretty bright too. However, with the booming hemp industry seeming to go from strength to strength, we need to ask some critical questions. Just how sustainable is hemp?

As with anything in nature, moderation is key. Any large-scale farming of the same crop will have some adverse effects. These effects will not only affect the land and the ecosystem. If you look at everything as it has ripple effects, anything done on a large mainstream scale will have a far-reaching impact that may not be so apparent at first. Everything from the soil to the water and even the money markets will be affected.

Hemp: The Eco-Friendly Alternative

Hemp is rapidly becoming the one-stop answer for many people looking at transforming products into a more eco-friendly option. Whether hemp is used to make plastic or houses, there is potential for hemp to be the poster child for the sustainability model.

Most people are aware of the dire situation of the planet's ecosystem. So, it comes as no surprise that the hemp market has exploded as people seek more sustainable solutions.

What Defines Sustainable?

If a product or crop is sustainable, it can be used, made, or farmed for an indefinite amount of time because it does not cause any harm or negative effect.

To put it simply, if you want to live a sustainable lifestyle, then you should be using the Earth's resources at a healthy rate so the resources can be renewed and replenished.

To understand if hemp crops are sustainable, we need to understand the three main pillars of sustainable practices:

  • Social implications
  • Economic Implications
  • Environmental Implications

As you can see, sustainability goes beyond the simple environmental impacts that everyone would initially think of.

Let's take a brief look at each of them:

Social

For hemp farming to be truly sustainable, it needs to be done fairly, in a way that leaves a positive impact.

Economic

The initial wave of sustainable crops (in general) seemed to have dismal economic rewards compared to less sustainable (but highly profitable) practices. However, what sustainable crops lack in immediate profit, they make it up in long-term gains and long-term economic development.

Environmental

The Earth provides a bounty of natural resources. However, humankind's intelligence has been shortsighted, and the promise of profit has overshadowed care for sustainable practices. Well, this is changing. And not a moment too soon.

The Earth has resources, sure, but only if they are managed with care and allowed to replenish before depleted. Any crop grown on a large scale without any thought of the impact will not be sustainable, no matter how eco-friendly its products. So, for hemp to be farmed sustainably, cultivators should critically consider all aspects, including the impact the crop will have on the land and environment—things such as renewable energy need to be adopted and sustainable farming practices.

How is Hemp a Sustainable Crop?

The fuel industry is synonymous with waste and toxins. This goes for the pharmaceutical industry as well.

Hemp does not deplete the soil and environment where it grows. Instead, hemp can enrich the soil. Hemp's fibers are eco-friendly, the cosmetics less toxic to both the skin and environment, and hemp-based fuels and medicines more sustainable.

One of the biggest pros on hemp's side is that its carbon footprint is next to nothing while it can produce almost everything. That is, of course, if sustainable farming practices are used.

What makes hemp sustainable?

●      Enriches the soil where it grows

Genuinely sustainable farming practices allow the soil to get replenished. Any crop needs water and nutrients, and to be healthy environments for plants and crops, they need to be replenished with these. If they're not replenished, the soil degrades and becomes polluted. This eventually leads to deforestation, and the ramifications reverberate throughout the land and other food crops.

●      Can Reduce Carbon Emissions

Hemp uses its natural photosynthesis process to store high amounts of carbon dioxide in its roots, and actual 'body.' hemp has been found to take in higher amounts of carbon dioxide than other crops.

Most hemp products are biodegradable, toxin-free, and renewable. And because of these characteristics, hemp products can usually be placed in your very own compost bin. It is a healthy addition to a landfill, where they can decompose without lasting adverse effects.

●      Water

Water is a hot topic when it comes to sustainable alternatives. Many seemingly sustainable suggestions need plenty of water (nut milk, for one). Hemp typically has an enlarged taproot. These roots are capable of growing deep into the soil, seeking water and nutrients. Why is this important? Because of its root system, the hemp plant could not only penetrate more in-depth for more nutrients and water, but it even penetrates deep into the groundwater where essential nutrients could have leaked. Compared to crops like cotton, hemp uses one-third of the amount of water.

●      Can be Made into Biofuel.

The race for finding sustainable biofuel is on. The fuel industry cannot sustain the current demand for much longer, and many nations are scrambling to decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

Using hemp to produce fuel, the industry could become 85% greener than the existing petroleum model. Researchers found hemp gasoline has an efficiency that is 95% higher than gasoline.

●      Carbon Neutral Buildings

Hemp can be used to create a carbon-neutral alternative to traditional building materials, including:

  • Pressboard
  • Flooring
  • Walling
  • Concrete
  • Insulation

●      High Yields from Small Spaces

One of the largest cons for most sustainable alternatives is the space and amount of land these crops can take. The hemp crop takes a different approach. Not only is hemp an adaptable crop, i.e., it can grow in a variety of different temperatures and conditions, but if tended correctly, it can thrive in smaller spaces.

Farmers could potentially reduce the land usage while maintaining an even higher yield.

Many pros are fighting in the corner for this crop, which certainly helps us see it as a wonder crop. So, what are the cons?

So far, the main con is centered around the farming practice used for the crop. For any crop or plant to be environmentally sustainable, agriculturalists should adopt responsible agricultural practices.

It seems hemp deserves its title of environmental wonderchild. However, the farmers and agriculturists need to hold themselves accountable for the possible adverse effects. All aspects from water usage to equipment could have detriments to the environment. But is that a reflection of the hemp plant? No. By nature, hemp is an excellent advocate for sustainability. How it is farmed is the most crucial aspect. As long as farmers and producers are held accountable and use sustainable practices, hemp could enjoy a long reign as an environmental wonderchild.

 

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