MEMBER INTERVIEW: CLIMATE RESOURCES GROUP
Climate Resources Group is a CABA member and consulting firm focused on sustainability at the intersection of climate and energy. Our Communications Manager, Jamie Garuti, sat down with Sam Milton, Principal at CRG, for a look into urban climate resilience, the firm’s political advocacy, and how CRG is helping the cannabis industry go green.
Jamie Garuti: What’s the history behind Climate Resources Group? How did you decide to start it?
Sam Milton: CRG was formed a little less than a year ago. I felt like there was a lot of practical work that needed to be done to address the climate challenge, especially on the energy front. Energy touches everything and is impactful on many levels, so I wanted to dive into that and explore ways to better the planet through smarter uses of energy.
JG: Can you describe the work that CRG does?
SM: As I was starting up CRG, I thought about those topics where we could really add value and help move the needle. Firstly, working with cities and towns on climate initiatives. I’m looking at their visions to reduce their carbon footprint while addressing resilience. My partner, Craig Kelley, is a Cambridge City Councilor and chairs the Mayor’s Neighborhood Resiliency Task Force, and he and I just recently became certified Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness practitioners with the state. We believe there are enormous opportunities to help municipalities go green while strengthening their ability to respond to climate impacts.
Secondly, policy and finance for energy efficiency and renewables. I am an unabashed policy dork, and for most of my professional life I’ve been working on addressing climate change through public policy, including through innovative finance driven by policy. I believe that smart policy is a key part of identifying and acting on opportunities for companies and organizations to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency. What I want do is help organizations, companies and other actors to seize those opportunities created by innovative public policy.
Third, working specifically around reducing the carbon footprint of the cannabis industry. The average energy intensity of a growhouse is equal to that of a data server farm. Typical indoor grow facilities are full 1,000-watt light bulbs that release massive amounts of heat that need to be cooled. Add in dehumidification needs, fans, space heating, etc., and the whole process ends up generating a shocking amount of carbon emissions. We need to advance better ways of meeting the demand for commercially-produced legal cannabis.
JG: What kinds of clients are you looking to work with?
SM: We want to become a trusted resource for people on the public and private side of an issue. We work with municipalities that need support thinking about which energy interventions make sense for their climate response plans. We work with property and project developers, helping them develop a financing plan or better understand the implications of state and federal policy. And we consult cannabis growers looking for advice to reduce their energy costs.
JG: Can you tell us more about the cannabis industry’s carbon footprint, and what growers can do to reduce emissions?
SM: Cannabis plants love light, and when the plants are grown indoors, this can be a huge problem, since the light is delivered almost entirely from artificial sources (even greenhouses use a lot of electric lights). Thankfully, there are advances in lighting technologies out there; for example, LEDs for grows are becoming better and better. But you know, the spectrum has to be just right, so growers are very picky about the kinds of lights that they have, and they’ve been reluctant to adopt new tech. This is a problem, since the old school technology is so much more energy intensive than the newer stuff. Couple that with the fact that the older stuff runs hotter and thus requires bigger HVAC to accommodate that beefier cooling load.
To further compound the energy question, cannabis plants transpire or sweat a ton, and the humidity has to be removed from the air to minimize the threat of mold. You also have think about a grow operation as a pharmaceutical facility, since it effectively is one; you can’t have any contaminants, and the environment has to be tightly controlled. All of this is why indoor grows are such an energy-intensive process.
I am banking on the fact that since energy costs here are so high, it will be in growers’ own interests to bring those down, especially as the price of wholesale marijuana falls. As marijuana gets cheaper, value will be much less pound for pound. Only efficient companies will survive, and I want to help smart growers become the ones that make it. Public policy will play a role in sending the right signals as well.
JG: Shifting back to your other practice areas — climate resilience can seem like a daunting task for communities and businesses. What are some simple steps they can take to become more resilient?
SM: The first step is to have a plan for how you’d respond to a disaster. People assume disasters won’t happen to them, but it can happen anywhere.
On a city or regional level, we need to understand where our vulnerable populations are, and what we need to do to help these folks if an acute weather event occurs – or perhaps more likely – a string of nasty hot days that degrade people’s individual resilience. And on an infrastructural level, we can decentralize things like energy and food networks, and provide more distributed generation of those resources.
It’s also a matter of getting to know your neighbors. Cities and towns can do a lot to foster that message on the level of individual resilience.
JG: Could you tell us about CRG’s work in the political sphere?
SM: It’s been really exciting to be an active member of CABA and its political advocacy program. One of the reasons I wanted to become part of the private sector was to add weight around the sustainability argument. As a member of the business community, you can exert more influence over policymakers than “normal” citizens can.
In the past, I’ve worked to preserve energy efficiency programs like MassSave and advocated for progressive solar energy policy and a statewide carbon price. In my capacity now as Principal of CRG, I’ve been working to ensure that the regulations governing legal marijuana in Massachusetts feature strong energy and environmental standards. In fact, just this week, I spoke before the Cannabis Control Commission on this point in addition to writing comments and building a local coalition to advocate for the same. It’s a fascinating time, and if I can provide more leverage to these issues because of my role as a small business owner, then it’s something I’m thrilled to be able to do.
JG: What’s next on the agenda for Climate Resources Group?
SM: Something we’re excited about is building out the East Coast network of energy and cannabis professionals and really driving the conversation here about decarbonizing marijuana cultivation. I envision net zero carbon grow operations around the state that can utilize solar, wind, geothermal, CHP, smart energy and water management systems. It’s not science fiction, but unfortunately doing forward-thinking planning and actions in this industry is stymied by a lot of the same obstacles facing other industries and them some. But getting this right is so important that I find myself doing what I love and making the business development opportunities as I go. That’s the approach they teach at business school, right?