Corporate cannabis culture standards are already budding. That means the time is now to create meaningful corporate social responsibility models, particularly in the Carolinas where the cannabis industry is in its infancy.

Numerous small cannabis businesses are already setting the example, but as the “green rush” hurtles forward and big capital becomes enmeshed, long-time observers fear profits will outweigh ethical considerations.

[Image credit: cnythzi]

[Header graphic credit: Enis Aksoy]

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, simply means a company’s bottom line isn’t the only thing that matters.

Heather Jackson is the co-founder and CEO of Realm of Caring, a cannabis education nonprofit focused on the cannabis industry in Colorado. She’s also passionate about environmental stewardship.

“You can put a quality product out there, market it well and make a lot of money, but will you responsibly contribute to improving the environment?” she asks, making it clear her level of respect depends on your answer.

Realm of Caring partners with companies that uphold its environmental values. One of those companies is Charlotte’s Web, one of the leading manufacturers of CBD oil in the United States.

Types of CSR

In addition to environmental stewardship, employee relations and community involvement are also important aspects of corporate social responsibility.

Paying a living wage, hiring locally, offering health care, practicing nondiscrimination and insuring a harassment-free work environment are all means of practicing social responsibility internally.

And one way for cannabis corporations to become more involved in their communities is to support nonprofits and service organizations — whether financially, logistically or via employee volunteerism programs.

According to Forbes magazine, attention to CSR is growing rapidly in the business world as a whole. As the magazine reported in January: “In 2018, the expectation is that companies will continue to expand their activism on, and investment in, the issues that matter to their employees, customers and communities.”

LOL: “The cynics say CSR is like teenage sex — everyone says they’re doing it, but few actually are and those who really do it do it rather badly.”

From the YouTube description: What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? This video clip tries to give competent but also entertaining answers to this question. The video is part of series “in a little green bag” at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland. © University of St.Gallen (HSG), Text by Prof. Thomas Beschorner (http://bit.ly/Beschorner), Production: http://www.zense.ch

Environmental Sustainability

Small cannabis businesses committing to environmental stewardship are proliferating.

“We put an immense focus on decreasing our environmental footprint,” says Laura Day of Yerba Buena, a third-party certified organic cannabis farmer near Portland, Ore.

Yerba Buena’s practices include using predatorial insects instead of pesticides, on-site composting, reusable fabric pots and 50 percent recycled or upcycled building materials. They also provide a vegetable garden for employees and give them paid time off to plant trees and participate in highway cleanups.

In 2018, Yerba Buena was ranked sixth in Oregon’s 100 Best Greenest Workplaces by Oregon Business magazine.

Via SW Wisconsin NORML: ” … on April 18, 2018, Zach Steeno and Sawyer Veseth discuss the many ways cannabis cultivation can be done sustainably and responsibly … “

Working Conditions

Day says that the cannabis industry has had an uneven past when it comes to the treatment of workers. “There is a long history of poor labor practices from the unregulated days …,” she says.

But labor policies can transform. For instance, the few dozen employees of Magnolia Oakland, a Bay Area dispensary, are unionized as part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5. The 30,000-person union is an advocate for labor in a variety of food and service industries that now—perhaps incredibly to some—count some cannabis industry workers in the Bay Area as members.

As for Yerba Buena, Day says, “our labor practices are among the most progressive in the industry.”

Hemp pollen can be seen in the air as Appalachian Growers seasonal farm worker Savannah Bush does a quality control check of the hemp curing in the 4,000 sqft drying room.

[Image credit: Grant Baldwin]

The company pays workers more than $20 per hour on average. The employees’ health insurance plan is 100 percent covered, including naturopathy, chiropractic care, massage, vision and dental coverage. Employees can take advantage of training and education programs, too. Respectful communication and non-discrimination in the workplace are strongly held values. Employees participate in regular wellness days promoting good nutrition, yoga and movement, as well as other self-care practices. Yerba Buena also provides paid time off to volunteer for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

As a result of these employee-friendly policies, Day says, “we have had next to zero turnover, reducing our cost of training.” This, she believes, is because Yerba Buena’s employees feel valued as they work toward a shared vision.

“Happy people grow happy plants,” says Day. “Happy plants make people happy.”

Flow Kana is a processing, manufacturing and distribution company in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company works exclusively with small farmers in Northern California who use sustainable, “beyond-organic” growing practices. All of Flow Kana’s farmers are outdoor growers because sun-grown cannabis uses much less energy and does not require the same amount of artificial nutrients as indoor-grown cannabis does.

According to Michael Steinmetz, Flow Kana’s CEO, the company seeks to promote biological diversity in the cultivation of cannabis that he hopes will counteract the monocropping trends in the “grow” part of the industry.

Flow Kana, while not a direct employer of cultivators, is dedicated to ensuring that farmers get a fair deal for their crop. Cultivators who work with the company receive a guaranteed payment that is almost twice market value. On top of that, Flow Kana runs a not-for-profit farmers association that helps fund projects such as equipment upgrades and education for the cultivators.

Community engagement and support

Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., MSW, and Vice President of Community Relations for Flow Kana, authored a 2016 report on the cannabis industry’s performance in this third category of corporate social responsibility. Specifically, she researched which cannabis businesses were engaging in partnerships with nonprofit organizations in their communities.

Reiman says when cannabis businesses and nonprofit organizations partner and create mutually beneficial relationships, they also increase community resiliency and social capital.

She also surveyed 35 community-based organizations (CBOs) in seven states whose work addressed a large variety of social and economic issues including assistance to homeless people, veterans, LGBTQ+ groups and those living with HIV. All of the CBOs were located in states with a medical cannabis market, and in some cases a recreational market as well.

Seventy-six percent of respondents reported interest in partnering with cannabis businesses, though only 23 percent reported having already done so. In most cases, respondents from CBOs were either unsure how to partner with cannabis businesses or concerned lingering cultural stigma might impact relationships with funders.

Social responsibility being demonstrated by Haywood Community College students as they clear the way for a pond leveler, Feb. 2014.

[Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife]

“I think consumers want to know that the company they purchase from cares about the community that needs those products.”

The report found that cannabis businesses and nonprofits had the highest levels of engagement with one another in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is noteworthy because, while California was the first to legalize medical cannabis, in 1996, it was several years behind the first states to legalize recreational cannabis.

Adult use sales in California began only this past January. Now, Reiman says, “I have definitely noticed it’s easier to get local community-based organizations to engage with cannabis businesses post-legalization. In the past, they were very reluctant to work with us, take sponsorships from us. That is changing.”

Flow Kana has sponsored events supporting the Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino County as well as Mendocino College. In addition, they have established scholarships and internships with the Good Farm Fund and the School of Adaptive Agriculture, thereby helping to support emerging organic farmers.

“But,” adds Reiman, “CSR is not just about writing a check, it’s about becoming part of the fabric in the communities you occupy.”

For instance, she says, “Last October, Redwood Valley was ravaged by fire. Flow Kana arranged for and served food at the first community meeting after the fire and again at a holiday meal for the community.”

Debby Goldsberry, Executive Director of Magnolia Oakland, a California cannabis dispensary, says, “The cannabis industry has long supported the idea of social responsibility.”

Magnolia Oakland maintains a food bank, an annual school supply giveaway and offers free weekly massage and chiropractic sessions for patients. Medical cannabis is given at no cost to low-income patients in need and cannabis business classes encourage minority entrepreneurship.

As one of the founders of the Berkeley Patients Group, another California dispensary, and as an advocate in the medical and adult use cannabis industry for 25 years, Goldsberry asserts that strong community engagement has always been a cornerstone of her approach.

“Hemp can save the world,” is a motto introduced by activist Jack Herer

Above you can watch a documentary film about his work, “Emperor of Hemp,” by Jeff Jones.

“Giving back to nonprofits that support the communities where they operate is a beautiful business model”

Realm of Caring (ROC), the Colorado educational non-profit, receives financial assistance from Charlotte’s Web to carry out its mission of cannabis education and advocacy. The organization was co-founded by the Stanley Brothers, the seven brothers who own and operate Charlotte’s Web.

The Colorado-based company tests their soils for contaminants and heavy metals and is in the process of becoming certified USDA Organic. Charlotte’s Web also uses cover crops and hand-tending techniques to mitigate their environmental impact.

“In the beginning,” says Jackson, “we were both small organizations trying to figure out how to navigate the legal landscape, though we all had the same goal: helping people.”

She sees evidence that consumers care about corporate social responsibility, too. I think consumers want to know that the company they purchase from cares about the community that needs those products. We are in a unique time in the cannabis and hemp industry where meaningful philanthropic partnerships can raise the tide.”

 

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Big Business: Your turn

Recent headlines attest to the fact that big money is starting to pour into the cannabis industry. As the adult use market continues to expand in the U.S., even Coca-Cola has indicated interest in the cannabis industry and Pepsi has sent mixed signals.

On the cusp of full legalization in Canada, a cannabis company named Canopy Growth announced a $4 billion investment from Constellation Brands. Tilray, another Canadian cannabis company, has also made news with its big IPO and stock prices that have at times risen to $300 per share.

There’s no doubt that big cannabis is here, and the industry is changing.

Goldsberry observes, “I think all of us long-time advocates and entrepreneurs are shocked to see how fast people focused only on profits have taken the lead positions in the cannabis industry.”

Day adds that, “there are certainly tensions between small business and big business as more capital pours into the industry … Small farmers are finding it more challenging to remain competitive with the larger companies coming in, so there is a lot that will evolve as the industry continues to mature.”

“I think all of us long-time advocates and entrepreneurs are shocked to see how fast people focused only on profits have taken the lead positions in the cannabis industry.”
Day believes that larger cannabis companies just getting started, like those in the Carolinas, have an opportunity to do things right because they “have a larger and louder platform with which to use positive practices and CSR to influence other industries and businesses to follow suit …”

But will they?

Goldsberry is skeptical of big business’ ability to adopt the type of corporate social responsibility practices the #CannasbisCommunity wants because large corporations serve shareholders above all others.

She maintains that smaller companies in the cannabis space can “be more nimble, building social responsibility programs into their marketing campaigns as a way to drive consumers to their products or shops. Small companies are generally privately held,” she continues, “with boards and shareholders more willing to support social change.”

She hopes that small, socially responsible cannabis businesses will educate their customers about why they should support businesses that give back to the community, instead of “strict profiteers. There is a lot of work to do if we really want to create a better world,” she says.

Danielle Simone Brand

Danielle Simone Brand

Contributor

Danielle Simone Brand, an independent journalist based in California, writes about cannabis, homesteading and parenting. Her work appears on TheWeek.com, Kveller.com and ChopraCenter.com. She is writing for Carolina Cannabis News as Part of our "Voices from the Green Side" series.

Voices from the Green Side

Editorial note: Due to prohibition in the Carolinas we've asked writers from "legal states" to contribute to give us a sense of whether or not life is indeed greener when prohibition is lifted.