AS Tory leadership hopefuls continue their scramble to launch policies aimed at softening the blow of the looming cost-of-living crisis, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives are seemingly falling rapidly out of favour.
Upon launching her leadership bid in mid-July, Kemi Badenoch said the UK’s net-zero commitments were an example of ‘well-meaning regulations’ clogging up economic growth, while the current 1/9 bookies’ favourite Liz Truss has urged caution on the goals, pledging to launch an ‘immediate moratorium on the green energy levy, while we look at better ways of delivering net zero’.
As businesses, particularly in the cannabis sector, struggle to access funding in the current financial climate, ESG initiatives are also in danger of being dropped from the agenda in favour of more financially lucrative priorities.
However, according to the founder of Be:yond Green and international liaison officer for the Cannabis Industry Council, Sam Cannon, ESG initiatives are not a financial burden but an opportunity to attract investment.
He told BusinessCann that if a business can have ‘the social and environmental impact that is needed, you’ve got a very, very investable business’.
Founded by Mr Cannon in 2019, Be:yond Green works with cannabis-based start-ups across emerging markets which have an ‘immediate positive impact on the planet’, with projects including hemp plantation and agriculture, hemp-based construction materials, and developing tourism and education programmes.
Taking an equity stake in these start-ups, Mr Cannon works with them from an early stage to help them develop their business, grow and eventually access funding, working alongside local governments and organisations such as Social Enterprise International.
One of its current projects is a company called Eternal Flame Worldwide, based in the southern African country of Lesotho.
Eternal Flame, which Be:yond Green has been working with since last year, produces ‘heat-retention cook bags’ made of 100% hemp fibre.
According to the company, around 2.6bn people in emerging markets across the globe spend up to 12 hours a day cooking around an open fire, with the subsequent smoke inhalation acting as the biggest cause of death for under 5’s.
These cook bags act as a natural slow cooker, reducing cooking time to around 90 minutes a day, reducing both smoke inhalation and deforestation for firewood.
While the bags, which are made in Lesotho, were initially filled with coconut husk, as ‘that doesn’t come with many complications’, they are now being filled with hemp, and will soon be filled with medical cannabis wastage.
“Originally the bag was actually made from coir, which is recycled coconut husks. But after speaking with them, they were really interested in the carbon sequestration properties of hemp. We had a number of the bags made up from hemp from various parts of the world to showcase that it could be done.”
Now the company is reportedly in talks with ‘a number of medical cannabis businesses’ who are interested in working together.
Eurocan, a cannabis cultivation firm from Lesotho, is understood to have recently made its first delivery of medical cannabis waste to Eternal Flame, which will be used to fill the cook bags.
“We can actually make these bags out of medical cannabis waste. We will still continue to make them from hemp, but if medical cannabis businesses have waste that they would usually burn which emits CO2 into the atmosphere, we can take their waste and we can turn it into these bags.”
While they are currently in talks with a number of other companies regarding medical cannabis waste, the goal is to secure partnerships that will see companies sponsor these bags, which currently cost £25 each.
Cannabis Is Young Enough to Put ESG at Its Heart and Still Make Money
According to Mr Cannon, the company is also in conversation with a number of potential partners he hopes will ‘sponsor a bag, number of bags, or a decorticator’, a machine used for separating hemp fibre, which significantly reduces the labour needed to create the bags.
“Conversations are being had to see if it’s something that the companies will want to essentially get behind. I think that it’s a great thing that we can do with cannabis businesses as an ESG story for their organisation, so the money that is set aside for ESG can go into a project like this and essentially fund it.”
He added that Eternal Flame can put a sponsoring company’s logo on the bags, and even get a film crew to document the real world impact their investment is having on these communities to ‘show their ESG credentials’.
While admitting that right now ‘it’s hard (for companies) to come by money’, Mr Cannon suggested that ‘money has been shifted over into these sectors to invest into ESG projects’.
“I’m definitely seeing a change in the tide with it now. It’s hard to change if ESG hasn’t already been a priority, but I think that the cannabis industry is young enough.
“There are a lot of start-up businesses that can take all of these principles on board and have the ESG story at the heart of what they do and still make a profit. You can still make a lot of money, and these sorts of companies are becoming the ones that are more investable.”