Developing Sustainable Business Goals: Q&A with Elizabeth Lee, Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Veritas Fine Cannabis

Indoor cannabis cultivation consumes a lot of energy, to put it mildly. This fundamental fact means that sustainable business practices and conscious energy conservation go a long way towards limiting a company’s carbon footprint. Increasingly, companies are prioritizing this work by creating specific roles or even departments to manage goals and oversee the implementation of new strategies.

Elizabeth “Libby” Lee is environmental health and safety manager at Veritas Fine Cannabis in Colorado. She brought to the company a strong passion for eliminating wasteful habits and single-use products. And she did it by setting goals and communicating clearly, within Veritas, but also with the wider industry.

Here, Lee shares his perspective on sustainable business practices in the cannabis space and how we could all set goals to improve our environmental standing.

Eric Sandy: How did you get into the cannabis industry?

Elizabeth Lee: I graduated in 2017 from American University in Washington, DC, and had actually never been to Colorado, so I decided to venture out and move here. I had a degree in environmental studies, so I felt like I could find a job in that field. I decided to attend a cannabis sustainability happy hour and met a few people who worked in the industry. From there I started working in a dispensary, and worked my way up from there – they were also growing. I was therefore able to discover a more restricted aspect of the cannabis industry. From there, I decided I wanted to see the back of the house a bit more. I ventured out and got interested in Veritas, and applied. I started at Veritas in March 2020 as a packer and began to show what my skills were, but also my passion and interest in integrating environmental health and safety sustainability into the packaging industry. cannabis.

ES: Could you define this term, “sustainability”, simply in terms of what it means to you or what it means to the company?

EL: When I was in college I had a minor in sustainability, so it’s always an interesting question because you can approach it from so many different perspectives – in the sense of a business and from the point of view of environmental ethics. But in the sense of cannabis and sustainability, I see sustainability as preserving and using our resources in ways that don’t overuse them to extinction, but also preserve them for future generations. We want to grow cannabis until the end of time, and especially growing cannabis indoors, it will always be there. It’s about making sure we can conserve our resources and use less energy with LEDs or improving our HVAC systems.

ES: With certain goals like that, what are the big day-to-day or even longer-term challenges that you and your team are trying to overcome?

EL: A lot of the topics that we are currently focusing on would be waste and energy consumption. The cannabis industry consumes a lot of energy. Consider HVAC systems, but also LED or high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps running 12-24 hours a day in some installations. Energy is something that we absolutely have to consider for the industry.

ES: With Veritas in particular, what are some of the goals that the company could regularly set for energy use? And how does the company communicate the importance of sustainability to employees and customers?

EL: We are currently focusing on upgrading our grow rooms and are testing LEDs in our grow rooms to show that using them will reduce our energy dependency. Another thing we focus on is reducing waste. It comes down to understanding our packaging waste and where our waste goes. We work to make sure we recycle properly, but also for Veritas, which I really like about this company, we currently use glass jars. This is a big step towards greater sustainability in the sense of packaging in general. We have already taken this step to use glass jars to ensure that we are not sending as many plastic or mylar bags to recycling or trash.

One of our goals for 2022 is to create an initiative to encourage customers to return their jars to pharmacies once they are empty. They will bring them back to the dispensary and dispose of them. We hope to build an initiative where we collect the jars, sanitize them and put them back into our production.

ES: How did you feel being part of the cannabis industry? The reason I ask the question is that it operates so differently from most other industries. I’m curious if there were a lot of surprises when you got into this type of business compared to what you may have studied in college.

EL: Before moving to Colorado, I interned at an environmental task force in Washington, DC. I worked at this nonprofit that lobbied for environmental health and safety regulations. Entering the cannabis industry was a very big surprise for me. It was well established, but not as well established as other industries—manufacturing industries, automotive industries. And in the sense of regulations, we don’t always have federal regulations beating down on us. It is really up to the state to enforce and regulate this industry. It was definitely different.

As the industry has progressed over the few years I have worked in it, I would say that professionalism has come more and more to the fore. We need to align more with federal regulations at that time. As businesses, we should already consider federal regulations, and even those of the EPA or OSHA. Over time I feel like it has been more front and center and there have been a few more corporate aspects of the business. I think it’s very beneficial to bring us all together and set more standards for the industry as well.

ES: From your perspective, whether in Colorado or on the sustainability side of the industry, what advice would you give to someone who might be graduating from college in 2022, with maybe the same degree than you, who could consider cannabis?

EL: I definitely had to step out of my comfort zone a bit and really network in this industry. There are plenty of opportunities for this, and being able to attend meetings and show yourself what you are capable of is definitely what I would suggest. When I came to the industry, I got my first job, like I said, by going to a happy hour. Before working at Veritas, I would network during those happy hours and attend cannabis sustainability symposiums or any cannabis, health and safety, environment or sustainability related event. durability. The industry can be very small, so word of mouth and just knowing a lot of people in the industry has really helped me.

ES: Cannabis can be criticized for a perceived lack of diversity. And there’s a lot of ways to define that, but in terms of women working in the industry, do you see that’s pretty fair, compared to other environmental career paths, or is there work to do there?

EL: I think, like in all industries, there is always work to be done to be fair. There have been a lot of improvements, I would say, for women in leadership positions, but it certainly took time. We have been in a recreational industry for [Colorado voters approved a legalization measure in] 2012. So it certainly took a long time to get to where we are now. I definitely had to network and work a little harder than my male counterparts, but I would say over time it got better with my experience. Working at Veritas, I’m actually quite surprised at how many women are in leadership positions here and the opportunity for each to earn a leadership role. I think we’ve made progress, that’s for sure, but there’s always room for improvement.

ES: Going forward, what kind of goals do you have at Veritas or in the industry in general?

EL: I’m going to get my master’s right now at the University of Denver for environmental health and safety. I will be graduating in June. Some goals from my degree that I really want to implement and have started to implement are creating a health and safety program here at Veritas. There’s not really a discussion about employee health and safety across all businesses – for trims and all aspects of packaging, things like that. I really focus on creating job-specific health and safety programs and training to ensure employees have the proper resources to do their jobs safely, but also to understand the repercussions that may result from performing your work in a hazardous environment. It’s one of the big things right now that I’m working on and starting for a whole year. I hope to continue training throughout this as well.

The other project, as I mentioned before, was the jars initiative. I really hope to launch an initiative in the next few months to start collecting and reusing jars for Veritas and then see if we can get other cannabis companies involved as well.