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Sustainability in Cannabis: Sitting Down With Pantry Cannabis & Asha Apothecary

by Pantry Food Co. on April 21, 2021

“My competition isn’t the wellness edibles brand next to me on the dispensary shelf, though that’s what people might lead you to believe. Fast food is my competition. Empty calories are my competition. Food lacking real nutrients is my competition. Whole food brands and products are so small compared to fast food and 80% of the freezer aisle. It’s us against them, and in the company of other people who view the world like we do - we’re better together.”
Scott Jennings, 
Pantry Food Co founder and CEO. 

Happy Earth Day! We are excited to be celebrating this awesome day at Pantry, and we partnered with our friends at Asha Apothecary to talk a little bit about sustainability in the cannabis industry. Asha is a sustainable hemp & wellness CBD brand whose formulations include USDA Certified Organic hemp, so they are the perfect team to amplify this message alongside us. Additionally, they use ink made from algae, naturally biodegradable shipping materials, and have 100% clean, 3rd-party tested ingredients! 

Sustainable Packaging Recycled, Biodegradable, Algae Ink, Carbon Negative and Compostable

What is a sustainable brand? 

Dr. Nathan Walworth, Chief Scientific Officer of Asha Apothecary, says sustainability is part of a larger spectrum and that every brand walks their sustainability journey a bit differently. “A lot of people expect every part of your brand to be sustainable, but that may not be immediately achievable as a small, up-and-coming brand,” said Dr. Walworth.  

You might immediately think of “sustainable” as being plastic-free, but like Dr. Walworth said, sustainability is a journey. All sustainable brands have one goal in mind: to do as little harm to the earth as possible, and hopefully, doing things to improve the earth. Generally speaking, sustainable brands like to focus on:

  • Minimal packaging waste 
  • High-quality and organically sourced ingredients (pesticides are harmful to the earth)
  • Plant-based ingredients or ethically-sourced animal ingredients

“Sustainability signals that you care for more than just the bottom line, that you are very much trying to add positive impacts into the market and the world,” said Dr. Nathan Walworth. “You can’t do that by just sourcing awesome ingredients, it extends to how you treat your people, and every part of your business. Sustainability is the holistic view of the company, the big picture. We are inspired by and support the regenerative movement in agriculture and beyond through Asha. Regenerative principles always address regenerating both human and natural communities through equitable approaches.”

Jennings agrees. “For a long time, human beings have only been taking from the earth,” he added. “How can we change that? How do we give back to the planet? I think making people aware of what we’re doing wrong is the first step. From there, we can lay the groundwork to fix it. For sustainable brands, this belief should extend to our company’s core mission, your team should have a personal passion for sustainability, and the ongoing goal should be to see tangible results from your company’s work.” 

Man in a jacket and hat with a mask on holding a cardboard sign that says support your local planet in an effort to advocate for sustainability and eco-friendly practices

Transparency is a must for sustainable brands. Dr. Walworth said “if a brand wants to be considered sustainable, they need to be transparent.” From a business to business perspective, transparency costs you, as a brand, no additional money. You’re simply being open and honest about your company’s processes, that’s all transparency is.

If you’re truly working towards sustainability and doing everything in your power to be sustainable, transparency shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re not as sustainable as you’d like to be and don’t want to share that with your consumers, shift your way of thinking and explain to them what your sustainability goals are for the future. Like Jennings said, we are not competing against each other but fast food. If you’re even trying to be sustainable, you’re already so much better off than so many other companies. 

Dr. Walworth highlighted a frequent issue in the sustainable community: greenwashing. Greenwashing simply means you’re not being truthful about how sustainable and environmentally-friendly you are. Sometimes, it’s not a blatant lie, but it’s absolutely inching towards misleading consumers. As a consumer, you need to ensure you scan the ingredients list with a fine-tooth comb and see if you align with their other business practices. As a business, you need to make certain your marketing efforts, packaging, and branding do not mislead consumers about your company.

Products Made from Responsibly Sourced Ingredients with Sustainable Cultivation

“Perception is the biggest hindrance of progression. If we aren’t aware of what we’re doing, how can we fix it? Similarly, if we hold a constant perspective of “not doing enough for sustainability”, how can we ever have time to focus on what we are doing and celebrate the achievements we’ve made as a company and as consumers? Those are important milestones! The key to sustainability success is a perspective shift, and education and awareness are part of the challenge to get there,” said Jennings. 

Sustainable is not the easy way to go. In fact, it’s almost always much harder to be a sustainable brand than a traditional one because you care so much about what goes into your product and chances are, sustainable supply chains are more expensive. It’s a challenge to find companies to partner with who align with your goals. 

“Asha aims to partner with farms or other suppliers with amazing, 3rd-party tested ingredients and a rich backstory. A lot of the ingredients sources don’t come with a story and if we can’t tell a story with the ingredients, we can’t take on those products or suppliers. We’ve got to be able to tell the story behind our sourced ingredients. Additionally, trying to find investors who align with our company’s morals is a challenge because investors want a good ROI as quickly as possible, so a lot of the time, our timelines look totally different.”

For Jennings, he experienced quality control issues early on and was rudely awakened to the harsh reality of real food ingredients: real food spoils and it’ll spoil fast. That’s a common occurrence with sustainable consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. 

“We wanted to have real fruit in our products. Not juice concentrate or “natural flavors” and pass it off as real fruit. But real whole food fruit. Well, real fruit is great but it’ll quickly expire on the shelves. ,” said Jennings. “We had to learn the hard way about using real fruit and  having a customer purchase a Pantry product that had spoiled. It hurt so badly as a company and me as the CEO, because we care so much about the consumer experience. It really sucked to have to admit we made that mistake, but we immediately brought in experts, went back to the drawing board, and fixed the problem. We adjusted our recipe a bit, but our ethos remains the same: ingredients sourced from real food for a wellness-focused cannabis experience.”

Edibles made of real fruit and high-quality ingredients

How do I buy sustainable? 

“If you’re an American business, it’s helpful to partner with other mission-aligned American businesses. This goes for consumers who purchase products, too. It’s important to support and uplift local supply chains, transportation costs are reduced, and you can take advantage of important certifications like USDA Certified Organic. Even other types of 3rd-party certifications even if not directly sustainability related, because a lot of U.S. organizations are still trying to add credibility to the industry,” said Dr. Walworth. 

From all of us at Pantry Foods and Asha Apothecary, Happy Earth Day and Earth Month! In honor of the earth, we encourage you to swap just ONE daily habit for a more sustainable one for the rest of the year. Share it with us on Instagram at @pantryfoodco and @asha.apothecary so we can cheer you on! 

Scott Jennings Founder and CEO at Pantry Food Co Nathan Walworth Chief Scientific Officer at Asha Apothecary
Scott Jennings, Founder and CEO at Pantry Food Co 
Nathan Walworth, Chief Scientific Officer at Asha Apothecary