Across a wide spectrum of industries, the use of hemp plants represents an upgrade over traditional materials by helping make products stronger, lighter and more durable. Moreover, these improvements to the product come with the added benefit of supporting sustainability.
For those who aren’t quite sure what the term means, sustainability is a commitment to help the planet sustain its natural resources and promote a healthier global climate. Sustainability has social and economic implications, but when it comes to industry, the environmental impact is especially important. With a finite amount of natural resources available, our survival as a species requires the careful management of these resources to make sure they last. In pursuing this life-saving goal, the use of hemp empowers companies across multiple industries to have a more positive impact on the environment.
The positive impact starts with growing hemp in place of other crops. This promotes sustainability in several ways, including the following:
- Growing hemp requires significantly less water than other crops, especially cotton
- Hemp decreases land use and deforestation by producing higher yields in the same space
- Hemp plants return healthy nutrients to the soil while many other crops degrade it
- Hemp grows exponentially faster than trees providing more material for production
- Hemp’s natural resistance to pests, diseases and fungi means farmers can use significantly fewer chemicals (e.g., pesticides, fungicides)
In summarizing the benefits of hemp, The Daily Nexus wrote: “It is drought-resistant, making it an ideal crop in the dry western regions of the country. It can yield 10 tons per acre in four months, and because it grows at such a rapid pace, it chokes out other weeds on its own; it does this with little to no chemical fertilizer assistance. Incredibly, hemp seed improves the soil on which it is sown. Yield has also been known to increase readily with subsequent harvests, making it a remarkably efficient and cheap harvesting process when compared with other agriculture.”
Likewise, the Journal of the International Hemp Association highlighted studies that show hemp plants are natural pest repellents that “deter insects, nematodes, fungi and weedy plants” and repel mites, weeds, fungi, bacteria and protozoans. By simply utilizing hemp in crop rotation practices, the plant can improve the soil and help farmers more effectively grow other crops. By comparison, cotton plants grow on three percent of all crop-based land, but they receive 35 percent of the world’s insecticides and pesticides.”
Hemp epitomizes sustainable agriculture, but its environmental impact doesn’t stop at the cultivation level. Products made from hemp include food, fabric, face creams, paper, soap, oils, biofuel and building materials, and the use of such products further enhances sustainability.
For example, the Sourcing Journal looked at hemp as a sustainable alternative to cotton and explained the role hemp can have in making denim: “Hemp plays well with other fibers, generously sharing its innate strength and durability. For a brand like Levi’s, which is trying to minimize its water use, cottonized hemp’s potential to fill in for a thirsty crop like cotton has tremendous appeal.”
The study noted that the amount of cotton used in a pair of jeans requires about 2,565 liters of water to grow, but making the same jeans with a 30-percent hemp blend can reduce the water requirement by a third.
Studies in Thailand, Italy and Slovakia highlight the value of hemp-based building materials for the construction industry. In particular, the Slovakian researchers said, “The [hemp] composites exhibited promising physical, thermal and mechanical characteristics, generally comparable to commercially available products… [and] have the advantage of a significantly low environmental impact (thanks to the nature of both the dispersed and the binding phase) and no negative effects on human health.”
Another Italian study even found that hemp-lime composite actually improves a building’s energy classification compared to traditional plaster.
When it comes to heating those homes, a study conducted in Moldova praised hemp biomass as an alternative and upgrade to traditional heating oil. The researchers went so far as to say hemp could “contribute [to] solving the energy situation in Moldova.”
Sustainability aside, the economics can also favor hemp. The crop grows faster, requires less land and water usage, improves the soil, resists pests and fungus, and features strong fibers that represent an upgrade on many existing materials. For farmers alone, the profit margins for growing hemp plants could be nearly double that of staple crops like soy.
Saving money and the planet? No wonder hemp is the ultimate green-friendly crop.