EPISODE #21 Corporate Social Responsibility with Toby Shillito, Cannabis Investor and Entrepreneur

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In this episode, we speak to Toby Shillito, a Cannabis entrepreneur who has been deeply integrated within the space for 25 years, he holds an MBA from London Business School and is currently CEO of Sunshine Labs, a provider of legal Cannabis flowers and derivatives based in Europe, which seeks to carry out business responsibly. 

Together, we speak about corporate social responsibility within the cannabis industry, what businesses can be doing and should be doing, the environmental impact of production, and the opportunities in which legislation brings. 

Podcast Episode Summary 

  • Corporate social responsibility as defined by Toby is ‘thinking beyond the traditional borders of the company’. A socially responsibly company needs to think about the position in society and the power they have through their operations to affect society and the environment positively. 

  •  Generally, we are seeing companies operating in a more transparent manner as prohibition is decreasing. More companies are thinking about the positive and negative environmental impacts and companies have an opportunity and duty to operate within certain limits. For example, working with suppliers to decarbonise the impact of goods sold to a company, recycling packaging waste, and to think about how other waste materials are disposed of.

  • The cultivation of the cannabis plant within prohibition is incredible devastating - the cultivation of plants is generally indoors, as growers consider growing in natural conditions too risky. This means that an incredible amount of electricity is being used to power grow operations for lights. It is estimated that 8% of California’s national grid power is used on cultivation. 

  • Electricity is the obvious answer here, but we also need to think about the ways in which clandestine growers dispose of their waste. It cannot be recycled for the fear of giving up their identities and losing their businesses.

  • Rockwool or coconut husk (coir) are usually used as soil substitutes when growing in an indoor hydroponic environment, both of which are environmentally damaging. 

  • Coconut husks are cultivated in tropical countries by low paid workers, sometimes children and rockwool is made from heating mineral rocks to thousands of degrees before spinning the substance into thick sheets which are then packed in plastic and transported across the world.

  • The end of prohibition means that business can start growing outdoors again - using the sun’s natural light as a source of energy. This means you get a truly natural product which is sun grown and has all the conditions you would expect from the plant which have evolved over its evolution. 

  • Under prohibition there is no incentive for a brand to speak about how they have run their business in a sustainable way, as we move towards legalisation - the brands who show this will become the most popular as they promote themselves as socially and environmentally sustainable. 

  • CSR also involves people - how are staff treated? Do workers enjoy their jobs? Are they satisfied with their working conditions? In clandestine cultivations, children are often trafficked and are made to work in dangerous conditions and workplaces unable to leave.

  • Previously, supply chains were messy and the market was inefficient. Consumers were also paying a prohibition for their products. As prohibition retreats, we are now consuming more regulated products which have been tested and have to conform to many domestic and international laws and policies. We now have scientific knowledge to be able to recommend a certain product for a certain ailment. 

  • We can also test for the presence of solvents, pesticides, heavy metals and fertilisers within our products which is hugely important focus for CBD producers and retailers who want to make sure the product they are selling is legitimate.

  • Toby’s journey with Cannabis started when he was a teenager, smoking Moroccan Hashish at the weekends, he went onto work in the city, receive an MBA, and then onto setting up 20 grow operations in Northern Europe. Toby then expanded his business endeavours into Northern Europe and became the supplier of flowers and extracts for many Barcelona based Cannabis social clubs. 

Quotables

  • Prohibition creates the conditions for a less environmentally positive set of operations  05:10

  • As prohibition retreats, companies have an opportunity and duty to be seen to operate within certain environmental limits 03:15


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