An intro to sustainability at Alta Flora

Sustainability means different things to different people; it is a concept with a wide range of interpretations that are often easily confused. Should you want to familiarise yourself, our friend André Gonçalves at Youmatter recently put together a great overview of all terms sustainable. It’s important to note that sustainability does not just encompass environmental issues; social issues are equally as important, as we will explore further below.

The most widely used definition of sustainable development comes from the seminal UN 1987 Brundtland Commission report Our Common Future: “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

At Alta Flora, we see sustainable development as the backbone of all growth. We are focused on medicinal cannabis (amongst other things), and it pains us to see that in the medicinal cannabis industry the needs of current generations are already compromised: present medical requirements of patients are largely being neglected, to the extent that, at times, it doesn’t look possible to meet future needs. 

As the cannabis industry has emerged from the shadows of global prohibition, different flavours of framework and growth models have been utilised. In North America, we have seen an industry grow with inspiration from regulatory frameworks traditionally applied to vice industries, notably tobacco & alcohol. In 2020, the context of Black Lives Matter (BLM) efforts to highlight social injustices in the US has meant that the ‘racist War on Drugs’ is now a significant political issue in the US, and cannabis is being reframed around principles of social justice.

Europe is taking its inspiration for cannabis regulatory frameworks from pharmaceuticals. Although regulations are changing and production is coming online, there are still major hurdles for patient access to cannabis based medicine. Healthcare regulators and those writing guidelines simply require the same evidence for cannabis as for all other medicines. However, while many patients know how important their medicine is, this type of evidence for safe, cost-effective use for specific indications with dosing guidance is lacking.

We are patient advocates at Alta Flora, and feel we have a duty to help meet patient needs. We are striving to do this through Eva, our recently launched app that serves to build evidence bases for greater, responsible use. We believe in capturing large sets of real world data, and are working towards unified standards to ensure on-going quality of care and safety of medicinal cannabis patients. More on Eva in our CEO Gavin’s blog post here

Check out some great work on how cannabis can contribute to the SDGs from our friends at FAAAT

More broadly, the UN views data as having a key role to play in the transition to a more sustainable society, and greater evidence bases will serve to meet various sustainable development goals. The UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (or IEAG for short!) recommended efforts be made in fostering and promoting innovation to fill data gaps. In our view, our app Eva directly addresses and supports this principle. The UN is also a key authority for medicinal cannabis, particularly in respect to the upcoming verdict of the CND regarding the WHO’s recommendations to reschedule medicinal cannabis. We also hope to contribute to the on-going medical cannabis consultation process with evidence and data from disparate sources in the efforts to help create fairer models for the future. 

The social purpose of Eva is ultimately to give a voice to the patient anywhere – lowering the cost of doing research in order to address the needs of underserved communities and under-researched conditions wherever possible.

Purpose: to empower our community to take control of their healthcare through data

While we believe we have a strong social purpose, we feel we can do more as a company. Indeed, “No sustainable development is possible without a sustainable development of corporations” (Schaltegger et al., 2012). Business fundamentally impacts society and the environment, and companies must take the initiative in reconciling this impact. We aim to incorporate sustainability across all our activities, and to do so, two key acronyms stand out for business practices: CSR and ESG.

👉Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) involves just that, ‘responsibility’. However, this points to less direct action, often in the form of ‘giving back’ to society. CSR is often perceived as an approach that allows for the offsetting of corporate ills, rather than the direct action in healing them. CSR is also quite subjective in how it is applied, for what determines whether one cause is more worthy than another? Not only this, but CSR is most relevant to large corporations that have sufficient resources to devote to ‘giving back’, and can be perceived as a marketing tool, a type of greenwashing.

🤜Environmental Social Governance (ESG) on the other hand involves the direct incorporation of a wide range of sustainability impacts into one’s core business activities. It more fully recognises the role of business in causing such problems, and as a result, allows for more effective solutions. It is also becoming widely used by financial analysts, as companies can now quantify their impact more effectively through recognised reporting frameworks, driving tangible actions to be taken by managers. Indeed, there are economic incentives behind ESG investing, companies that are run sustainably are, simply put, in it for the long-term, and they increasingly outperform their rivals. Finally, there is a particular need for industry wide integration of ESG in the global cannabis industry; it has been reported that many people have lost substantial sums investing in cannabis, and many of those who have benefited financially have often not had the best interests of the industry at heart nor appear to have followed good governance principles.

At Alta Flora, we seriously challenge the notion that incorporating policies, practices and innovative methods to support research of ESG issues is something later-stage startups or large corporations do. We have rooted our approach to and define the meaning of sustainability in terms of ESG. Although we are a start-up, we are not cutting corners in our approach to sustainability, and are intent on meeting patient needs while not harming others.

In our view, the medicinal cannabis industry presents an opportunity for great gains in ESG by transitioning the illicit market into formalised, regulated, pharmaceutical and agricultural channels. As a new industry, we have the rare opportunity of being able to implement sustainable, responsible governance from the beginning, and should strive to set an example to other disciplines.

A few things we have done so far:

✅ Social Culture 
People are at our core. Our team comprises high integrity, relentlessly resourceful and empathetic individuals with unique skill sets and professional experiences. We are a people centric business with core values of resilience, social, economic and ecological responsibility. We’re flexible and have a communicative, open and supportive team environment as well as clear policies in place to provide help and support our team members – no matter what the situation. We are transparent about initiatives we decide to participate in. We use our social media platform to raise awareness and share our resources and insights for free:
https://bit.ly/AltaFloraMH
https://bit.ly/AltaFloraHouseSafe
https://bit.ly/AltaFloraFriends

✅ Effective, Good Governance
Operating in the most transparent way possible and applying ethics and good governance in all we do doesn’t stop at our team culture. This extends all the way to any third party soliciting, retaining business for Alta Flora or providing any services, investors or similar. 

We have built in robust ‘Know your Business’ processes and policies from the start. We run through those checks whenever we are looking to work with anyone, go into business with anyone new or are accepting new investment. We are compliant with Anti-Money Laundering regulation and actively stand against corruption, bribery and modern slavery. We go far further than any traditional start-up. We ask all we work with to adhere to the same or similar Good Governance principles. If you would like to find out more about our process, please give us a shout at [email protected] 

✅ Responsible Patient Outreach
We have engaged in effective and transparent coordination with patient groups, notably our continued engagement through pro-bono work and donations. Smaller things such as offering our office space for meetings and connecting patient groups with professional service firms from within our network can also bring big results. We are very proud of our relationships with patient groups, indeed, the recent announcement of our partnership with the OPCM in Portugal spurs us on hugely.

✅ Stewards of Nature 
We believe in the therapeutic effects of nature, and we are a tech company – meaning, a no paper company. We work hard to minimise e-waste to help conserve resources and reduce the amount of energy we take from the earth. How? We look for devices and work tools with multiple functions. We extend the life of all of our electronics – have a protective case; keep our devices clean – avoiding overcharging the battery (where possible) 

✅ Data Privacy is a social and ethical issue
We are early adopters of and have signed up to Tim Berners’ plan to reinvent the web https://bit.ly/AltaFloraBetterWorld, particularly resonating with Principle 5: Respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust, and Principle 6: Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst.

Whilst we recognise that we all benefit from large and diverse sets of interlinked information, as a result of the missteps that some companies and organisations have made in the past around data handling and privacy, we – the people, increasingly view this benefit as being delivered at the cost of individual privacy (a fundamental human right).  New technologies can be a huge benefit to the human race and to make sure they are effective, used for the good – people need to understand them. 

Fostering trust and transparency is of crucial importance to Alta Flora.  We will publish a lot more about our approach to Data, Privacy and the Web in time, but in the first instance we have worked very hard to: (i) design the right product in the right way and (ii) to make sure we disclose information in our privacy policy about how any data will be used in a clear, easy to read way https://bit.ly/AltaFloraPrivacyPolicy (any amendments to it will be automatically made publicly available on our website).  

Highlights include:
🔥 we have disabled Cookies (this is why you will not see the long form pop up on our website or hear about Cookies in our app or content material)
👉🏼 we don’t sell your personal data to any third party 
👉🏼 we strongly believe in data minimisation principles and are GDPR compliant
🔥 we give you control over your data and access to it 

As business development manager I am fortunate to be supported by Alta Flora in my studies at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership. My research is focused on Alta Flora and the sustainability of new ventures, and I will be exploring key issues in data security and creating tech for good. Certification and collaboration initiatives are particularly important in building new projects, and I hope to reach out to many of you reading this as I formulate a strategic action plan for Eva to generate maximum positive social impact.

We will also shortly be releasing results of a stakeholder survey that explored ESG issues in the particular case of the medicinal cannabis industry. This asked a range of key industry figures how pressing they perceived various sustainability issues. Most notably, ‘restricted patient access to medicine’, ‘lack of patient supervision and care’, and ‘lack of evidence and education’, were perceived as the most important issues that need to be resolved to ensure the sustainable growth of the industry. 

We have reached a tipping point with many ESG issues, not least climate change; and growth in the sustainable business sector mirrors developments in the medicinal cannabis industry. As more research becomes available, more progress is made, and more enthusiasm grows, the moment is now for both to have their time in the sun.