It’s the sustainable material that’s been in use for more than 10,000 years.
Hemp - a variety of the cannabis sativa plant species - can produce everything from fibres to building materials, but its usage declined in Western countries in the 20th century due to legal restrictions.
But the material’s versatility and low carbon credentials mean it is now staging a comeback.
Two innovative companies using hemp to transform buildings and fashion have joined the second phase of the renowned Climate-KIC Accelerator programme at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), which runs until the end of the year.
Scott Simpson of Industrial Nature, a firm that produces building blocks and insulation from hemp crops, and Sam Whitten, whose company Hemp Eyewear is hoping to displace plastic frames with a sustainable alternative, join six other fledgling Scottish businesses to receive dedicated coaching, workshops and funding of up to 20,000 euros to help their business take off.
“Hemp is the most renewable resource on Earth – and we wanted to do something with it that hadn’t been done before,” said Whitten, whose firm is based in Edinburgh.
A product design graduate of Glasgow Caledonian university, the 26-year-old grew up in the village of Broughton in Peeblesshire and started his own firm making handcrafted luxury sunglasses and fashion accessories earlier this year.
The accelerator he has joined is part of Climate-KIC – the EU’s biggest climate entrepreneurship support programme, which ECCI brought to Scotland for the first time earlier this year. Through the Climate-KIC programme, ECCI is providing innovators in Scotland with dedicated support to develop a solid business plan and develop into commercially successful businesses which help drive the move to a zero carbon society.
Both Industrial Nature and Hemp Eyewear are at the vanguard of forging new ways to bring hemp into the mainstream as a material which can have a massive climate impact by reducing the use of concrete and plastic or other oil-based products, and cutting down the impact of the production and construction process in their respective industries.
Whitten plans to move into jewellery, clothing and even sustainable architecture in the next couple of years.
His products are all made out of cannabis - but they could not get you high.
Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, they are distinct strains with unique biochemical compositions. Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol, which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects. A licence is required to grow hemp in the UK.
Hemp is attractive to commercial concerns as it is easy to grow, even in poor soil, requires no weedkillers and consumes less water than other plants during cultivation.
The crop is considered to be one of the least environmentally damaging available.
Whitten currently sources his industrial hemp from legal suppliers in eastern Europe but soon hopes to be able to grow his own crops in Scotland.
He added: “It’s a leading-edge sustainable technology that turns organic plant fibre into solid material that is lighter and stronger than carbon fibre,” he said.
“The applications for this are almost limitless, but more importantly it is made from a renewable resource.”