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AUTHOR: Heather Allman
PUBLISHER: CANNABIS LAW REPORT
Insights on Sustainable, Clean Cannabis With Jill Ellsworth, CEO of Willow Industries
Willow Industries – Whether you have a momentary need or are looking to implement an organic kill-step in your cultivation process, Willow systems provide clean and effective solutions to cannabis and hemp contamination. Our organic technology uses ozone to safely clean cannabis flower, hemp and trim without compromising quality, flavor or effect.
In fact, this is the only protective technology taken from agriculture and perfected specifically for cannabis.
WillowPure began in early 2015, with an unexpected phone call about the fact that Colorado had new cannabis testing laws, most notably that people’s first harvests were now subject to testing. Cannabis contamination—by mold or other means—was an industry-wide problem, and there were no solutions on the market. But a solution did seem possible.
Over the next few months, our garage became an R&D lab. And we tried everything. We started with high-pressure pasteurization, but that destroyed the flower. Then we moved to UV light, but it wasn’t powerful enough and—worse—we saw terpene loss.
Finally, after multiple rounds of testing, we arrived at ozone. This time, we saw great results. Ozone killed the microbials without altering the flower—our perfect solution! Four months later, we delivered the first operational WillowPure system to our first customer, and it was off to the races.
Since those early years, we’ve expanded into 22 new states, and kept the same core goal: to help cultivators provide clean, safe cannabis to consumers. And this will never change. Willow is a company built for cannabis, by people who care about cannabis, and we’re thrilled to see what the next chapter will bring.
On April 19, 2021, I talked at length with Jill Ellsworth, CEO of Willow Industries about Willow Pure and cannabis sustainability, her start in cannabis, the importance of authenticity, and advice for others in the industry.
CANNABIS LAW REPORT: Do you have a tagline, company-inspired saying, or favorite quote?
Jill Ellsworth: One of my favorite quotes is “What you seek is seeking you” which I interpret as the energy that someone puts out will come back to them – essentially the law of attraction.
I can relate this to the period of time where I was searching for my next move as an entrepreneur and concurrently the cannabis industry was seeking a solution to a big problem that I could solve.
CLR: How did you get into the cannabis space?
Jill: I was never seeking out cannabis, I was seeking out my next big idea, when the cannabis industry sought me out.
I began my career in the food and beverage industry, where I founded and sold one of the first cold press juice companies, Vibrant Earth Juices, and a beverage distribution company, Vibrant Earth Distribution.
At the same time that I was looking to make a career shift, a good friend who was a Colorado cultivator was faced with microbial contaminations. He reached out to me asking how I treated the bottled juices for my juice company, and I realized that there was an opportunity to share my knowledge of food safety with the emerging cannabis market.
CLR: Why focus specifically on the importance of –and practice of– renewability and sustainability and clean, regenerative methods, regarding cannabis?
Jill: First and foremost, cannabis is a plant. Any time we are harvesting and using something that comes from the earth, we want to make sure we are taking it in its purest form and doing our best to make sure we aren’t degrading or depleting earth’s resources. Just like with any industry tied to the land like the food and beverage spaces, sustainability is essential to its longevity.
CLR: Tell me about your 2020 cannabis year to present, and your general take on the current national cannabis landscape, explaining your perspective.
Jill: The United States saw a significant movement forward cannabis legalization in several new states throughout 2020 and into 2021, and at the same time, states that had already adopted legal markets began tightening up their regulations.
In our business, we saw the conversation around our services switch from sick care to preventative care in that cultivators began wanting to treat their flower before testing , as opposed to for decontamination. Overall, we are seeing more companies look at ways to improve their entire cultivation practice by ensuring their products are safe for consumers and that it is accomplished efficiently.
CLR: With COVID-19, what has been the business impact so far for Willow Industries? Are you as a company doing anything new or differently? How have things evolved?
Jill: Overall, we did not slow down in 2020. With more cannabis being produced due to increased consumption, we were seeing more products failing tests and in need of decontamination and cleaning.
Historically, we always have done our partner onboarding in person, so during the pandemic we really started to focus on our virtual onboarding processes. We had to start thinking of creative ways to show cultivators how to use our systems and how to keep them engaged throughout cultivation. We implemented ZolTrain, which has been really helpful.
Now that we’re back to in-person onboarding, we have been trying to keep up that creative ethos with our partners and make sure that everyone is happy and engaged with the system.
CLR: What is the mission and vision behind Willow Industries?
Willow Industries is built on one simple principle: cannabis businesses should have the resources they need to provide patients and consumers with consistently clean products.
The relationship with our cultivators goes beyond our WillowPure systems – it is a continuous partnership that supports the core of our industry. Our clean cannabis team works carefully with each cultivator, providing regulatory knowledge, expert cannabis solutions, and a tailored approach to each grow.
CLR: Explain to me how you “use Mother Nature as your partner,” so to speak.
Jill: Mother Nature gave us cannabis! More specifically to our business, Mother Nation provides oxygen which we turn into ozone creating the only organic decontamination method.
CLR: Tell me about your sustainability and renewability initiatives. Can you please give me a couple examples of how you’re addressing climate change/ sustainability and renewability at Willow Industries?
Jill: It is a well-known fact that this industry isn’t as green as many assume; however, we have made it so anyone using our product is not pulling a lot from the grid. Our WillowPure360 system requires a simple 120 outlet and uses about as much power as a dishwasher, while with radiation-based decontamination requires a great deal of power and water sources.
CLR: How do you maintain a balance between people and profits — are they exclusive?
Jill: I don’t think that they are exclusive. From an internal perspective, we have always been a people-centric company and we do everything we can to make sure we invest in the health and well-being of our team.
We cover 100% of our team’s health insurance, 50% of their dependents, and offer generous PTO, sick days, and mental health days. Putting our team first has allowed us to be profitable.
Looking outside Willow, our product exists to give consumers a safe plant to use medicinally and recreationally. Our fabric is people, and it’s important to us that consumers can be confident in the quality and safety of a product they are putting in their bodies.
CLR: What specific areas of the cannabis sphere do you view as having the most potential for growth and investment of time and money?
Jill: Ancillary services – businesses that support cultivation – will be the areas with the highest growth potential. This will especially be true for hardware and software manufacturers.
If you look at the gold rush, pick and shovel manufacturers made a profit, not the gold diggers themselves.
With the industry’s federal illegality, there are limitations to the investment and growth space for plant-touching businesses.
CLR: What is your foremost current goal at Willow Industries?
Jill: Our short term goal is to get more systems in the field and keep pushing our mission of “Clean Cannabis,” but the overall impact that we want to make is to get cultivators to think about healthy plants differently.
- We want to educate them on the many ways to build a healthy supply chain from the beginning, so they don’t have to resort to something harsh like irradiation and can use a gentler decontamination method like Willow.
- We also want them to see that value of putting out safe products for consumers because what people put in their bodies always matters.
- Lastly, we want to educate consumers so they know what to look for when purchasing cannabis products.
CLR: How do authenticity and consumer trust factor into your current course of action?
Jill: While we aren’t directly consumer-facing, we help brands and cultivators build consumer trust by making sure they can confidently and knowingly provide safe products to consumers.
“Just because something isn’t being enforced or otherwise emphasized today doesn’t mean the hammer won’t fall tomorrow.”
CLR: What would you like the future of cannabis sustainability to look like
Jill: We need to figure out as an industry how to get rid of the excess packaging that is required to create the tamper-proof, and child-proof packaging that you see on every cannabis product. There are a lot of great companies that have produced sustainable plastic alternatives, but we need it to be adopted as an industry norm.
CLR: What one piece advice have you learned along the way that you wish you someone had told you when you first started out?
Jill: I have learned that the cannabis industry does not move as fast as it looks like it does from the outside. In retrospect, I wish someone would have told me that highly regulated industries move very slowly when it comes to the adoption of new technology.
CLR: Currently, what is the best advice you can offer to other companies and individuals wanting to enter and operate in the current U.S. cannabis space?
Jill: I would advise them to do their due diligence and ensure that they have a comprehensive understanding of the market or the segment of the industry that they are entering. They also need to make sure there is a demand for their service or product, and that their segment isn’t already oversaturated.
Being creative and innovative will help accelerate your business, but at the end of the day you have to have a lot of perseverance.
CLR: What one thing you do in your line of work that you feel is the very most important, that makes the most impact? Why?
Jill: Outside of the basics of what we do to increase consumer safety, I think the conversations that we have with state regulators are very important.
I have worked directly with state regulators all over the country, educating them on the importance of decontamination – what it is, why it should be allowed, and how it allows the industry to really prosper. The regulators know they have to operate within very tight testing and compliance barriers, therefore, we help them understand that technologies like Willow must have a place in the supply chain.
I also really value the work environment that we have created at Willow Industries which is healthy, collaborative, and fosters growth.
FURTHER READING FOR CONTEXT
According to the market research group TrendSource and its 2019 Cannabis Industry Report, over 53 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for organic cannabis products.
No chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides are used to grow cannabis certified by PURE, whose standards go beyond USDA Organic by focusing on regenerative cultivation, farmer and farm-worker protections, and community engagement. Industrial indoor cannabis production consumes high volumes of energy and uses chemical inputs, whereas PURE Certified cannabis is cultivated on outdoor farms that strengthen habitats and build living soil.
Industrial indoor cannabis production consumes high volumes of electricity and puts the indoor cannabis industry at odds with efforts to mitigate the current climate crisis. According to a 2012 academic report, all cannabis grown in the US uses the same amount of energy it takes to power 1.7 million US homes, and generates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3 million cars.
More recently, the 2018 Cannabis Energy Report from New Frontier Data found that growing indoors uses 18 times more electricity and has a carbon footprint nearly 25 times larger than outdoor farms.