Originally published on the ECOreport
The Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition (SVTC) has been grading the solar industry since 2009, and aside from SolarWorld, “which always had an interest in corporate social responsibility,” there was very little disclosure when they started. A lot has changed since then and the newly released sixth annual solar scorecard shows a marked improvement over last year.
Solar Companies Are More Transparent
SVTC’s Executive Director, Sheila Davis, said the solar industry’s response compared favorably with that of the electronic industry, which she has reviewed for 15 years:
“The solar industry is making much more rapid change in their environmental practices. I think that is largely because the electronic industry was first and largely resistant to doing any kind of environmental reporting. Times have changed and people are much more concerned about these issues. When I say people I mean customers, investors, and large institutions.”
“Investors want to know what the environmental profile of a green commodity is, that all elements of the production are green. People working in the solar industry want to do good too, and I think that’s part of it too,” added Dustin Mulvaney, SVTC Science Advisor and Assistant Professor at San Jose State University.
SVTC laid out a foundation of the kind of information they thought was valuable and the industry is responding.
“It’s neat to see that when a new company starts reporting, they are using a framework that we set out. Five years ago none of these companies had anything on their websites, Every year there are more companies adding information about their emissions,” said Mulvaney.
This will increase over the next year and a half, as the SVTC scorecard becomes a formal standard.
How They Are Scored
Companies are scored, out of a possible 100 points, on categories like “Extended Producer Responsibility,” “Worker Rights, Health, and Safety,” “Emissions Transparency,” etc. This year’s leaders were
- Sun Power – 97 points
- Solarworld – 94
- Trina – 93
They were all among the six PV manufacturers that had extensive chemical emissions disclosure and reporting on their websites. The other three were JA Solar, AUO and Sharp.
Sixteen companies reported one or more categories of emissions (hazardous waste, heavy metals, air pollution, ozone depleting substances, landfill disposal), which is three more than last year.
Improvements Over the Years
SVTC has observed a number of other improvements over the years.
There is too much variation in recycling regulations from state to state.
Some solar modules are still ending up in landfills, but in California there is legislation requiring that they must be handled as hazardous waste.
Though it is almost impossible for solar manufacturers to trace 100% of their minerals back to source, some companies are making an excellent attempt. SunPower has done an excellent job of documenting its efforts and can say most of its tin comes from smelters that are conflict free.
There was very little guidance in 2005, when close to 22 million acres of public lands in the desert were opened up for solar development. This led to harm of both special status species and biodiversity. After years of research, in 2013 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) identified several hundred thousand acres that were preferred for development.
“This guided companies to where they could site solar projects and have very low biodiversity conflicts. Now that the BLM has the authority, if someone comes with a solar power plant in a place that might not have the highest level of protection that the BLM offers for conservation, but does have some ecological value, the BLM can say no,” said Mulvaney.
He added that now, “We don’t see very many companies proposing new projects in areas of conflict.”
Photo Credits: SolarWorld Recycling solar panels in 2009 from Spot Us via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License);Inside the Solar World manufacturing facility in 2009 from Oregon Department of Transportation via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2./0 License); SVTC’s Solar Scorecard;First Solar Desert Sunlight Solar Farm from US Department of the Interior via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
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