Measuring Solar Industry's Sustainability

Scorecard ranks solar manufacturers' impact on environment and human rights.

Solar power has been hailed as a cleaner and more environmentally friendly form of energy, but that doesn't necessarily mean solar-power manufacturers are engaging in sustainable business practices.

Nonprofit environmental organization the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition said March 23 it has created a solar company scorecard that ranks 14 manufacturers of solar photovoltaic modules that responded to a survey that measured factors, including environmental health and safety, sustainability, workers' rights and social justice.

The top three scores were earned by German manufacturers Calyxo, SolarWorld and Sovello, scoring 90, 88 and 73 respectively. The two U.S.-based respondents, First Solar and Abound, received mid-range scors of 67 and 63, respectively.

The responding companies represented 24% of the 2008 module market share and 31% of the cumulative market share.

Other findings include:

  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents would support mandatory take-back and recycling programs in the markets where they sell solar panels.
  • 42.8% of companies are setting aside money to finance the collection and disposal of end-of-life panels and 50% said that they provide recycling services free of charge.
  • 50% have undertaken analysis of their supply chain to document the social and environmental impacts associated with different production phases.
  • 36% of companies said that they conduct lifecycle analyses or risk assessments on new chemicals, including nanomaterials.

"The solar industry needs high corporate responsibility standards if it is to fulfill its potential as a truly sustainable industry," said Seb Beloe, head of sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) research at Henderson Global Investors, which sponsored the survey. "Supporting SVTC's groundbreaking research was significant because it is the first time that the social and environmental performance of solar companies has been assessed and compared."

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