How Toxic Are Solar Panels? Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Solar Scorecard 2013
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) moments ago released its annual Solar Scorecard. I had the opportunity to talk with Sheila Davis, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, last week in advance of the official release. Below are some key notes from the official release and from my chat with Sheila.
Unfortunately, one of the main general findings from the latest SVTC study is that “most of the solar industry’s environmental practices remain hidden from the public.” If you’re not familiar with the SVTC Solar Scorecard, that openness has been a major focus up until now.
2013 Solar Scorecard Results
“The SVTC Solar Scorecard ranks manufacturers of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules according to a range of environmental, sustainability and social justice factors. In its fourth year of requesting environmental information from solar companies, SVTC is concerned: only ten companies representing 34.6 percent of the PV module market share responded to the 2013 SVTC survey and more than 25 percent of the top 40 solar companies fail to make almost any environmental information publicly available on their websites.” (Emphasis added.)
Not a great response and not great openness from the solar PV industry. Sheila emphasized on that call that, even if the companies chose not to respond to the survey, they should have some basic information about their solar practices on their websites. I’d agree, and it’s disappointing to find out that many of them aren’t doing so, including some major players.
Here are some more interesting (if depressing) statistics from this year’s survey:
- Three of the top 40 PV manufacturers (REC, SolarWorld, Yingli) share with the public extensive chemical emissions disclosure and reporting.
- Twelve of the top 40 PV manufacturers post annual hazardous chemical reduction targets on their websites or in sustainability reports.
- The number of companies with fully funded Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes in the PV industry dropped from one to zero. First Solar, the only major company with a fully-funded EPR program for the last three years, has eliminated its EPR program in most of its US-based sales.
- Trina Solar (77), Yingli (75), and SunPower (69), earned overall top scores for 2013. SolarWorld and REC earned the highest scores for sharing information about their emissions with the public.
Additionally, Sheila noted that leading solar manufacturers JA Solar, Jinko Solar, and Hanwha SolarOne didn’t reveal any information regarding their environmental or social practices. Furthermore, these companies scored in single digits (from a possible 100 points). That means that SVTC’s researchers couldn’t find the answers on the companies’ websites to almost any of the environmental questions from its Scorecard questionnaire. Pretty lame….
Sheila was clear on the call that she sees solar as one of the key solutions to our various environmental crises (such as global warming). However, being “green companies” by nature, these solar manufacturers should also be leading in other environmental and social ways, and they should be open about the environmental and social effects they are having. Clearly, this isn’t the story.
You might be curious what SVTC’s history is, and how it came to conduct these annual Solar Scorecards. Sheila told me that SVTC was started over 30 years ago in San Francisco in response to local groundwater issues in the Bay Area that were a result of the budding microelectronics industry. When cleantech started to come onto the scene, members of the organization noticed that very similar technology was being used, and they wanted to be proactive about making sure the solar industry — with a clear reputation as a green industry — followed environmentally friendly production practices and didn’t risk being targeted as a hypocritical industry.
It has been conducting the SVTC Solar Scorecard for several years now, and we have been covering it year after year. Unfortunately, I was hoping to see more progress this year.
It’s Not Just About The Environment & Social Justice
One important thing to note is that the effect of poor environmental or social practices, as well as not reporting one’s practices, is not just a bad thing for the environment and society — it’s also a bad business practice in a world in which that is increasingly a norm and increasingly important. This is not something investors want to see.
“Weak environmental and social reporting reflects poorly on a company’s risk management,” said Steven Heim, a managing director, Boston Common Asset Management, LLC, a SVTC Solar Scorecard sponsor. “Solar companies that score in the single digits for several years in a row should be a red flag for investors.”