Many believe that because solar panels are a "clean technology," solar manufacturers are adhering to socially responsible practices. A new study by a nonprofit watchdog group reveals that this is not always the case.
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) just published a 2010 report on the CSR practices of cleantech companies along with a Solar Scorecard that rates more than 50 of the world's top solar producers.
It turns out the industry is, as a whole, not terribly "clean." The scorecard is based on four categories of social responsibility — recycling and take-back programs, monitoring supply chain & green jobs, lifecycle analysis and toxics, corporate transparency.
The three top performers were all, not surprisingly, German — Calyxo, SolarWorld and Sovello. Two U.S.-based companies — First Solar and Abound — did fairly well at 67 & 63 points respectively out of a possible score of 100. At the bottom of the pile with a truly miserable score of 16 was Chinese JA Solar.
Roughly 13 percent of the companies surveyed still used lead but all have plans in place to phase out the material. Only 13 percent of the companies have a take-back recycling program in place for old PV cells, but the same number are in the process of committing funds to start a take-back program. Only half of the solar companies surveyed even analyze the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains.
It could be worse, but it also could be a whole lot better, especially considering that these are likely the BEST of the solar manufacturers out there. Only 25 percent of the top manufacturers contracted even completed the SVTC survey, indicating the possibility that many solar companies out there are concerned about their clean and green image being tarnished by not-so-responsible practices.