The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is known for its e-waste advocacy work—for two decades, the group has advocated for electronics companies to eliminate toxic chemicals in products and increase end-of-life responsibility. And while solar panels may not be the first type of e-waste that comes to mind, solar companies do face many of the same issues as traditional electronics manufacturers. Hence the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition's new Solar Company Scorecard.
"We're looking at some of the same life cycle issues and supply chain issues as with electronics manufacturers. At the beginning of last year we did a report on the environmental impact of solar—it's very similar to electronics in terms of microchip manufacturing," explained Sheila Davis, the executive director of SVTC. To that end, the scorecard focuses on four factors: extended producer responsibility and takeback, supply chain monitoring and green jobs, chemical use and life-cycle analysis, and disclosure (AKA transparency).
The results are fairly heartening. Out of the 14 responding companies, 57% of respondents would support mandatory takeback and recycling programs, 50% have undertaken analysis of their supply chain to document the social and environmental impacts, and 50% said that they provide recycling services free of charge. Still, there's a long way to go before the solar companies surveyed can truly be considered green. Six companies report that their products contain lead, though all of them plan a phase-out eventually. And three companies have products that contain toxic cadmium compounds. None have plans to phase them out.
Overall, though, the SVTC has high hopes for the solar industry. "We got a decent number of responses . There are a number of companies that were considering these issues and willing enough to respond to a scorecard," Davis said. "It's important to start to measure sustainability now. We're hoping it will become a competitive issue."