5th Annual Solar Scorecard Paves the Way for Environmental Sustainability

November 11th, 2014


By: Sheila Davis, Executive Director, SVTC

The results are in!

2014 marks the fifth consecutive year since the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) began releasing its Annual Solar Scorecard. In case you aren’t familiar with it, the SVTC Solar Scorecard ranks manufacturers of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules according to a range of environmental, sustainability and social justice factors.

At SVTC we believe that the solar PV sector should be safe for the environment, workers and communities. By sharing environmental practices with the public, the goal is to keep the PV sector transparent in a time where industry standards that define what it means to be “green” are far and few between.

In its fifth year of requesting environmental information from solar PVs, seven companies representing 25.2 percent of the total PV module market share responded to the 2014 SVTC survey — a significant decline from the response rate of 51.1 percent in 2012. This is of concern because many companies who are offering cheap products and hiding their environmental footprints are generally being rewarded by the market, which is undeniably accelerating the race to the bottom. Generally speaking, this is ironic since the whole idea behind solar power is to keep the world “green,” and achieving this is hard to do when companies are not idealizing environmental standards while manufacturing their so-called green products.

Let’s dive deeper into the Scorecard results (which can be found in full here):

First off, we’d like to pass on special recognition to both SolarWorld and Yingli, who have stepped up to the challenge and responded to our SVTC survey every year since 2010. Their commitment to environmental stewardship has remained consistent despite significant disruptions in the solar industry.

Moving on to the solar PV environmental leaders for our 2014 Scorecard, Trina tops the results scoring 92/100, followed closely by SunPower (88), Yingli (81), SolarWorld (73) and REC (71). Additionally, Trina, SunPower, SolarWorld and REC all perform extensive chemical emissions disclosure and reporting conducted by a third party.

SVTC 2014 Leaders

Beyond this, many of these same companies take the reins in innovation with the following leadership qualities:

  • SolarWorld is the only company that does extensive water impact reporting. This includes water use and wastewater discharge, which they report using several indicators of water quality.
  • Yingli is the only company to have its facilities certified by SA 8000.
  • Axitec and Trina are the only companies that have a code of conduct extending beyond Tier 1 of their supply chain.
  • SunPower also has developed a “Light-on-Land” policy that encourages the use of degraded lands for solar power plants instead of important habitats.

On a concerning note, zero companies can provide documentation to verify that their supply chains do not contain conflict minerals based on the due diligence guidelines set by the OECD. However, 12 companies have started the process to look into this.

To support ongoing efforts to keep up reporting standards, SVTC has recently partnered with renewable energy and green procurement leaders, as well as the nonprofit Green Electronic Council (GEC), to expand the Scorecard into a standard that meets the criteria of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) — a certification, if you will. By creating environmental leadership standards that are endorsed by multiple stakeholder groups, the final goal will be to have PV standards that meet the qualifications for consideration on the EPEAT Registry.

At the end of the day, SVTC’s hope (through its Solar Scorecard) is for commercial, government or residential purchasers of PV modules to make a long-term environmental commitment by choosing those PV modules that keep high environmental manufacturing standards. SVTC hopes the solar industry will become an exemplarily green business model focused on environmental sustainability and workplace safety.