Despite boasting a better environmental profile than the fossil fuel industry, the PV industry can still make improvements to its manufacturing practices, according to a new report from corporate-responsibility nonprofit As You Sow.
The report describes best practices that solar manufacturers can take to protect workers and the environment during production. It also analyzes investor considerations regarding environmental, social and governance practices for responsible management of PV companies.
The analysis was compiled from a survey of over 100 solar manufacturers around the world, and best practices were determined via consultation with scientists, engineers, academics, government labs and industry consultants.
Responses indicated that many PV manufacturers beat standards set for emissions, are reducing water use and reusing water on their own initiatives, and are participating in voluntary international programs related to worker safety. Several companies also are using safer materials, relying on renewable energy to power energy-intensive processes, reducing waste by developing recycling programs that recover materials for reuse, and improving relations with workers and communities throughout their supply chains.
Overall, best practices for the industry include the following strategies:
– Implementing worker safety and public health protocols. First Solar, for instance, has a laboratory at each manufacturing facility to monitor treated water and ensure that outflows are safe.
– Reducing water use. Between 2006 and 2010, Suntech reduced its water use by 51% per megawatt by recycling discharged water and supplying it to its HVAC systems. SunPower, Suntech, and Trina Solar all clean and reuse water.
– Implementing producer responsibility programs. First Solar has a prefunded collection and recycling program that enables up to 95% of the semiconductor material to be reused in new modules. Abound Solar has a cradle-to-cradle program to reclaim hazardous compounds.
– Considering environmental and social criteria when selecting suppliers. Companies require their suppliers to implement environmental management systems and meet their standards for treatment of workers.
– Ensuring a system for audits that contain transparent criteria, corrective actions and regular auditing cycles. REC, SunPower and Suntech incorporate each of these into their auditing programs.
– Publishing corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. SunPower, Suntech and Trina Solar already publish CSR reports, and SolarWorld and Q-Cells publish integrated reports.
– Using recycled and recyclable materials. One company's panels are made from 85% recycled material and are themselves 100% recyclable and non-toxic, and Suntech uses easily recyclable materials.
– Linking executive compensation to environmental or safety metrics. Compensation for executives at SunPower is tied to environmental health and safety performance.