While solar offers clean renewable energy, that doesn’t mean making PV has always been an entirely environmentally or socially responsible business. To address the issue, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and a growing number of solar companies are working to develop the voluntary Solar Industry Commitment to Environmental & Social Responsibility, which will ensure companies are operating ethically and cleanly.
“Solar is a sustainable energy and sustainability is of critical importance,” said John Smirnow, SEIA’s vice president of trade and competitiveness, during a recent press event. “Already we've seen some of the leading players in the industry sign on right now because of their commitment to sustainability.”
The commitment’s founding participants are Dow Solar, SunPower, Suntech, Trina, Yingli Solar, SunEdison and PV Recycling. At this point they are working to design guidelines that participating member will adhere to, which will include reporting of their efforts.
Among them are worker safety, solar panel collection and recycling, fire safety (to better protect firefighters when handling a PV array), managing their greenhouse gas emissions, and conducting lifecycle materials assessments.
“The market wants it,” said Suntech spokesperson Polly Shaw. “Our customers and our investors really want to see these commitments.”
She anticipated that as other companies see the early adopters are participating they will join. Already Suntech is seeing attention for the attempts to be more responsible.
The best practices that will come out of the commitment will be based somewhat on the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition’s Code of Conduct for semiconductor manufacturers and best practices from other places like countries in Europe.
“In Europe there's been a huge amount of attention on recycling, and that's fantastic. The amount of effort over a four-year period has been fantastic,” said Julie Blunden, senior vice president for SunPower, who also serves as chair of SEIA’s Environment, Health and Safety Committee, and vice chair of its Board of Directors. “We would like to import the best knowledge from Europe in the United States for that purpose,” she said.
As the group continues to work toward developing the commitment, it also hopes the best practices it promotes will spread internationally—after all, it is a global industry.