Trina, Yingli, SunPower top Solar Scorecard

Industry watchdog and consumer advocacy group Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) released its annual Solar Scorecard on Tuesday in which it evaluates leading photovoltaic companies’ commitment to environmental protection, sustainability and social justice.

While Trina Solar, Yingli and SunPower boasted the top scores, SVTC warned that fewer companies responded to its survey this year and more than 25% of the top 40 solar companies failed to make almost any environmental information publically available on their website.

The California-based SVTC publishes the scorecard as "a resource for consumers, institu­tional purchasers, investors, installers, and anyone who wants to purchase PV modules from respon­sible product stewards."

The watchdog scored 40 companies this year, representing an estimated 82.8% of the PV industry market share. Over­all, 49.5% of the 2013 PV industry (based on market share) has responded to at least one SVTC Solar Scorecard survey. Among those, ten companies representing 34.6% of the PV module market share responded to the survey, representing a decline from 51.1% in 2012 due largely to the bankruptcy of several former participants and declining market shares of other major producers.

In addition to company surveys, SVTC has augmented its research methodology for the Solar Scorecard to include prior survey responses and addi­tional sources such as interviews, news stories and publicly available data and information.

The organization found that among the top 40 PV manufacturers, REC, SolarWorld and Yingli share with the public extensive chemical emissions disclosures and reporting. In addition, 12 manufacturers post annual hazardous chemical reduction targets on their websites or in sustainability reports.

However, the number of companies with fully funded Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes – collec­tion and recycling programs for end-of-life PV modules produced globally — dropped from one to zero. First Solar, the only major company with a fully-funded EPR program for the last three years, eliminated it this year in most of its U.S.-based sales.

With a possible maximum score of 100 from 12 categories, including emissions transparency, chemical reduction, worker health, module toxicity and recycling, Trina Solar topped the Scorecard with 77 points, followed by Yingli with 75 and SunPower with a score of 69.

"Just because a solar company is in the general industry of renewable energy and sustainability doesn’t mean it’s actually practicing those same goals," noted SVTC executive director Sheila Davis. "We’re finding that most companies are riding the coat tails of a small group of environmental leaders. It’s alarming how many solar companies fail to post environmental data on their website and also ignore SVTC’s request for information. Hiding this information from the public puts the entire industry’s ‘green’ reputation at risk."

SVTC estimates that the 14% drop in its survey response is due to bankruptcy of former participants and the declining market shares of major PV producers. However, more investors are expecting that standard business practices now include sharing environmental information.

"Weak environmental and social reporting reflects poorly on a company’s risk management," said Steven Heim, a managing director at Boston Common Asset Management, a SVTC Solar Scorecard sponsor. "Solar companies that score in the single digits for several years in a row should be a red flag for investors."

SVTC plans to update the scores in December 2013 to show companies’ progress.