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New scorecard rates solar companies on sustainability, green product lifecycle

The mission in life of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (well, at least ONE of its missions) is to hold technology companies accountable for the entire lifecycle of the products they create.Given the high profile of solar in the Valley, the organization has created its first Solar Company Scorecard, which ranks solar photovoltaic module manufacturers on everything from environmental health programs to sustainability to workers' rights.

The mission in life of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (well, at least ONE of its missions) is to hold technology companies accountable for the entire lifecycle of the products they create.

Given the high profile of solar in the Valley, the organization has created its first Solar Company Scorecard, which ranks solar photovoltaic module manufacturers on everything from environmental health programs to sustainability to workers' rights.

Sheila Davis, executive director of the coalition, says about 200 surveys were sent out to solar companies: so the information included in the scorecard is self-reported. In all, 14 companies returned surveys, which Davis says represents about one-quarter of all the modules produced in 2008. Davis notes that not all of the companies contacted actually have products on the market yet, although the coalition included them in its scorecard survey with the hope that they would consider product lifecycle concerns from materials selection to disposal even BEFORE they have produced products. "Recycling is not an option, it has to be embedded in your business processes from the beginning," she says.

Ironically, solar panels have one of the longest potential useful lifespans of pretty much any technology. What other technology can you think of that has a warranty of 20 years?

The top-scoring companies were three German manufacturers: Calyxo, SolarWorld and Sovello. First Solar and Abound (both from the United States) fell in the middle of the pack. Incidentally, a score of "0" doesn't mean that a company has failed abysmally on the scorecard. It means that the company failed to respond.

Davis says she was surprised and pleased with how much attention some of the companies are paying to issues of sustainability this early in the industry's development. Calyxo, the top ranked company, even has a supply chain code of conduct in place to guide its business partners.