SunPower Releases First Sustainability Report in the Solar Industry

SunPower (SPWRA) has produced the first sustainability report in the solar industry.

"Our aim is to provide an accurate account of our sustainability performance, set a baseline for improvements and contribute to advancing sustainability in the solar industry," the report says.

80% of the world’s largest companies now disclose environmental, social, and corporate governance data in Sustainability Reports, up from only 52% in 2005, according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which provides the globally accepted framework for sustainability reporting.

Smaller companies, however, lag considerably in such reporting. Only four companies on the Russell 2000 index of small- to mid-cap companies reported on their greenhouse gas emissions last year, says Pax World, a sustainable asset management firm.

Most solar firms are small to medium-sized companies. Perhaps, because solar is considered a "clean" industry, companies don’t feel the necessity produce such a report. The electricity from solar is clean, but the processes and some materials needed to produce it, aren’t. We recently saw evidence of this when protests followed when Jinko Solar dumped hazardous waste into a river. And solar manufacturing is quite water intensive. 

Report Details

In 2010, SunPower deployed 545 MW of solar capacity, bringing its total cumulative capacity to 1.45 GW. By the end of 2011, the company expects it to exceed 2 GW. They have established solar panel recycling partnerships in the US and Europe, and is advancing an industry-wide take-back and recycling system in Europe.

Perhaps most importantly for a report of this kind, SunPower says it’s reduced carbon emissions 45% per megawatt (MW) of solar capacity. It’s target is to lower carbon emissions 50% by 2016.

With a wide range of energy efficiency improvements at SunPower facilities and innovations in manufacturing processes, the company says it’s made significant progress on reducing its carbon intensity and is on track to continue this trend.

Also of critical importance for an industry whose manufacturing process is water-intensive, SunPower reported it has reduced water consumption by 450 million gallons of fresh water each year relative to conventional water treatment systems, and plans to reduce total water consumption per MW of solar produced 5% annually.

SunPower is pursuing LEED certification for its headquarters, and says all new buildings will be LEED certified. It also plans to retrofit its existing buildings to meet LEED guidelines.

Last year, the company established the SunPower Sustainability Council to ensure focus, integration and accountability across the business and to provide overall direction for its sustainability initiatives.

We know that one of the key challenges we face is managing the full lifecycle of our products," says CEO Tom Werner in the report. "As a result, our vision is to establish a fully LEED certified "poly to panel" supply chain. We’ve already identified the major risks, opportunities and impacts from our supply chain activities and we have worked closely with our polysilicon, ingot, wafer, cell and manufacturing suppliers as they seek LEED certification for their facilities.

SunPower plans to introduce a comprehensive supply chain code of conduct in 2012 that will set out the principles of a sustainable solar supply chain.

Here’s the report:

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