A New Scorecard Ensures That Clean Tech Stays Clean

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I’m just back from the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, wanted to note a new ranking of global solar companies coming from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC). It’s not a ranking of the best solar panel companies, or the ones with the biggest sales. Instead, SVTC has analyzed which solar companies do the best job of minimizing the toxic waste that comes along with photovoltaic panel manufacturing—and which ones really don’t deserve the title “cleantech.”

It might sound surprising—isn’t all cleantech clean?—but solar panels require toxic ingredients that can cause local environmental problems if they’re not cared for properly. (Much the same problem is posed with electronic waste, or e-waste.) The SVTC rankings looked at manufacturing, recycling, worker health and safety and disclosure. “We’re looking to ensure that solar actually stays green and clean,” says Sheila Davis, the executive director of SVTC.

American companies apparently have a way to go. The winner was Germany’s Solar World. In second place—perhaps surprisingly—was a Chinese company called Trina Solar, with a pair of U.S. companies tied for third. More worryingly, though, is that a number of solar firms declined to participate in SVTC’s survey, meaning the results are incomplete. That should change—if solar power really is going to scale up, we need to ensure it’s being done in the right way, just as we try to do for any other energy source.