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Solar Commitment: SEIA Environmental Initiative Grows

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is rolling out new developments for its evolving Solar Industry Commitment to Environmental and Social Responsibility (Solar Commitment) with the addition of three new members of its advisory group, BSR, As You Sew, and Boston Common. According to John Smirnow, the vice president of SEIA, in Washington, these new advisors will work with other organizations to help determine the reporting parameters for SEIA's first sustainability report, expected in first quarter 2013.

The new advisors also will help SEIA develop a handbook for expectations from Solar Commitment signatories, which is expected to be ready by the fourth quarter of this year, he notes. "Participants shall cooperate with SEIA’s Environment, Health & Safety Committee, and the sub-group Environmental & Social Responsibility Working Group, as well as the Solar Commitment Advisory Group, to further develop Key Performance Indicators (“KPIs”) to be reported publicly," SEIA's Declaration of Support notes.

The Solar Commitment underscores the industry's commitment tosustainability, Smirnow says. "We aren't going to publish a 125-pages ustainability report, but we will include broad indicators as well as specifics; itwill become increasingly rigorous, but the document is in its first stage now," he says. The SEIA, which announced the initiative in March, has seven foundingindustry participants: Dow Solar; SunPower; Suntech; Trina; Yingli Solar;SunEdison; and PV Recycling LLC. The document is intended to be of globalscope, as is the solar industry, and include the entire solar supply chain, henotes. About 40 international companies helped provide input for the planning ofthe Solar Commitment.

The SEIA Solar Commitment is the first of its kind among solar associations around the world, and is intended to serve as the model for other national solar associations that might choose to make similar commitments, Smirnow says. "We hope it will spread," he says. Among the linkages between the Solar Commitment and other global sustainability initiatives, SEIA has made a commitment to the United Nations-sponsored Sustainability for All program, pledging to gain 20 signatories for the SEIA Solar Commitment by 2013, Smirnow says. 

Apart from helping to foster the first Solar Commitment, the seven founding supporters also are committed to helping change their own organizations to meet the new industry standard. "They may already have sustainability programs within their own companies, but these representatives are committed to changing within their own organizations," Smirnow says. 

Among elements of the SEIA sustainability guidelines will be well-established elements of other organizations guidelines, and particularly, version 3.0 of the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct — developed by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) — which provides "guidelines for performance and compliance with critical CSR policies." Among the EICC issues covered are: labor; ethics; health and safety; environmental responsibility; human rights; and management systems. Solar-specific issues will be added, Smirnow says. 

The EICC Code "was developed through a multi-stakeholder process and is now being used by over 40 well-known ICT brands and over 1,000 of their suppliers, and it has been translated into sixteen languages," the EICC indicates. Over a dozen global sustainability standards will be adopted by the SEIA's Solar Commitment. Some of the industry standards expected to be included are the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration's OSHA18001, "committed to the highest occupational health and safety management standards," and Social Accountability's SA 8000, "broadly recognized by trade unions and Non-government organizations as one of the strictest workplace standards worldwide." Similarly, human rights protection standards from the United Nations are being incorporated. 

SEIA represents some 1,100 companies in the global solar industry supply chain. Some of SEIA's members already have very advanced sustainability programs, like founding participant Dow Solar. Dow not only lists past accomplishments in its annual corporate sustainability report, it scores itself on meeting its future goals, including a current set for 2015. Reporting on sustainability since 1995, Dow introduced its sustainability goals in 2006.

Lead image: Solar panels field via Shutterstock

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Charles W. Thurston is a journalist who specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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