The solar industry is undoubtedly driving the transition towards renewable energy and playing a vital role in combating climate change.
However, it is essential to recognize that every industry — even solar — can elevate sustainability efforts.
Intentions may be good, but there are still areas for improvement to minimize waste, habitat destruction, non-renewable resource use, and carbon emissions.
In this article, we explore some ways in which solar installers can go the extra mile to be more sustainable, specifically within the realm of partnership-based initiatives.
1. Develop a partnership mindset
Partnerships are key to making comprehensive, long-term strides in sustainability.
Whether that looks like a partnership with a sustainability consulting firm, an energy storage firm, ESG software, or transportation efficiency products, being open to brands already doing the legwork required for sustainable changes can minimize both the learning curve and the initial costs of trying to figure everything out from scratch as a small business.
Want to start or continue accounting for your carbon output as an organization? You can utilize carbon accounting software like North Star Carbon to measure, manage, report, and reduce organizational carbon emissions across your value chain. Another option is to work directly with a consultant. Either way, you're taking proactive ownership of your company's impact.
Partner Highlight: Blue Raven Solar, one of Best Company’s (now Snoball) 2023 Sustainability Award winners, reviews its carbon emissions offsets monthly at a corporate check-in.
2. Move towards more sustainable materials procurement
Similar to many manufacturing processes, the production of solar panels unfortunately results in the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which contribute to the ongoing issue of climate change.
To address this concern, solar installers have the opportunity to give precedence to procuring solar panels and equipment from manufacturers who are dedicated to adopting sustainable practices. Opting for products that are sourced ethically, possess a minimized carbon footprint, and are manufactured using renewable energy sources can play a pivotal role in enhancing the overall sustainability of solar.
Efforts to advance research into solar panel designs that are less carbon-intensive, such as perovskite solar cells, can yield substantial reductions in environmental impact. These cells, with an average emissions payback period of merely 0.35 years, significantly outperform traditional silicon cells, which have a payback period of 1.52 years.
In addition, solar enterprises can embrace the use of resources that are responsibly sourced and actively seek to diminish the reliance on petroleum-based plastic polymers in the manufacturing of solar cells.
Collaborating with manufacturers that incorporate recycled materials into their processes is another avenue these companies can explore to promote sustainability.
Partner Highlight: Solar SME partners with suppliers who prioritize environmental and social responsibility, including LG, Panasonic, Sunnova, Hoymiles, Generac, and Recom.
3. Incorporate solar panel recycling
Solar panel recycling programs are crucial for handling decommissioned panels properly at their end-of-life stage.
Without recycling, panels can leak toxic materials into landfills, leading to environmental damage.
Glass, plastic, and aluminum can be recycled from solar panels. However, separating all of those materials requires advanced machinery and processes. Recycling a panel costs $20–30 while disposal can be as low as $1 to $2. So it makes sense that more companies aren’t doing this.
But there are opportunities here, and those opportunities will continue to expand. After all, implementing an effective global recycling scheme could recover raw materials worth $450 million by 2030.
Company Highlight: First Solar has taken the lead in solar panel recycling initiatives, prioritizing the separation and recycling of materials like glass, plastic, and aluminum in its panel takeback program. As the only solar manufacturer with global in-house PV recycling capabilities, First Solar boasts a 90 percent plus recovery of module materials for reuse.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is continually on the lookout for other brands with solar recycling programs (contact the SEIA to be included on their list!).
4. Donate to sustainability-focused organizations
Donating to sustainability organizations aligns with the core values of solar companies. These organizations work towards environmental protection, climate change mitigation, and sustainable practices — all of which jive with the goal of renewable energy adoption.
To incorporate this initiative into your business, look for nonprofits, NGOs, or advocacy groups that focus on renewable energy, climate action, environmental conservation, and community development.
Choose organizations with a proven track record and transparent financial practices, and consider seeking input from employees or customers on the sustainability causes they are passionate about. Engaging stakeholders can foster a sense of collective responsibility and enthusiasm for the company's philanthropic efforts.
Partner Highlight: In 2021, Palmetto launched “Get Solar, Give Solar” through a partnership with Solar Sister, a women-owned training and entrepreneurship program advancing the distribution of solar energy in developing countries. Through this partnership, Solar Sister has launched more than 8,500 entrepreneurs and reached more than 3.5 million people — expanding access to clean energy across sub-Saharan Africa.
5. Sell more solar with automated referrals
Solar companies, as champions of renewable energy, hold immense power to lead sustainability efforts. By focusing on sustainable manufacturing, responsible recycling, and other initiatives, solar installers can elevate their brand and the industry as a whole.
In effect, solar installers are not only selling solar but are also driving the broader movement towards a greener, more sustainable future.
Snoball is the ideal business partner for solar companies doing right by their customers. Solar companies looking to build long-term relationships with their customers and follow through on their promises see a lot of success partnering with Snoball.
The more solar you sell, the more money you make, the more your customers save, and the more clean energy is produced — one of the many things our planet so desperately needs.
It’s a win-win-win.