Some might think that helping deploy dozens of gigawatts of utility solar projects would be enough of a sustainability effort for a company like Nextracker. Renewable energies are, after all, inherently sustainable at their core—the sun and wind are inexhaustible energy sources.
But clean energy is only part of what makes up sustainability. In fact, there are 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including clean energy. When it comes to other goals such as diversity and inclusion, humane labor practices, responsible consumption and production, and climate action, you need to peel back the layers– the solar industry has a long way to go to become truly and verifiably sustainable.
While I’m new to the solar industry, I’m not new to sustainability. Before joining Nextracker in 2020, I worked for our parent company, Flex, where I was director of corporate, social and environmental responsibility (CSER) for almost nine years, based in China (where I still live).
One of the issues I’m most passionate about is labor issues and conditions. During my time at Flex, I preferred being with the workers in the factories to sitting around a conference room table. I believe that it’s important to spend time on the ground creating relationships with suppliers, visiting factories, understanding the local needs rather than taking a top-down strategy approach. Much of what I learned from the employees and observed during my time on the factory floors led to Flex programs that have helped improve working conditions and expand workplace benefits.
My role at Nextracker will be more focused on building and executing our sustainability strategy and framework. While there are opportunities for Nextracker to learn from Flex’s comprehensive, award-winning sustainability programs, it’s not a matter of simply cutting and pasting our parent company’s efforts and using them as our own.
We are taking a phased approach to our sustainability program at Nextracker. First, we must build a strategic foundation of reporting frameworks and create measurable sustainability programs via accurate, data-driven reporting—the key to any legitimate compliance effort. Our priority over the next six months is to finalize and implement these frameworks and establish our key performance indicators. At the same time, we’ll begin to share content on our corporate mission, vision and goals for becoming more sustainable and supporting sustainability in the industry.
In addition to leveraging our relationship with Flex, we’re working with a number of organizations to help us in our corporate sustainability and responsibility efforts, such as the Governance and Accountability (G&A) Institute, EcoVadis (for CSR rating) and CDP (for carbon disclosure). We are also aligned with a number of industry groups such as SEIA, Renewables Forward and PV magazine’s UP Initiative. For example, Nextracker has signed on with a growing number of companies to SEIA’s pledge to oppose forced labor in the solar supply chain and support the development of a supply chain traceability protocol and code of conduct.
As one of our initial sustainabillity programs, we have focused on how to assess our Scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental impacts over the complete life-cycle of our products—from raw materials through manufacturing all the way to end-of-life disposal and recycling when the solar plants are dismantled. This is no small task, and I’m excited that we have completed this assessment and laid the groundwork for putting systematic, data-driven reporting in place and establishing a roadmap to systematically reduce our carbon footprint. As far as we know we are the first tracker company–and one of the few solar companies–to do this.
Another main focus area is our global supply chain and the establishment of a sustainability engagement initiative and responsible procurement program (RPP) with our supplier partners. My colleague Yves Figuerola, VP of global sourcing and supply chain, is driving this effort. We are working with all our suppliers extensively in China and elsewhere, including training and regular factory visits. These efforts will lay the groundwork for more mature policies in the future.
We believe that responsible procurement is more than just a Nextracker issue, but something the entire industry should institute–fostering sustainability benefits us all. We hope to begin a conversation with other tracker and solar component companies that leads to broad agreement on best practices for sustainable procurement.
Given our plan, you could say we’re flying the plane while we’re building it. We want to see tangible progress in a few areas before we have our grand strategy and the various components of our framework finalized. But Nextracker’s commitment to becoming a model sustainability company is unwavering, and we’re already seeing significant progress toward achieving our goals.