Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips, and it means more than simply reducing emissions. To be sustainable requires taking into account the environmental, economic, and social dimension of the entire value chain. Solar is the most sustainable energy source not just because of its low carbon footprint, but also because it leads to increased energy self-sufficiency, and is highly job-intensive, creating more jobs per installed watt than any other power generation source. Innovative solar applications, such as floating solar and agrisolar, also show how solar can enhance biodiversity.
The solar industry aims to strengthen its leadership on the sustainability front, and the ambitious European Green Deal provides the perfect framework to cement sustainability as a guiding principle. Right now, the EU solar industry is gearing up to align with upcoming EU sustainable product policies such as Ecodesign and Energy Label on PV products, which will further raise the bar for solar’s sustainability ambitions.
We take this occasion to shine a spotlight on companies leading the charge with sustainability efforts. Our second sustainability champion, Bertrand Lempkowicz, works for PV CYCLE, a member-based organisation, offering both collective and tailor-made waste management and legal compliance services for companies and waste holders around the world. We discuss the meaning of sustainability in the context of our human needs, the role of sustainability in solar, and thinking beyond recycling and reusing, to make the entire lifecycle sustainable.
1. What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability is simply meeting our needs without compromising environmental balance. Human needs generate waste and pollution. Heating, lighting, eating, moving, are all factors that jeopardize the natural balance of our environment, but which are also essential to our survival. Without substantially decreasing our life quality or putting our economy at risk, we need to take these factors into account and create processes that keep the environmental equilibrium.
2. What does your company do to support sustainability in solar?
PV CYCLE was founded by the photovoltaic industry, for the photovoltaic industry, with the sole purpose of achieving this environmental equilibrium. Sustainability is the foundation of our association. With this in mind, PV CYCLE has created solutions, a network, and processes to enhance the end of life of photovoltaic modules while avoiding the over-extraction of raw materials.
3. Which sustainability areas do you focus on, and why?
PV CYCLE is recognized today for high added value recycling solutions. While it is true that the main objective is to offer a second life to the fractions resulting from recycling and thus avoid the extractions of unnecessary raw materials, in reality, this added value does not come from recycling only. Rather, a whole range of activities allow for our high level of sustainability: from collection, to recycling through transport, to research and development. We always keep in mind the next target: after ‘repair and reuse’ what are the next innovations in eco-circularity going to be?
4. How does sustainability impact your day-to-day job?
Sustainability is an integral part of our daily lives. Every action we take, no matter how small, takes this into account. The choice of suppliers, the equipment we use, the way we think about our communication or our work environment are all analysed to reduce our environmental impact.
5. How can Europeans get involved to make their lives and the continent more sustainable?
While Europe is a good example of environmental efforts, especially through the implementation of legislation obliging industry to work more sustainably, over the past decade Europe has nonetheless lost many factories and much industrial know-how. This loss generates ever more transport for which we pay a heavy environmental toll. Repatriating this know-how would be beneficial not only environmentally but also economically. Consumption habits must also be reviewed, to include more qualitative and more local investments. Focusing on repair and reuse tactics is a good option that will allow us to delay the flow of waste and achieve an environmental and economic balance.
Photo: recycling in Belgium by PV CYCLE