Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition: How Clean is Clean Tech?

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition got started in the 1980’s as a result of toxic chemicals being poured into the water supply by the “clean tech” industry. Of course, back then, “clean tech” included computer manufacturers, microchip processors, and the like. They were considered “clean” because they weren’t coal plants. They weren’t cement factories. They weren’t part of what was traditionally considered to be the not-so-clean tech industry.

On a recent trip to Taiwan, Sheila Davis, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, saw a river that was so polluted by e-waste that not only was there no fish living in the river, but the fumes coming off the river were so strong that her eyes burned and she got a headache. One picture she showed of the river at the State of Green Business Forum was of circuit boards compressed tightly into a waste pile 8 feet tall and dumped into the river, leaching chemicals into the river.

e-waste disposal issues in third world countries is a compelling and critical issue, and one that many organizations are concerned about and working on. The consumer electronics industry has come a long way in this field since the 1980’s, and admittedly still has a long way to go. But today’s clean tech industry is different, right? Not so fast, says Davis. There are 3.7 million pounds of lead and 900 pounds of cadmium are ingredients in the next wave of solar panels set to come on the market, according to a report released by the non-profit. What is done with these ingredients and how the companies themselves set up their supply chain will go a long way toward determining how clean today’s clean tech industry is and will be.

As a result of the report, the solar industry actually reached out to the SVTC. In addition, investors reached out to SVTC to find out which solar companies were better than others. SVTC produced a scorecard about solar companies, asking questions like: do they have a toxic reduction plan? are they monitoring their supply chain? do they have a plan for end-of-life disposal? You can check it out at

Stay tuned for more news from the State of Green Business Forum. As always, you can follow TriplePundit on twitter for live feeds from the event.


Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill) and Principal of

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.