How Green Hosting Really Works?

green house

When people look for web hosting services, they consider several parameters like the specifications of the server, the storage space, the processor speed, the bandwidth and performance. There is however another important factor that needs to be considered, but often gets omitted from the list of requirements – that is – how green the web hosting service is? When people think of performance, they only think in terms of computational performance. The ecological effects or green performance is never really thought about.

How Web Hosting Affects the Environment?

Now you might wonder how can running a web hosting company probably affect the environment. Maintaining web hosting servers requires tremendous amount of energy. First of all, electricity is required to power up the server computers. In-order to keep these servers cool, a cooling system is required. These cooling systems themselves run on electricity and are said to consume almost 50% of the total power needed for running the set-up. Apart from high power consumption, there is the growing concern of heat and greenhouse gas emissions from these set-ups, which is taking a toll on the environment.

You will be surprised to know how every single activity on the internet can cause an impact to our environment. A research conducted a couple of years ago has revealed that simply doing 2 Google searches can produce as much carbon dioxide as a boiling kettle, which is estimated to be about 7g per search. This might seem trivial. However, considering the global usage of the internet, the total amount of CO2 produced can be tremendous. Industry analyst, Gartner, has mentioned in a report that the entire IT industry generates greenhouse gases comparable to that of the airline industry; which is about 2% of the global carbon dioxide emissions. Some may argue that web hosting forms only a small subset of the global IT industry. Plus, as you read on you will find that the steps taken by such hosts in turning green is more of a counterbalance effort, rather than a real one. Therefore, considering subscriptions with a green host, will not really make a big difference. However, it must be noted that a single web server can produce 12.5 tonnes of CO2 in a year. And any eco-friendly effort taken reducing or even offsetting this, must be encouraged and supported.

How do Web Hosting Companies Turn Green?

When you think “turning green” you think “employing natural and renewable energy sources”.

So when we say “green hosting”, the logical conclusion is that the web hosting companies are using electricity that is generated from natural resources. There is however a slight variation to this description. Most green web hosting companies merely buy Green Tags or Renewable Energy Certificates in their eco-friendly efforts. At this point of time, this is the most feasible green effort that such companies can put in. Web hosts that actually generate the energy they use on-site, are very rare.

What are Green Tags All About?

There are several renewable energy generators that have been set up for generating energy from natural resources, like wind, water, sun, bio-gas etc. Some of these generators are tied up with the main grids that supply electricity to cities and towns. Thus the grid supplies electricity generated from both regular means (like fuel) as well as natural resources. The organization in charge of generating electricity from renewable resources offers a Green Tag or a Renewable Energy Certificate for every 1000 kWh (kilowatt hour) or 1 MWh (Megawatt hour) of electricity that is fed into the grid. Any company that buys these certificates is thus contributing to the eco-friendly generation of power, and is considered ‘green’. However, the electricity that they consume comes from the grid, which is a mixture of both renewable energy power and fuel power. While the use of fuel has been considerably reduced, it is not totally eliminated.

Other Ways of Green Contributions

There are a few more ways in which web hosting companies can contribute additionally in their eco-friendly efforts.

Using energy efficient hardware – Employing energy efficient hardware can be a small step towards greener hosting.

Planning – The carbon footprint produced by servers is not just inherent during the usage of the hardware and other equipment in a web hosting center. An important thing to note is that all equipment already have their own embedded carbon footprints which was produced during their manufacture and shipping. Moreover, after they get outdated or damaged, their disposal, if not done the right way can cause environmental hazards. Therefore, a lot of planning has to go into setting up a web hosting environment. The entire life cycle of the equipment has to be considered. While the embedded CO2 footprint is not in the control of the hosting company, their usage and disposal can definitely be taken care of. First and foremost, it is essential that the equipment being bought must allow for future expansion, for the integration of newer and more efficient technologies. Virtualization, for example, saves energy and its tiered architecture allows for integration of newer technologies. In case an equipment does get outdated, it must be disposed in an eco-friendly manner. The “re-use, reduce and recycle” policy can be applied here. Certain components can be re-used or recycled. Plus, organizations which undertake the disposal of electronic equipment in a safe, green way must be contacted.

Using eco-friendly coolers – Energy efficient coolers with as long a life as possible must be used. High performance liquid coolers have been found to absorb 4000 times more heat than air coolers, for the same amount of energy used.

Re-using the waste – The heat produced by the web hosting and data center set-ups can be used for constructive purposes, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere. For instance, this heat could be used to warm up a living space in cold countries.

How do you find out if a web hosting company is green or not?

Some web hosting companies ‘greenwash’ consumers, faking their green efforts. Thus consumers need to exercise caution when choosing a web hosting service. Several web hosts mention in their website about their environmental-friendly operations. In-order to find trustworthy green hosting services, you can look for certification or badges (like the Green Tags). You can as well check online reviews from credible sources to find out about their green efforts.

Does computational performance get affected by employing energy from natural resources?

According to experts in the field, many green web hosting companies provide all the standard services to their customers, without any issues. While reviewing web hosts, Jerry himself has observed that people who subscribe to such green hosts have full access to their systems at all times. Even server downtimes are quite comparable to that of the regular web hosting companies. Therefore performance-wise, website owners and their users will not really notice any difference.

At present many web hosts have ventured on the green path. While they may not be 100% eco-friendly, they do their best to come as close as possible. Many of them have even taken up the responsibility of planting trees, educating their staff regarding green practices, re-using and recycling office materials like paper, or even going paperless, encouraging carpooling among employees and more. While these steps may seem trivial, they definitely do contribute toward the global green efforts.

Photo Credit: Ian Sane