The Internet is far beyond its fledgling days and is growing exponentially at rates never seen before. User-generated content has evolved from what was plain text into multiple formats of multimedia including audio and video.
All this content is hosted on servers, the majority of which are housed in data centres.
These massive facilities house ranks upon ranks of servers that handle everything from corporate websites to personal blogs. These servers need to be kept running in cooled, controlled environments, so they require a large amount of energy and have a significant carbon dioxide (CO2) output. That makes them less than optimal for our environment.
For the average person who develops content, usually a service provider such as a web host is used. From the comfort of our homes or offices, we sign up, pay and manage content digitally and never even step foot in a data centre, so how does it affect us?
It all goes back to the fact that ultimately, we are still the ones driving data centre usage. Although we sign up with a web host, for example, that web host still needs to house equipment in a data centre.
What is Green Web Hosting?
Green web hosting refers to the web hosts that actively try to carry out eco-friendly initiatives to mitigate impact on the environment.
Unfortunately, even the largest web hosting companies will only take up a small portion of a data centre.
As such, it’s quite impractical to expect them to dictate demands on data centres regarding eco-friendliness. Thankfully however, many of them have realized that while this may be the case, there are still ways in which they can contribute towards the health of the environment.
The primary means that web hosts give back to the environment is through renewable energy or carbon offsets.
Renewable energy that is produced using naturally occurring resources such as the sunlight, wind, or even water. These are replenished naturally and their conversion for use doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in highly efficient, clean energy.
Renewable Energy Certificates (REC)
Of course, since they can’t dictate this to their data centre, the alternative is through Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), or Renewable Energy Credits.
RECs are generated by companies that specialize in creating renewable energy. By purchasing these, a web host can certify that they have helped in the generation of a certain amount of renewable energy. In turn the company that sells the RECs gets money to cover operational costs as well as invest in additional green energy initiatives.
Aside from RECs, the other option is to choose Carbon offsetting, or VERs, which is another type of program. The key distinction here is that while RECs certify that clean energy has been generated, VERs simply certify that greenhouse gases have been reduced somewhere in an equivalent amount as the certificate states.
According to Environmental Research Letters, based on estimation, just the data centres located in the US would require about 135 billion kWh by 2020. However, the growth of data center electricity use beyond 2020 is still uncertain.
Aside from data centres, the leading consumer electronics companies are not doing good enough to address their environmental impacts as well:
Samsung used more than 16,000 GWh of energy in 2016, with just 1% coming from renewables
Chinese smartphone leaders (Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi) occupied over a quarter of the global market share in quarter two of 2017, yet losing in green commitment
Worldwide e-waste volumes are expected to surpass 65 million metric tons in 2017
GreenGeeks also works closely with companies in the environmental business to purchase wind energy credits. They go above and beyond, paying for triple the amount of energy which they consume. Aside from that, they also using energy efficient hardware for their servers which are placed in data centres.
According to Trey Gardner, CEO of Greengeeks, “The web hosting industry can be held accountable and can change course but only if consumer choose to go green and force other companies in the industry to do the right thing and become eco-friendly.”
Although it’s not something that they blow their horn about, A2 Hosting has partnered with Carbonfund.org to go Green. Through this partnership, they purchase carbon offsets, which allows Carbonfund to invest in sources of clean, renewable sources of energy on a global scale. This also isn’t something recent, done in response to increasing warnings on Global Warming, but has been in place for more than ten years now.
According to Carbon Fund,
Over the past ten years, A2Hosting’s carbon emissions offset donations to Carbonfund.org have neutralized almost 2.3 million pounds of greenhouse gases, equivalent to planting 27,000 tree seedlings and allowing those trees to grow for ten years!
HostPapa runs on renewable energy and has been buying RECs to power their data centres, web servers, office computers, laptops, and even office space. They’ve decided to support solar and wind energy specifically to help reduce their carbon footprint impact on the world.
In their own words; “Whether you're a business owner, entrepreneur, webmaster, or blogger, you're also a consumer of energy and energy products and services. Every kilowatt hour of power that you use, including running your website(s), has an effect on the rest of the world.”
When first deciding to try to help out the environment, Acorn Host began by offering discounted plans that benefitted non-profit organizations, amongst them green-oriented groups. Today, it has graduated to buying RECs to not only cover the energy used to run their servers, but also covers their offices and other equipment.
Acorn Host also works with data centres which try to be eco-friendly. Their data centre partners ServInt and Liquidweb use low-voltage servers, recycle hardware components that can no longer be used, and contribute to reforestation projects.
DreamHost houses their servers in data centres that offer high-efficiency cooling that have cooling plants which partially use reclaimed water. Those data centres are also partners in state-level “clean wind” programs and run directly off electricity from renewable sources.
It also buys RECs and as of end 2017, DreamHost has invested enough money to offset nearly 30,000 tons of CO2.
EcoHosting may be one of the companies which users VERs instead of RECs, but they contribute to the environment in different ways. For example, the company invests in reforestation projects in the UK and supports forestry research and conservation.
Their support goes into a wide variety of conservation efforts from biodiversity to the reestablishment of natural habitats for animals. This is a very personal way in which EcoHosting shows its real interest in the environment, aside from simply buying green certification.
This is straight forward: If your host is Green, they will tell you, loudly and proudly!
Going green is often a significant investment in cash for a web host, and you can be sure they will let you know. While not all will always display their Green certificate, the amount of information they make available to you regarding their green initiatives of often a reflection of their investment.
Some have built their entire web hosting business around the concept of selling green hosting. For example, GreenGeeks. In fact, they are so proud of it that they offer custom Green ‘badges’ to customers who hosted with them, to let them share with their own visitors that they are eco-friendly as well.
Still, the only way to tell for sure is if a host displays its Green certification, such as DreamHost does.
Is Eco Web Hosting *the* Solution?
Going Green is something that is very real, for more than just the web hosting industry.
However, RECs and VECs aside, cash alone won’t solve the problem. This is why web hosts such as EcoHosting which go the extra mile are important. Aside from the obvious green Certification, the company shows real interest through the programmes and initiatives it supports.
Despite all of this, the most critical point I’ve yet to state is this; While exploring the Green-worthiness of any hosting company, ultimately the most important factor to you, the interested party, is their competence in their primary business – Web hosting!
After all, that’s what you’ll be paying for right? On that note, have a look at WHSR’s comprehensive and competent (yes, we are also very serious about what we do) list of best web hosts and hosting reviews.
About Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.