Green Web Hosting: Choices to Consider

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Illustration of a computer being powered by windmills and solar panels

In this post, we cover several important considerations when choosing a good green web host to reduce the environmental impact of your digital products and services.

Moving to digital products may seem like a better, greener way to consume media—requiring less paper and transportation—but our digital technology use is now responsible for about 4% of global CO2 emissions and growing: As more people around the world move to digital forms of communication, with video projected to represent 80% of online traffic, that environmental impact will continue to grow.

— Christopher Marquis, Do You Know Your Virtual Environmental Footprint?

Despite its reputation for being the “greener” choice, the internet has a massive environmental impact. This is only growing with our global desire to consume more data. One great way to improve the carbon footprint of your digital products and services is to invest in green hosting powered by renewable energy.

There are many different types of green hosting providers that power their data centers with renewable energy. It’s important to know the pros and cons of each.

Green Web Hosting: Questions to Ask

While a commitment to renewable energy is important for reducing environmental impact, it is not the only thing to consider. Good customer service, price point, security, reliability, and privacy are all just as important. A good green web host must have all of the above. They must be the total package. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Often, you get what you pay for. For example, cheap web host may offer lower costs. However:

  • You might pay a premium for support.
  • They may not have good security measures in place to protect your data.
  • It might not be possible to get a real human on a call when you need them.

Since your website is often a customer’s first experience with your brand or organization, these are all really important.

Here are a few questions to ask when researching green web hosts:

  • What’s their energy mix? Do they have solar arrays or a wind farm directly connected to their data centers or are they purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs)?
  • If they purchase RECs, do those purchases support the proliferation of renewable energy in the market? Do they support local projects?
  • What happens when a website goes down? Do they provide reliable support and good customer service? Is it easy to get hold of a real person when you need one?
  • What’s their uptime history? Do they have a track record of keeping websites online more than 95% of the time?
  • How do they ensure your data privacy? What security measures do they have in place?

Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way that not all green web hosts are created equal. While we applaud any hosting provider’s sustainability commitments, if they aren’t equally committed to security, data privacy, customer service, and other important concerns, they’re not worth supporting.

Web Hosting Energy Mix

How deep does a web host’s commitment to renewable energy run? 100% wind- and solar-powered businesses run exclusively on renewable energy sources instead of energy that comes from fossil fuels.

For example, AISO.net maintains solar panels in large sets of arrays, capable of generating large amounts of clean electricity each day. This is the highest level of commitment a company can make.

While this is really impressive, many companies don’t have the resources or capacity to build solar arrays or wind farms and must find other options.

If you’re paying for the electricity along with the RECs it’s a viable solution. But if you’re just buying the RECs alone, you’re not actually improving the situation. Companies that purchase RECs and not the electricity that comes with them are, in effect, just buying PR.

— David Pomerantz, Executive Director, Energy and Policy Institute

Powered by RECs

As noted above, companies that don’t have the capacity to build their own wind farms or solar arrays can purchase RECs. These purchases count toward the production of renewable energy sources, but—unlike companies with solar arrays on their data center rooftops—the energy itself is created elsewhere.

Here are two things to consider when choosing a company that uses RECs:

  1. Even though they cannot use direct renewable energy, because of their location, resources, or other reasons, they’re at least trying to make a difference. However, this shouldn’t be a crutch for lacking a more aggressive and ambitious longer term strategy.
  2. Depending on the quality of RECs purchased, a company might not actually support the widespread proliferation of renewable energy, in which case they might be accused of “greenwashing”.

It is important to understand the difference between direct renewable energy and RECs. Also, unbundled RECs—those that are purchased separately from the company that created them—are not recommended.

Similarly, companies should consider RECs and offsets after creating clear environmental policies on reducing emissions first. If you can’t find a provider’s environmental policy on their website, there’s a good chance they don’t consider climate change the global emergency that it is.

The Green Web Foundation’s hosting directory includes information on 349 green hosting companies in 27 countries.

The Green Web Foundation Directory

The Green Web Foundation’s hosting directory is the most comprehensive directory of green web hosts on the internet. It includes hosting and energy data from companies all around the world.

However, it is worth noting that this is a self-administered directory. Green hosts must submit their credentials for directory consideration. Not every green web host has done this.

Similarly, not every host that uses renewable energy is accepted. Mightybytes green hosting, for instance, uses a custom blend of cloud-based green hosting and hosting management from Google and Pantheon with offsets purchased for data streamed as part of our Net Zero commitment. This makes our hosting climate-positive. However, despite being the world’s largest corporate investor in renewable energy and a climate leader, Google’s hosting is not recognized by the Green Web Foundation and the apps that use its API.

While this is frustrating from a public messaging perspective, we know where we stand, so we’re sticking with our approach.

Still, the GWF’s directory can help you find a suitable green hosting partner that suits your budget and technical requirements.

Green Hosting is Just One Piece of the Puzzle

As a Certified B Corp and Illinois Benefit Corporation committed to a triple bottom line of people, planet, and shared prosperity, Mightybytes is always looking for ways to improve our social and environmental impact and incorporate more responsible practices into the DNA of our company.

While green web hosting is a key part of our company’s impact business model, we also prioritize performance, efficiency, and accessibility of the digital products and services we build. This helps us measurably reduce your website’s carbon footprint while also ensuring it is directly tied to your business goals and your target users’ needs.

You can read more about minimizing the impact of your digital products and services in our sustainable web design post. Not sure how green your website is? Find out with Ecograder.

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Mightybytes is a Chicago-based digital agency and Certified B Corporation. Connect with us on Twitter or get in touch via our contact form.