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Should your business choose green web hosting?

Many environmentally-conscious businesses are taking steps towards reducing the impact of their online infrastructure. We take a look at the issues surrounding green web hosting in the UK.

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The internet has generally been considered an eco-friendly alternative to using paper; an invisible service that has no noticeable carbon impact. Because of this, many businesses may not consider the environmental impact of their website and the web hosting provider that makes their site accessible across the internet.

However, this is something that businesses should look at it if they want to become greener. Loading an average web page can emit up to 6.8g of carbon dioxide and, when you think about the number of people who use the internet each day, these emissions can soon add up.

Why is the internet so harmful to the environment?

The internet is powered by huge, energy-intensive data centres all over the globe, and the number of these is predicted to grow further over the coming years. Not only do the servers and drives in the data centres devour a lot of energy, but they also generate large amounts of heat. So, the centres need to use even more energy to power cooling units to prevent over-heating and maintain a chilled temperature.

"Data centres alone account for approximately 1% of the global electricity supply and 0.3% of overall carbon emissions."

As a result, data centres alone account for approximately 1% of the global electricity supply and 0.3% of overall carbon emissions, with the numbers predicted to increase further over the next few years. The ICT industry as a whole contributes approximately 2% of global emissions.

To put these statistics into perspective, the aviation industry also makes up around 2% of global carbon emissions.

What makes these numbers even more concerning is their rapid growth up to this point, and the prediction that the internet’s unsustainable production of carbon emissions will continue unless changes are made. Some of these changes include creating more eco-friendly data centres and encouraging businesses to choose green web hosting options.

With an ever-increasing emphasis and pressure on businesses to become greener, switching to a green web host is a significant step they can take. Whilst many businesses may already be minimising their electricity usage, going paperless, and reducing their transport emissions, the environmental impact of their web host may not be an obvious change to look at. It is, however, no less important and businesses looking to make the switch will find they have a growing selection of green web host providers to choose from.

All web hosts that claim to be eco-friendly should be completely transparent about what it is that makes them green. Below we take a look at some of the actions that can make a web host green.

Powering data centres with renewable energy

As a web host is responsible for consuming such a large amount of energy, then it makes sense to source this from renewable origins rather than fossil fuels.

However, it isn’t just as simple as a host company installing solar panels or a wind farm on a data centre site and using these to power their servers. This is not yet a feasible course of action for most, although some web host companies may invest in renewable energy infrastructure which can then feed green energy to their operations or back into the grid.

More realistically, web hosts would need to power their operations with a renewable energy supplier. This is easier for them to control if they have their own data centre, but even those that share server space will find that many centres are increasingly using renewable energy. Green energy suppliers will state on their site where their energy comes from, so businesses can assess the ‘greenness’ of both the supplier and, consequently, the web host company.

Web hosts powered by renewable electricity:

  • Eco-Hosting (Ecotricity)
  • Krystal (Ecotricity)
  • Erjjio (E.ON)
  • Kualo (E.ON)

Some green web hosts may take a different approach and purchase renewable energy certificates/credits to offset their own usage. They add up how much energy they use, and put the equivalent amount of green energy back into the grid, thereby theoretically cancelling out their carbon emissions. Some web hosts may go further and purchase more renewable energy than they actually use, which arguably makes them a ‘carbon reducing’ company as they are investing in additional green electricity to put back into the grid.

Web hosts that purchase ‘green credits’:

  • Green Geeks (purchases wind credits to put 3 times the amount of energy they consume back into the grid)
  • HostPapa (purchases Green Tags to mitigate their energy consumption)

Each web host should make it clear if they use a renewable energy supplier or purchase/invest in renewable energy, to help businesses make an informed decision about their choice of provider.

Carbon offsetting

Looking beyond green electricity, some web hosts may also look for other ways to offset any carbon they produce, even companies that are powered by renewable energy. Despite their efforts, many green web hosts still produce some carbon emissions, which they can aim to offset via certain programmes.

Some argue that carbon offsetting is a controversial and “easy” way for a web host to claim green credentials as, rather than focusing on reducing their emissions, they can just purchase more offsets to make up for it. However, if a company chooses a worthwhile scheme and also implements other green practices to cut their emissions, then carbon offsetting can be a positive way for a web host to become more eco-friendly.

When looking at carbon offsetting, the question of ‘additionality’ is key. This assesses whether, without the web host, the reduction in emissions would have happened regardless, and so determines if the offsetting scheme really does reduce the carbon footprint of the web host company. If the money from the carbon offsets alone enables a green project to be implemented, then carbon offsetting is a possible way for web hosts to become more environmentally-friendly.

Web hosts that carbon offset:

  • Eco Web Hosting (plants trees near their Nottingham site)
  • Jolt (sponsors The Woodland Trust)
  • Memset (invests in Danjiang River Solar Cooker Project)

All these web hosts also make efforts to be greener in other ways (by using energy-efficient appliances for example), so their carbon offsetting is just one action among many.

Data centre covered with grass and leaves.

Creating energy-efficient data centres

Most green web hosts also look at the efficiency of their data centres, aiming to make the energy-intensive servers more environmentally-friendly. A simple way to do this is by making sure the servers are up to date and are made with the latest technology, as these will be more energy-efficient than older models. Centres may also look at turning off some servers in periods of downtime to reduce energy waste. The power usage effectiveness (PuE) of a web host can be measured to help indicate how efficient and eco-friendly it is, with many green hosts achieving 1.2 or 1.3 (1.0 is the best possible score).

One major area for web hosts to look at is the cooling system, as this is an essential part of a data centre but it also consumes significant amounts of energy. Air-conditioning systems have traditionally been used to continually cool the servers, but other methods are being introduced that are much more efficient and energy-saving.

For example, an increasing number of data centres are utilising ‘free cooling systems’. These use the naturally cold external temperatures to keep the servers at the optimum temperature, rather than using energy-powered chillers in the air-conditioning system to cool hot air. Many data centres have been purpose-built in countries with cooler climes for this very reason.

Web hosts that use ‘free cooling’:

  • Eco Hosting
  • Green Hosting
  • Memset
  • Netcetera

Furthermore, some green web hosts use data centres with either ‘cold aisle’ or ‘hot aisle containment’ to help save energy. These methods prevent hot air mixing with cold air which means the servers can be cooled more efficiently and with less energy. By extracting the hot air away from the servers, the cooling systems don’t need to work so hard to constantly cool and re-cool the rooms to maintain a consistent temperature.

Web hosts that use hot or cold aisle containment:

  • Eco Web Hosting
  • GURU
  • Jolt
  • Kualo

Implementing green business practices

If a business is looking for a green web host, they may want to check the environmental policy of the company, and not just look at how the data centre is green. If the web host itself follows green business practices, this further demonstrates their commitment to protecting the environment and reducing their carbon emissions.

For example, as well as running on renewable electricity, green web hosts also look at ways they can cut their energy usage and carbon emissions. They may use LED lights, low-power and energy-efficient computers and appliances, go paperless, reuse and recycle products to reduce waste, source their businesses supplies from sustainable origins, and minimise their travel emissions. This latter point may be achieved by encouraging staff to work from home, by having remote meetings, and by promoting carsharing, public transport, cycling, and walking instead of individual commutes by car.

Web hosts that implement green business practices:

  • Eco Web Hosting
  • Green Hosting
  • GreenNet
  • Krystal
  • Kualo
  • Memset
  • Netweaver

Is green hosting more expensive?

Businesses may be concerned that choosing a ‘green’ web host instead of a ‘standard’ host will be more costly. The price of hosting your website with a green company has traditionally been slightly higher than standard web hosts, largely because the green organisations spent extra money on purchasing renewable energy and/or carbon offsetting.

However, as renewable energy is now becoming more widespread and accounting for an ever-increasing proportion of the UK’s overall energy consumption, green web hosts can start to offer more competitive prices. The cost of each green web host will vary according to the provider and the plan the business chooses but, on the whole, they are unlikely to cost significantly more than any other host option. And any extra that a green web host may cost can be justified for helping to protect the environment!

Are green web hosts reliable?

Businesses should have no more issue with a green web host than with a standard web host. As most operations are still powered by energy suppliers and the grid, there is no extra risk of more downtime purely because of their renewable credentials. The web host should declare their uptime/downtime percentages on their site, along with other information on their overall service.

Selecting a green web hosting provider

There are numerous web hosts claiming to be environmentally-friendly and that offer a variety of plans and services. Of course, each business should choose a provider and plan that best suits their own business needs, but they should also look at the eco-credentials of each host.

The Green Web Foundation is just one of the organisations campaigning for a greener internet, and it can help businesses find and choose a green web host provider. Furthermore, certificates and standards such as the ISO 14001 can help to certify that web hosts are indeed an environmentally friendly operation, so helping businesses to find a genuinely green web host.

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