I knew web-servers consumed electricity 24-7, 365 days a year, but I didn’t fully appreciate that:
- In 2005, the amount of electricity consumed by data centers globally was equivalent to the production of 14 coal-fired 1,000-megawatt power plants.
- A web server can produce more tons of CO2 (Carbon dioxide) in a year than a car.
- The net effect of running the servers for all of the servers in the United States is equal to that of five nuclear power plants.
Even the small decisions such as which webhost to use can have a huge impact when combined with millions of others who make the same small decision. So I did some research. I found the following key elements to consider; the power to run the servers, the power to provide cooling given the heat generated by the servers, the energy efficiency of technology e.g. consolidation or virtualization, the critical mass (spreading the energy use over many websites), the use of other resources such as water, paper, lighting etc. to run the buildings the servers and offices reside in, and the ethical policies of the hosts.
There is a lot of choice when it comes to website hosts so I started my search by evaluating their environmental and ethical policies. I found some companies are ‘green’ by virtue of buying carbon offset credits in various forms around the world. Although credits have their place in the global fight against global warming, it is important that the producers of carbon emissions seek to reduce their impact primarily and that carbon credits are used to offset what can’t be reduced at that point in time. There were many websites that offered ‘green’ hosting, but when you look into the detail, they don’t provide information to illustrate they are committed to decreasing their impact on the environment, other than buying carbon offset credits. Don’t get me wrong this can be a good first step, but I’m looking for businesses that go further.
There are various web hosting providers now offering an ethical/environmentally friendly service. I would recommend you check out:
They are set up as a cooperative which is owned and democratically governed by its employees. They use 100% renewable energy sourced from Ecotricty for their UK based offices and servers. They use open-source software (OSS). OSS is software for which the source code which is usually copyrighted is in the public domain. As such users can use, change, and improve the software, and then redistribute it in modified or original form for the public benefit. The company also seeks ethical suppliers where possible and lastly, it has a policy of transparency and openness.
They are looking at new ways to reduce power consumption, including virtualization, and also changing the way they sell hosting space. At the time of enquiry back in February, they had not calculated their carbon footprint, but where looking to do so.
The cooperative is on a journey to operate in a manner to reduce its impact on the environment and operate in a structure which can be argued to be more ethical than a normal corporation. They are open and transparent in relation to where they are on their journey to become as environmentally sustainable as possible.
This UK company calculates its carbon footprint for its business and plants trees in a local eco-friendly business part to offset the carbon emissions directly. They use data from the Carbon Trust to calculate their carbon emissions incorporating all aspects of their business into the calculation. They currently estimate that the trees planted absorb over three times the amount of carbon their business produces (as at the time of enquiry in February 2010).
They run a paperless office, decentralize working as much as possible reducing staff transport, and communications are via email and online services such as skype.
During my research I decided I wanted to support UK based business as much as possible, and hence excluded those hosts who were either fully outside of the UK or were UK companies with non-UK based servers. This is a personal preference, and others may like to perform further research of companies such as:
Their servers are based in California, using 100% solar energy but they have UK based offices.
A UK based company (which also has US operations), which uses 100% wind power sourced from Scottish Power, and utilized technology to reduce energy use and other resources.
Based on my research the final contenders for my business were www.ecohost.coop and www.ecowebhosting.co.uk. Both of these companies were happy to provide further information about their policies which gave me confidence they knew what they were talking about and believed in their policies. There is a lot of talk on websites about being ‘green’ and it takes time to sort through the myriad of information. Once I had selected these two companies I sent them to my website builder for his view on the content of their packages, excluding environmental considerations. The arguments for one or the other in terms of ethical and environmental impact could be argued until the cows come home, for example, ecowebhosting appears to have got further in their environmental journey than ecohost, but ecohost has the added benefit of being a cooperative. Decisions, decisions!
For now I have chosen ecowebhosting as my website host, but all my suppliers are reviewed regularly, so I can support those businesses which are pushing the boundaries on reducing their impact on the environment.
Good hunting for your environmentally friendly webhost.