The Dirty Practices of Green Hosting

Many web hosting providers take every opportunity they can to tout just how ‘green’ their hosting is, despite having an actually weak environmental commitment. Some companies talk about how they are 100% carbon neutral, followed by how they bought green credits to make this happen. Others make outlandish claims stating that they’re green entirely because their operating systems are green. Despite these mediocre commitments to the green movement, their websites are often covered head-to-toe in green branding, tricking their visitors into thinking they are fully committed to providing completely green hosting; this is rarely true.

Carbon Credits

Let’s start with carbon credits. This is what I consider one of the more frustrating reasoning to call a company green. While it’s true that buying carbon credits does go to fund green initiatives, such as erecting wind turbines and solar arrays (or generating green energy with them), it hardly makes a company environmentally friendly in any way. The company can continue to waste energy, paper, and pollute its environment as much as it wants, as long as it continues to pay for carbon credits that offset its likely massive fossil fuel powered electricity usage. In the short term, this is an effective strategy, since more funding for the growing number of green initiatives means more green energy output to hopefully take over from fossil fuel generated energy. From a long-term perspective, if the purchase of carbon credits is supported in perpetuity, there will always be companies that are continuing to pollute the environment and we (as a society) will never overcome that thanks to these ‘dirty’ tricks we put in place to avoid real green business practices. At the very least, this should not be a valid reasoning to brand or market a company as a green company — the companies that pursue this route are not green.

Other Ridiculous Reasoning

I stumbled across a website the other day that included the use of an old version of RedHat as a reason for their green hosting solution. They said that because they’re using Redhat 5.2, they are a green web hosting provider. Firstly let me put it out there that, yes, there have been great improvements in operating system technology that reduces unnecessary power consumption and that on a massive scale these miniscule improvements are going to add up to some power savings. But let’s be honest here, the real benefit of this is to save money at the datacentre level. If the company were truly committed to green energy to the extent that they are marketing it, they would switch their power source to a green power source like wind, hydro, or solar. They would not be simply reducing their non-renewable energy source consumption by tiny little amounts at a time while stating how green they are all over their website.

How They Should be Doing it

The attempts at green hosting solutions above are most certainly good first steps, but none of them are what I would consider a true green hosting provider. I believe the extent to which these companies are advertising their green initiatives are blown way out of proportion compared to their actual involvement in green hosting. In the case of many of these providers, they have changed the entire colour scheme of their site to green and inserted tidbits about how green they are all over the place; header images, footer text, sidebars, etc. To the casual observer they are lying about their commitment by making it appear that they are actually green. They make it seem as if they are sourcing energy from a renewable power company, using little-to-no paper, have energy efficient lighting, recycle water, and of course investing in hardware and software that is energy efficient and non pollutant to the environment upon disposal (among other great tactics). However, a more curious viewer will find their green commitment somewhere on their website (not often front-and-centre) and realize they aren’t actually doing very much at all to be a green company. I highly doubt many people actually look further than the green colour themed homepage with “Green Hosting” written everywhere.

Instead, I believe these companies should advertise their green commitment with the same amount of force as they’ve put in to actually being a green company. If they’ve bought energy efficient hardware and software, then great! Advertise it on your servers page perhaps with a small green box. If you’ve purchased green credits, that’s also good for now; put a “We buy green credits” link in bright green at the top of your homepage. Don’t use your truthfully tiny involvement in the green energy movement to call your entire company and all your hosting service green: in doing so, you’re lying to your customers.

What impact does Websavers have on the environment?

While we are not a 100% green provider, we also don’t advertise anywhere that we are. We don’t have a massive amount of income to be able to afford the purchase of carbon credits and since we don’t run our own datacentres, we can’t guarantee renewable energy sources for our servers. That said, here is what we are doing:

  1. We make use of virtualized environments running on the very latest Intel power managed, low voltage, multi-core CPUs
  2. We keep our operating systems at the very latest kernel releases to ensure they take advantage of the power savings available in current generation CPUs
  3. We make absolutely sure to keep our virtual machines within datacentres that support great power efficiency. Sure the datacentres save money by doing this, but we choose to use them, after researching dozens of providers, for their lower environmental impact.
  4. Our primary datacentre provider contributes to reforestation projects at levels exceeding the overall draw of their infrastructure by at least 10 percent. Although similar to purchasing green credits, this has a considerably more specific goal in-mind: we like it!
  5. We use only part-time offices so there is no off-hours power usage.
  6. We use energy efficient laptops for all of our monitoring machines (rather than power hungry desktops).
  7. We have requested emailed documents wherever paper would normally be required. For those items that must be printed and mailed, we scan them in, shred, and recycle the paper copies.

Jordan is a computer, security, and network systems expert and a lover of all things web and tech. Jordan consults with project management for software companies. Jordan is a founder and managing partner at Websavers Inc.