Green Web Hosting + Greenwashing


Many web hosting providers take every opportunity they can to tout just how ‘green’ their hosting is, despite frequently not having much of an environmental commitment at all.

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 environment, their websites are often covered head-to-toe in green branding to make their visitors believe they are fully committed to providing green hosting, which is rarely true. The use of green marketing tactics without having a real commitment to the environment is known as greenwashing.

Here’s the list of ways in which hosting companies partake in greenwashing:

Carbon Offset 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.

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 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 carbon offset credits are not green.

Green Operating Systems??

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 minuscule 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 to be a Green Web Host

The attempts at green hosting solutions above are most certainly good first steps, but none of them are what I would consider a green hosting provider. I believe the extent to which these companies are marketing their investment in the environment are blown out of proportion compared to their actual investment 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 with wind turbines, footer callouts calling them ‘the greenest hosting around’, sidebars with solar panels, etc.

The typical visitor to their site would see their green marketing and assume the company is involved in green practices. They would think that perhaps they obtain energy from renewable power sources, use little-to-no paper, use energy efficient lighting, recycle water, and/or regularly upgrade to more energy efficient hardware to reduce CPU power consumption and heat output. Their hardware components could also be non pollutant to the environment upon disposal.

Only a more curious viewer will hunt for their green commitment somewhere on their website (likely not front-and-centre for a reason) 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.

Why don’t these companies advertise their green commitment with the same amount of force as they’ve put in to actually being a green company? Because their actually mediocre commitment to the environment doesn’t sell.

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 wash our site in green tones, nor do we strategically place wind turbines or hydroelectric icons throughout our site (only on this article!) Rather than purchasing carbon offset credits, we choose to use that money to support the Ecology Action Centre, community groups, the arts, and tech education. See our complete sponsorship list here.

Websavers is a monthly contributor to the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

Here is what we do to be as green as possible, but without the dramatic green marketing:

  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. Our primary datacentre partner is 98% free from air conditioning thanks to highly efficient open chassis design and water cooling, which enables 70% of heat emission dispersal. The power used for fans comes from a nearby hydroelectric dam in Quebec, Canada.
  4. We utilize no offices so there is no additional power usage from our standard home-utilization.
  5. We are monthly contributors to the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, NS.
  6. We use energy efficient laptops, rather than power hungry desktops, for all of our monitoring machines. We also use solely command line Shell interfaces, meaning no video acceleration required to manage our servers. It’s a minor difference in the grand scheme of things, but video cards *are* typically power hungry.
  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 ensure to recycle the paper copies.

This article was originally posted on August 17, 2011. It has been updated periodically since then, with the current post date matching the latest significant content changes.

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Jordan Schelew

Jordan has been working with computers, security, and network systems since the 90s and is a managing partner at Websavers Inc. As a founder of the company, he's been in the web tech space for over 15 years.

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