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Green Hosting, or Eco-Friendly Hosting, is web hosting which seeks to mitigate or eliminate the environmental impact of the service it provides. Most web hosting customers probably don't worry or think about the impact on the global climate caused by their website or other online activity. However, that impact is very real, even though it is somewhat hidden and far away.

Any company seriously committed to lowering its own carbon footprint and ecological impact must take into account the activities of its vendors, and web hosting is no exception.

The Environmental Impact of Web Hosting

The biggest contributing factor to a web host's overall climate impact is power consumption. Servers require electricity, as do cooling units. Other power needs come from climate control, electronic security, and the physical building itself. In most places in the U.S. and around the world, electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants.

Another source of environmental impact is the manufacturing of server hardware and components, which requires a lot of power, but also involves mining, chemical processing, industrial waste production, and global transportation.

Additional environmental concerns include the amount of land occupied by data centers and the resources used in their construction.

Green Hosting

Green web hosts help you reduce your own environmental impact by reducing the environmental impact of the hosting service you consume. Traditionally, this type of eco-friendly offset has carried an additional cost that only those truly dedicated to the cause would be willing to pay.

Increasingly, though, web hosting companies are getting more energy efficient, simply for their own cost saving measures. Electricity isn't free.

There is still a bit of a premium on eco-friendly or green hosting plans, but that price gap is narrowing.

How does Green Hosting work?

Green web hosting companies take a number of steps to lower the overall ecological impact of the services they provide.

Energy efficient server hardware

The bulk of the environmental impact of web hosting is the power used by the physical computers, so the first step in eco-friendly hosting is to use more efficient machines.

A number of design and manufacturing details contribute to the overall efficiency of a physical server, including materials used, internal component layout, and assembly quality. Solid state drives tend to be more energy efficient than their spinning-disk counterparts, because there's no motor to turn.

Efficient server software

The same server uses more energy under a heavy computing load than under a light one. They also get hotter as they use more computing power, so there is a cost to cool them back down.

For this reason, inefficient or bloated software -- whether at the OS, utility, or application layer -- is more detrimental to the environment than fast-executing, efficient code. Web hosts attempting to reduce their overall energy usage will make sure to use efficient, resource-optimized operating systems and web servers.

It's worth noting that, no matter where or how you host your websites, optimizing your code and content deliverability has a positive effect on your carbon footprint.

Space efficient account usage

While it's true that running a machine at half load requires less energy than running it full, two half-loaded boxes use more power than one running at capacity.

That is to say: Running more things on fewer machines is good for the environment.

One study found that the majority of data centers often run their equipment well-below capacity, consuming more energy than they needed to power more machines than they would ever use. Intelligent load balancing across a network of connected servers can help reduce the overall number of physical machines needed at any time.

Natural cooling

The power used to run machines is only half the problem. The machines have to be cooled down, which can be very energy intensive.

Many environmentally friendly (and cost-conscious) web hosting companies use some form of natural cooling. This may involve positioning the data center near a river and using the water as a coolant, sinking geo-thermal heat-exchange loops, or locating the entire building in sub-Arctic regions to take advantage of naturally cold air.

Renewable Energy

No matter how efficient a data center is, it will have to use some electricity. How that electricity is produced is the single biggest factor affecting the carbon footprint of a web hosting company.

Many green hosting companies boast up to 100% of their energy coming from renewable sources, usually wind and solar.

Green-washed Hosting and Certifications

As consumers have become more aware of the effects of climate change, many businesses have turned to "Green Washing," or making vague claims about their environmental friendliness, even though they are doing nothing to mitigate their actual ecological impact.

If Green Hosting is important to you, be sure that you take the time to research the claims made by the hosting company.

A handful of independent certification companies provide verification of the environmental claims made by web hosting companies.

Green Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is green hosting?

    Green web hosting, also called environmentally friendly or eco-friendly hosting, refers to web hosting companies who take care to reduce their carbon footprint lessen their impact on the environment by using equipment and adopting policies that are more environmentally friendly in their data centers and offices.

  • Why should I care about green hosting?

    Data centers used by hosting companies can use up a lot of energy and other resources and have a big impact on the environment in other ways as well. Many data centers waste vast amounts of energy, running at maximum capacity around the clock while using less than 10% of the energy they pull off the grid. Some data centers use more energy than a mid-sized town, and create more pollution with their diesel backup generators. Many well-known companies have been cited for environmental violations such as excessive air pollution. By seeking out green web hosting, you’re not only reducing your own carbon footprint, but also sending a message to hosting companies that their customers care about their impact on the environment, and they should too.

  • What kind of carbon footprint does a non-green web hosting company have?

    Data centers use up a huge amount of energy to run and cool all their servers. Often, data centers use energy that’s produced by generators that burn non-renewable fuels and emit diesel exhaust and other pollutants into the atmosphere. The servers, computers, and other equipment used by web hosting companies can also be harmful for the environment if disposed of improperly, but many web hosting companies don’t have any policies in place for disposing of all their old equipment. General office practices such as excessive printing and throwing recyclables in the trash can also have a harmful impact on the environment.

  • What kinds of environmentally friendly features do green hosting companies offer?

    Green web hosting companies use a wide variety of methods to reduce their carbon footprint. Many use energy efficient hardware, buy RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) from the government, and even generate their own energy from renewable resources such as wind, solar, or hydropower. Some companies also have official policies for disposal or recycling of old equipment in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, and use more energy efficient alternative methods to cool their servers instead of using up more energy on air conditioning and fans.

  • What is a REC?

    Many green web hosting companies buy RECs, or Renewable Energy Certificates, from the US government. A REC is a commodity that represents energy that was generated from a renewable resource, such as solar power. A company can purchase a REC without actually purchasing or using the energy itself. Instead, they get the certificate, which grants them the credit for using renewable energy, and the money they used to purchase the REC is used for supporting renewable energy development and other projects that help the environment.

  • What is energy efficient hardware?

    Often, green hosting companies use energy star certified equipment exclusively. Energy stars are a type of certification by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is granted to energy-efficient products, homes, and commercial facilities. To get an energy star, products such as computers are tested and third-party certified in EPA-recognized labs.

  • How does energy efficient software work?

    A server will use more energy and get hotter the harder it works, so using efficient software can save on energy usage. Hosting companies that use slow and outdated software have a bigger carbon footprint than those who use faster, optimized software on their servers.

  • How do green hosting companies cool their data centers?

    Some web hosting companies, instead of using energy to cool their servers, use alternative cooling methods like using natural running water, liquid cooling enclosures for servers, geothermal heat-exchange loops, or even building their data centers in cold arctic regions.

  • Is there any kind of certification for green hosting companies?

    It’s important to be sceptical about a web host’s claims of being green since anyone can say they’re energy efficient without actually being so. While there is no one central certificate for being a green web hosting provider, there are a number of more specific certifications granted by different government and independent agencies. To make sure a web hosting provider is green, be sure to look into any certificates they claim to have in order to verify their weight and legitimacy. You can also look on their website for details on their policies and the type of equipment they use.

  • What are some of the biggest names in green hosting?

    GreenGeeks is a web hosting provider whose data centers are powered by 300% renewable energy: they actually put more wind energy into the grid than they use up. They’re also a member of the EPA's Green Power Partnership. Another big name in green web hosting is Aiso, whose data centers are 100% solar-powered. They also have policies in place for maximizing the efficiency of energy and resource use, as well as recycling and carpooling in their offices.

  • Is there any downside to purchasing green web hosting?

    While purchasing green hosting reduces your own carbon footprint and encourages hosting companies to be more environmentally responsible, it can be difficult to find web hosting companies that are truly green. If you have specialized needs for your web hosting plan, you may not be able to find a green web host that fits those needs without harming the environment. Green web hosting can also be more expensive than cheap web hosting plans that waste power and are harmful to the environment in many ways.

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