Why is eco-friendlier web hosting important for reducing your business’s carbon emissions and who are the greenest service providers?

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44 percent of UK SMEs have a website, and web hosting provides the virtual real estate from where they’re shown to the world.

With over 700 providers out there, the green credentials of web hosting companies differ enormously.

In this article, as a part of the Sustainable Tech Series, we are reviewing both popular and lesser-known providers through the lens of sustainability.

You’ll see the best web hosting option for your SME and the environment!

What is web hosting?

Servers are computers dedicated to data storage, and hosting companies use them to store websites.

When you search for a website and the homepage link appears in the results, by clicking it you ask that website’s hosting provider to send your computer the data for the website’s homepage.

According to Google, each time this process is carried out through their search engine, approximately 0.2 grams of CO2e is created. 

Google processes thousands of searches per second every day, meaning hosting providers contribute towards the hundreds of kilograms of CO2e that a single search engine generates per second.

Dell shares the carbon impact of all their products with the public. Their server model PowerEdge C4130 creates 3175kg/CO2e of carbon emissions per year over a lifetime of 4 years.

3175kg/CO2e is the same amount of carbon emitted by driving 8,000 miles in a standard passenger car.

Now imagine the carbon emissions of a single large corporate data centre that can easily house hundreds of these servers!

Hosts: what they do for the environment

Hosting
Provider
Minimal
Sustainability policy
Comprehensive
Sustainability policy
Renewable energy powered (at least some business activities)Employee initiative (cycle to work, work-from-home etc) Policies towards material waste reduction Free website migration
Krystal*✅ - Read more
Kualo✅ - Read more
Pair NetworksNo policyNo policy
*for basic migrations
BluehostNo policyNo policy
* for 1 site that meets criteria or if done by customer. Otherwise £106
HostGatorNo policyNo policy

In 2008. No update since then
GreenGeeks
DreamHost✅ - Read more
iPageNo policyNo policy£106
A2 Hosting✅ - Read more
HostPapa
RAIDBOXES✅ - Read more
GoDaddyNo policyNo policyNo information
tsoHost
*Basic migrations
IONOS✅ - Read moreNo information
SiteGround
*WordPress
123 Reg
*Vague with generic supporting information
Unclear - Steps provided for customers to complete process

*Disclaimer: Small99 is hosted with Krystal

Krystal

Krystal is the largest independent web hosting provider in the UK. An insanely informative website shows their passion for both tech products and sustainability.

They’re taking action by:

  • Powering their data centre with 100 percent Ecotricity renewable energy
  • Affiliation with several carbon offsetting tree planting initiatives — Krystal understand that carbon emissions must be tackled first directly, and then second indirectly
  • Extending tree planting schemes to employees for which the business pays
  • Vowing to never sell out to acquisition means they’ve promised to always be in the driving seat of their environmental impact
  • Being a member of the SME Climate Hub committed to halving carbon emissions by 2030 

Kualo

Another UK-based web hosting company, Kualo seems to focus their environmental impact efforts on running their data centre with renewable energy and implementing greener systems within the business.

Their green initiatives include:

  • Avoiding unnecessary travel
  • Replace older server hardware with newer, energy-efficient hardware as it becomes available
  • 100 percent paperless business
  • Planting a tree for every order the business receives
  • A data centre built to comply with ISO 14001 standards
  • Energy-efficient data centre design principles including heat extraction

IONOS

With data center infrastructure in the United States and throughout Europe, IONOS shows a strong commitment to lowering their carbon emissions globally.

Their environmental initiatives and goals are exemplary and fortunately for other companies they share all of their efforts with the public

They’re operating more sustainably by:

  • Powering all UK, German and the largest US data vCenter with 100 percent renewable energy
  • Offsetting carbon emissions from the remaining data centres through initiatives 
  • Regularly assessment of energy use from ISO 50001 certified professionals
  • Continual updates to hardware and air conditioning systems have created a 15 percent increase in energy efficiency at the German data center! 
  • Encouraging staff to car-share and use the most carbon-friendly forms of transport as much as possible 

SiteGround

SiteGround is a multinational hosting provider who runs their services through Google Cloud Platform

As they don’t own any data centres, SiteGround can only take direct responsibility for emissions created by their offices and employees. 

Google sustainability initiatives include putting the same amount of energy they consume back into the grid in the form of renewable energy certificates, along with the commitment to being carbon-free by 2030

SiteGround does have their own environmental policies, and also boast that their new headquarters building was constructed according to LEED requirements.

Unfortunately, they haven’t specified the sustainability targets they’ve set themselves for the new building in order to be eligible for LEED certification.

SiteGround’s green commitments are:

  • Company e-vehicles for staff use whilst at work 
  • Plastic-free staff water facilities including no plastic bottles
  • Team building events to cultivate a zero-waste mindset

Pair

The first of the US-based hosting providers on our list. Pair is a subsidiary of their parent podcast hosting company Libsync and is trusted by large businesses such as Urban Outfitters.

They boast stellar service and optimal hosting systems, but leave much to be shared surrounding their sustainability initiatives.

In a Businesswire article, Pair claims that environmental, sustainable and corporate governance ‘have been a pillar of the company’s corporate culture since its founding’, despite both Pair and Libsync websites having no mention of sustainability policies whatsoever.

As seen with the better companies on our list, a business that genuinely has environmental concerns at its core has an environmental policy — Pair is greenwashing!

Bluehost

Bluehost have been a staple in the web hosting game for many years and play host to many well-known websites. They were acquired by Newfold Digital (formerly Endurance International) in 2010 but have maintained a standalone company image.

Although being one of the market share leaders, Bluehost nor their parent company show any signs of a sustainability policy.

A major hosting provider serving many customers, a leading company like Bluehost switching to renewable energy would make a big dent in reducing web hosting carbon emissions!

HostGator

The second on our list to be owned by the parent company Newfold Digital, HostGator are another popular hosting provider.

In terms of sustainable business practices, 2008 and 2010 press releases provide a little insight.

In 2008 the company powered 1.3 million websites with wind-generated electricity, and in 2010 claimed to be maximising the number of ‘green servers’.

This is all of the sustainability-related information contained on HostGator.com, and its parent company mentions nothing about its subsidiary’s green ideals. 

Customer support is also unable to confirm whether renewable energy is still used to power HostGator data centres, making the previously mentioned press releases even less convincing!

Image credit: Pexels

GreenGeeks

With green in their name and a greener mentality, GreenGeeks heavily promotes the decarbonisation of the web! 

With a homepage making visitors starkly aware of the internet’s negative environmental impact, they are claiming to be the industry’s sustainability leaders.

This is a backed-up claim, however, calling themselves the ‘industry’s sustainability leaders’ is somewhat of an exaggeration.

GreenGeeks buy renewable energy certificates. This is when a US company pays a renewable electricity generating facility to put energy into their national grid.

GreenGeeks do this, but do not actually use renewable electricity themselves.

Although their actions increase the amount of renewable electricity available, their policies do not reduce the emissions for which they are directly responsible.

A nice effort, but hardly the industry’s leading green hosts….

Their environmental practices include:

  • Paying renewable energy generators to put three times the amount of energy GreenGeeks consume back into the grid (U.S) via the Bonneville Environmental Foundation
  • A website jammed with information about the web’s eco-friendliness and why it needs improving
  • Energy-efficient server hardware

DreamHost

Next on the list is a hosting provider that has brought in office changes for the greener! 

Their office policies are aimed at reducing waste generated and building energy consumption. 

To go with this, their energy is supplied by a mixture of both fossil fuel and renewable sources.

Sustainability actions being taken include:

  • Offices:
  • With work-from-home policies to keep cars off the roads
  • Video call conferencing to reduce office energy usage
  • Affiliated with U.S state-level clean-energy initiatives

iPage

iPage is a web host that market themselves towards small businesses, but with no sustainability policies/actions being taken in sight, they may not be the best choice for the eco-minded SME owner.

With a website that boasts their level of customer service and low prices, iPage has left no space for any eco-friendly policy information, if any exists at all.

GoDaddy

The largest web hosting company on our list! GoDaddy offers almost every web service under the sun and boasts a whopping 82 million sites hosted. 

With a corporate responsibility page detailing their social initiatives, sustainability and environmental policies are nowhere to be seen.

In terms of our planet, the company educates employees about environmental issues, but not to improve the business’s environmental impact.

It seems like GoDaddy are shifting their environmental responsibilities onto their employees, using ‘inspiring our workforce to make more sustainable decisions’ as a reason to not make changes to the company’s actual operation. 

A2 Hosting

One of the better known ‘eco-hosts’, A2 has shown a solid commitment to reducing their environmental impact and their website shows it. Environmental policies span data centres, offices, employees and the sales department.

They’re acting by:

Conserving hardware – retired servers are used for internal purposes or clients with lower resource requirements, and are sometimes wiped clean and sold to the public

An efficient data centre:

  • Using outside air to cool servers
  • With fans and motors designed to operate at no more than the capacity needed for the current server task
  • Switching to work-from-home, making these savings in the last year:
    • 705 tonnes of CO2 by stopping the daily commute (the same amount of emissions as burning 1,632 barrels of oil)
    • 960,000kWh electricity from less office use (around 148 standard passenger cars being driven for one year)
  • Partnering with tree planting schemes to further offset emissions

HostPapa

HostPapa is the next on the list to also put green energy back into the US grid.

Through purchasing renewable energy certificates HostPapa helps provide the nation with more renewable electricity.  

Although putting renewable electricity into the grid is a positive action, HostPapa (as well as GreenGeeks) do not actually reduce their own dependency on fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

To us this makes the whole purchasing energy certificates initiative a little greenwashy….

Real impact comes from actually powering your own operation with renewable electricity. Anything else is a bonus! Renewable electricity certificates are the only sustainability initiative mentioned on their website, but they do provide a little more transparency by listing the renewable energy facilities which they pay to generate it.

tsoHost

A relatively unknown hosting provider, tsoHost is one of many GoDaddy subsidiaries.

Their only mention of a sustainability policy is that their UK-located data centre is run on energy generated from hydroelectric and wind sources.

This is a great feat, but with no supporting information about their renewable energy exploits, it’s hardly a credible one. 

This is all that’s mentioned, with no green updates since their data centres became carbon neutral in 2011. 

This shouldn’t come as news as throughout all the GoDaddy-owned hosting providers we looked at, there’s a recurring theme of vague and unsupported sustainability claims.

The web-services behemoth make it clear that reducing carbon emissions is not high up on their agenda.

RAIDBOXES

One of the many WordPress committed hosting providers, RAIDBOXES, unlike Bluehost, does have a sustainability policy encompassing their energy supply and tree planting schemes.

The Germany-based provider is powered with hydroelectric generated energy and will plant a tree for every WordPress or WooCommerce site hosted with them.

In 2021 their goal is to plant 200,000 trees.

RAIDBOX’s concerns go further than just CO2 emissions, through the Get Mads initiative they donate to anti-plastic pollution schemes, having already helped to offset over 7700 plastic bottles and roughly 40,000 tonnes of CO2e.

123 Reg

The final UK-based hosting provider on our list, 123 Reg is also the largest UK service provider with one in five UK websites housed on their platform. 

The company is now a subsidiary of GoDaddy after being acquired by the global conglomerate in 2017.

They say that they’re eco-friendly, but the generic information supporting this is unsubstantial. 

123 Reg’s ‘eco-friendly green data centers’ are claimed to be powered by the latest low energy systems, but this would carry significantly more weight if backed up by some sort of data or further information.

A supporting video gives the public a little more information, but again doesn’t go into any kind of details. 

Even if 123 Reg’s data centres are more energy-efficient than average, it’s a far cry from what’s needed to genuinely call yourself eco-friendly.

What they could do

It’s clear that some hosting providers are taking sustainability more seriously than others.

But even companies with environmental policies as comprehensive as those of Krystal and DreamHost can do more. 

In light of net zero targets, no service provider has any current commitment to becoming completely carbon emissions-free.

For the industry to truly have a positive environmental impact, all web hosting providers will need to implement some sort of framework to get them on track to the 2050 goal.

However, all hosting providers can already achieve complete transparency through annual publishing of carbon emissions, as well as data to prove the claims of ‘high-efficiency’ hardware.

Being able to compare web hosting providers by looking at their energy use and/or carbon emissions data will show consumers who are leading the charge for greener web technologies.

And for companies without any kind of sustainability policy, implementing some sort of change is a much-needed starting point to improving their environmental impact.

Leading providers like Bluehost, HostGator, 123 Reg and GoDaddy have enormous customer bases. Any genuinely sustainability-oriented policies introduced will only have a positive impact on the industry’s overall carbon footprint.

Image credit: Pexels

Recommended Green Hosting 

Our recommendations for a greener hosting provider are:

  • Krystal
  • DreamHost
  • RAIDBOXES
  • IONOS

These companies have the most comprehensive sustainability policies. They include high-impact carbon reduction activities such as using renewable sources of energy, in-office recycling practices, and also go beyond their own emissions and waste by affiliating themselves with external sustainability initiatives.

About the companies analysed

Our main reference point for each of the listed companies has been their own websites.

We feel that if a company is doing something in a more resourceful way then they’ll want to share it — especially now that sustainability is at the forefront of consumer priorities.

Despite this, for one reason or another, a company may choose to not publicly share any environmental policy that they have, giving the impression of doing nothing when in fact, they may be doing something. 

This is why communication is so important, as it is impossible to make an informed decision without transparency. 

Conclusion

Web hosting is arguably the most important component of a business’s online presence, but the impact of the carbon emissions it generates shouldn’t be underestimated.

Current renewable energy technology means that web hosting can already be easily decarbonised, and so there’s really no excuse for those who don’t have clear environmental commitments.

As the lesser-known, smaller service providers are showing the greatest commitment to a sustainable future, it’s up to consumers to diligently choose the ones that value the planet as much as profit.

The faster the 2.5 million UK SME websites are hosted by environmentally conscientious providers, the faster UK web-generated carbon emissions will begin to decrease. 

If your SME website is hosted with a company showing few policies towards reducing carbon emissions, consider changing to one of the greener providers mentioned above. Many of these have their own migration services that will move your website for you at no extra cost.

For a complete sustainable online presence for your business be sure to read our other articles in the Sustainable Technology Series.

Read more in our Sustainable Technology Series

Sources:

  1. Amount of SMEs with a website: https://www.elavon.co.uk/perspectives/uk-sme-pulse.html

Alan Palazon
Author: Alan Palazon

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