There are many things that we can do to reduce the environmental impact of websites, but the single easiest thing that you can do for your own website is move it to an eco-friendly host. The most eco-friendly hosts not only use energy-efficient data centres, but are also powered by renewable energy. Our aim is to get 50% of our clients’ websites hosted by providers who use renewable energy by 2020, and 100% by 2026. In order to do that, we need to know which WordPress hosts run on renewable energy and which ones deliver the performance, reliability, security and service that our clients deserve.
The search for green WordPress hosts
We have been looking for green WordPress hosts that meet our clients’ requirements for a few years now and largely come up blank. This year we have researched a wider range of WordPress hosts that claim to be green, to see if there is anything that we have been missing.
In addition, we’ve been talking to our favourite WordPress hosts to find out whether or not they can provide information about their green credentials. This is a somewhat tricky area, because most WordPress hosts don’t operate their own data centres, so their green credentials are dependent on their chosen data centre providers. Some data centre providers are more forthcoming than others in terms of their green credentials. Equally, some WordPress hosts are more open than others about who their data centre providers are, so getting reliable information is difficult. We were hoping to be able to publish a report actually comparing the “greenness” of various WordPress hosts but due to the lack of quantifiable data, we have settled on a simple list for now.
Based on the information we’ve gathered and the testing we’ve done so far, the following are our recommendations for green WordPress hosting.
Our top 4 green WordPress hosts
We’re at an early stage in our journey with Timpani, but so far we’ve been fairly impressed. Timpani is the managed WordPress hosting company started by some of the same great minds involved in Positive Internet. The word passionate is overused these days, but the Timpani team seem to have a genuine passion to provide robust technology, great customer service and to keep their environmental impact down. They’re based London, just up the road from us, and uniquely, they have their own data centre in Cambridgeshire, which is powered by 100% renewable energy. They’re not yet listed in the Green Web Foundation database of green hosts, but I’m assured that they’re on the case and should be listed soon.
In terms of performance, it seems reliable and fast. According to SpeedCurve, our website load time reduced by an average of 0.8 seconds compared to the previous hosting (Cloudways) when we moved to Timpani. The control panel is not as fully featured as more established WordPress hosts like WP Engine and Flywheel, but it is pretty good and has one click SSL installation via Let’s Encrypt. You also get a staging site for each install, which is very useful.
Our only gripes are that they don’t currently allow multi-site, and that response times on support tickets have been slow, although replies were helpful when they arrived. From our experience so far, Timpani seem like a solid WordPress host for single installations. They’re based in the UK, genuinely care about their customers and their green credentials are hard to beat.
Chasing hot on the heels of Timpani (and also not listed with the Green Web Foundation) are Raidboxes, a German WordPress host that we found to be excellent so far in terms of performance and customer service. When I met Tobias from Raidboxes at WordCamp Europe in Paris and asked him about green energy, he told me that they’re powered by entirely by renewable energy but don’t talk about it on their website because they didn’t think that it was something that their customers cared about. That surprised me, but perhaps is just a reflection of how little awareness there is in the web community about the environmental issues associated with our work.
I followed up with their CTO, Johannes Benz, who was refreshingly transparent, not only confirming their use of renewable energy but also emailing me the TUV certificate, proving the use of renewable energy. He also told me that they use Interxion’s data centre in Frankfurt, which is powered using the OKO basis tarriff from Mainova Energy in Frankfurt.
Like Timpani, Raidboxes also don’t support WordPress multi-site yet, but have hinted that it may come in the future. Our experience so far has been excellent, so we highly recommend taking a look, especially if you’re hosting websites for mainland European markets.
#3 WP Engine (with Google Cloud Platform)
WP Engine have always been one of our favourite WordPress hosts, but the green side of things has long been a frustration. Officially, this has been because they don’t run their own data centres and therefore don’t have any control, but I can’t help but feel that in practice it just hasn’t been a priority for WP Engine to look at the environmental impact of their services. When I enquired this time the friendly UK team did enquire for me, but then told me that they’re not able to provide any specific information because it’s confidential.
I think it therefore may be more by luck than judgement that they have landed at number three in this list. WP Engine have been moving a lot of their customers to Google data centres, indirectly benefiting from Google’s commitment to use only renewable energy by the end of 2017. WP Engine’s other main provider is AWS, who although not fantastic environmentally, have made big progress recently and are now aiming for 100% renewable energy in the long term.
When pressed, WP Engine confirmed that if you want green hosting with them, you can specifically request to be in one of the Google data centres in London, Belgium, Frankfurt, USA (east, west, central), Sydney, Taiwan or Japan. This makes it a great option for websites in many parts of the world, giving you all of the things that we love about WP Engine but with the added benefits of green energy powering the data centres.
#4 Cloudways (with Google Cloud Platform)
Cloudways might seem like a bit of a strange addition to this list because they’re neither a specialist WordPress host, nor do they have any particularly green credentials of their own. However, they’re actually a pretty good option and until recently we hosted our own website with them. Cloudways is a platform that provides an easy way to spin up servers on various cloud hosting providers, including AWS, Kyup, Digital Ocean, and crucially if you are looking for green hosting, Google Cloud Platform.
Unlike using Google Cloud Platform directly, Cloudways provides some of the benefits that you would expect from a managed WordPress host, including the ability to easily spin up WordPress installs, manage users, and create/restore backups in a simple user interface, plus the addition of Varnish Cache, and fairly decent support. We’ve had a few issues with bugs in the control panel itself, but they’ve never affected performance of the live site.
Overall, we’ve found it to be a good service. It might not have all of the benefits of a dedicated WordPress host like WP Engine, but if you like to manage your own servers, then it’s a nice option and could be cost-effective if you have several WordPress installs to host.
I was hoping to at least publish a top five green WordPress hosts, but sadly we’ve so far only found four really solid options, combining good performance, good support, and genuinely good green credentials. There’s a long list of hosts claiming to be green listed with the Green Web Foundation, but few met our specific requirements.
A few other hosts that deserve a mention however, are:
GreenGeeks deserve a mention for actually putting environmental issues at the forefront of their brand. We tested their service, but they are not specifically a managed WordPress host and although they are a decent host for their low price point, they don’t seem to currently offer a service tailored to more serious WordPress users.
On the environmental side, we found that they do not specifically use data centres that purchase renewable energy, but instead purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) to cover three times the amount of energy that they use. This sounds fantastic, but there is some debate about the value of secondary markets for renewable energy credits, making it hard to really judge the impact of this environmentally. It may be as good as it sounds, or it might not be – it is very hard to tell. In fairness though, it should be noted that it’s likely that Google is also at least partially using secondhand RECs to achieve its claim of 100% renewable energy, so GreenGeeks are certainly not alone in following this strategy to solve a very difficult challenge.
DreamHost have always been one of my favourite companies within the generic hosting providers, and as they claim to be a green company and are registered with the Green Web Foundation, I hoped that we might be able to include them in our list. Like GreenGeeks, they do not operate their own data centres and do not specifically select data centres that are powered by renewable energy. Instead, the calculate the emissions from their data centre usage and other business operations and purchase carbon offsets. Like second hand RECs, carbon offsetting has its own controversies and there is some debate around how effective it is (read our stance here), but I think it is only fair to give them the credit for taking this positive step, even if it isn’t perfect. In the last 10 years they have offset over 29,000 tonnes of CO2, which is no small amount.
To be honest, the only reason for not including them in the top 5 is that although their generic hosting has been good in our experience, it does not provide the benefits of managed WordPress hosting and their own managed WordPress hosting product, DreamPress, has so far failed to impress us. Let’s hope that will change!
Pagely don’t seem to have any specific green credentials other than their April Fool’s plan of 2016 to run off potato power, but they are entirely based on AWS and so benefit from Amazon’s drive to achieve 100% renewable energy over the next few years. A few years back Amazon got some bad press for their heavy reliance on coal power but since then Amazon have committed to going green. They have built some of their own wind and solar farms and begun a drive to purchase energy from renewable sources, currently achieving somewhere in the range of 40-50%. Combined with their solid performance as a managed WordPress host, this could make Pagely a good bet over the long term as the AWS platform continues to get cleaner and greener.
Finally, I need to give some credit to Flywheel. They’ve are one of our favourite WordPress hosts and so I was keen to find out how green their services are. Although, like many other hosts they don’t operate their own data centres, I was really bowled over by how much effort they’d gone to to try to find out where their energy comes from and how transparent they were about it. Big thanks to Flywheel’s Kyle Putnam!
Kyle really went beyond the call of duty to research the sources of the power running Flywheel’s services. For those who are interested, I will paste Kyle’s full response below because it is gives some really interesting background to why this is a tricky issue, but also shows how much Flywheel cared to investigate this.
Kyle’s summary of Flywheel’s energy supply situation is that:
- Flywheel uses a mix of two main server providers, so even within one region (New York, for example) there can be differences between two individual servers
- The owner of the physical building where the servers live is separate from the server provider, which makes some of this information second or third hand. I’ve tried to get as much info as I could, but ran into brick walls for some of them.
- Unless you’re using a massive provider like AWS or Google you won’t find custom energy with highly renewable sources. Even then, it’s somewhat of a crapshoot – Google’s facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just 15 minutes away from Flywheel’s office, is connected to a grid powered by a legacy coal plant. Combine that with most “green” hosting companies using Renewable Energy Certificates and it makes an already complicated topic that much more difficult to wrap your mind around.
The short story is that Flywheel genuinely do care, but do not have control over the energy mix with their chosen server providers, and have found that trying to identify which providers are greenest can be a real mine field.
The options are growing
In the last few years when we’ve published our top five WordPress hosts, we’ve struggled to find any credible green options to include. The fact that we can now publish this article with four strong options covering a wide spectrum of requirements (even if two are thanks to Google), shows fantastic progress in the market, now making it fairly easy for most organisations and individuals to choose a green host for their WordPress sites.
Creating a sustainable internet is something that we all need to help achieve urgently, and I’m optimistic that we’re on the verge of a big shift to more sustainable hosting. Fingers crossed this list will continue to grow in the coming years.
Additional notes from Flywheel:
- Flywheel’s primary data center for single site plans is located in Weehawken, New Jersey (our “New York” region when selecting a new site). Digital Ocean is the server provider and refers to this location as NY3, but the facility itself is owned by Digital Realty (formerly known as Telx). Digital Ocean was unable to provide any information about the power mix, and Digital Realty didn’t respond to any questions. I was able to narrow down the power provider for Weehawken to PSE&G. Obviously the New York City/New Jersey metro area has massive power generation needs, so there are quite a few power plants serving the area. That makes it almost impossible to track down the exact source of power for a given location, but you can see all PSE&G’s company-owned plants on these two pages: PSE&G Fossil Plants and PSE&G Nuclear Plants. This doesn’t include any additional third party power plants that they buy extra capacity from, which is a pretty common practice for US energy companies.I was unable to verify this, but the Long Island-specific subsidiary of PSE&G has voluntarily agreed to follow New York State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which set a goal of 30% of all energy usage being provided by renewable sources by 2015. There is a chance that the New Jersey-based subsidiary of PSE&G also follows that standard, but again I was unable to verify.
- Sites created prior to 2016 are located in a different data center (also owned by Digital Realty and operated by Digital Ocean) in New York City itself. That location gets power from Con Edison, the primary power provider for New York City proper. Con Edison taps into a massive network of power plants – 64 alone that use natural gas, with dozens more using hydroelectric, nuclear, and wind – so it’s all but impossible to tell exactly what provides the power for this data center. Here’s a great article by The New York Times from earlier this year that explains the power situation in NYC: How New York City Gets Its Electricy
- Finally, our primary location for bulk plans is in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, at Linode’s Newark facility. The data center itself is owned by Cologix. I wasn’t able to find much information as Cedar Knolls isn’t officially incorporated, but it appears that PSE&G is the power provider for this location, too. That means the information for Digital Ocean’s Weehawken, New Jersey facility should be applicable to the Newark location, too.