How to choose a green web host

In our mission to help create a sustainable web, we encourage our clients to move their websites to green hosting providers. In the past, we’ve published an annual list of our top five green WordPress hosts, but as the number of options increases, we thought it would be more helpful to provide a guide on how to choose a green host for any web project.

In this article, I’ll introduce the concept of green web hosting, where to find an eco-friendly host, and what to consider when making your decision. I’ll then give a few examples of hosting providers that we think are worth a look.

What is green web hosting?

As we’ve talked about many times on the Wholegrain Digital blog, the internet uses vast amounts of electricity and a significant portion of this energy is used in data centres where information is stored and processed. Data centres might not look like they use a lot of power, as they are generally quite anonymous warehouses, but inside they have thousands of computers processing data and large air conditioning systems trying to keep the computers cool.

Google data center
A former Google data center in the Netherlands looks typically uninteresting. Photo by Erwin Boogert

All data centres are hungry for power, but some are much more polluting than others, depending on their level of energy efficiency and whether they have any meaningful commitment to using green energy sources. Furthermore, we should consider that hosting companies have other environmental impacts, from the electronic waste produced from equipment to the impact of business operations such as offices and travel.

The greenest hosts will strive to minimise any negative impact in all of these areas and as we strive to create a sustainable web, we should aim to use the greenest options available to host our web projects.

How can I find a green web host?

When looking for a green web host, I would always suggest starting with what you know. Talk to any existing hosting providers that you use to find out what their approach to sustainability is. For whatever reason, some companies with the strongest commitments to sustainability don’t shout it from the rooftops and so you may be pleasantly surprised.

If you are looking for a new hosting provider, then the best place to look is The Green Web Foundation’s directory, listing over 500 hosting providers around the world that have a tangible commitment to using green energy in their data centres.

You could simply use the directory to identify web hosts and then narrow it down to providers that meet your requirements in terms of technical spec, service levels and cost. On the other hand, if you want to validate a hosts sustainability credentials more thoroughly then I’d recommend asking your shortlisted providers the following questions.

Do you have a public sustainability or environmental policy?

It’s incredible how many hosting companies don’t have any kind of sustainability policy. If they don’t, then try to find out if it’s something they plan to do or if they are simply not interested.

If they do have a sustainability policy, then look to see if it has meaningful statements on the use of green energy (in data centres and other facilities), energy efficiency, electronic waste, and travel. The best policies will have tangible and measurable commitments rather than vague statements such as “aim to run our operations efficiently” or “we will consider the environment”.

Krystal hosting’s sustainability page and Raidboxes’ page are good examples of a company who are very upfront about their approach to sustainability and provide clear information.

Man holding tree saplings
Raidboxes have partnered with Eden Reforestation to support native forest regeneration projects

Do you use green energy and/or carbon offsets at your facilities?

This is a simple question for any host to answer at a basic level, and if the answer is yes, then they will likely already be listed with The Green Web Foundation.

However, even if the answer is yes, not all green energy commitments are equal.

The nuances of renewable energy and carbon offsets are complicated and probably warrant an article in their own right, but a few things to consider are:

  • Do they have any of their own renewable energy generation? For example, wind turbines or solar arrays.
  • Do they have any direct energy supplies from other local renewable providers?
  • Do they have energy contracts that specify renewable energy from the relevant countries’ national grid?
  • Are they buying renewable energy credits (RECs) and/or carbon offsets? If so, where are they buying them from and what do they actually mean?

Also check whether their commitments apply to all facilities or just specific parts of their operations.

What is the PUE rating of your data centres?

PUE stands for power usage effectiveness and is the standard energy efficiency measure for data centres. It represents the proportion of energy powering computers compared to other systems such as cooling and lighting.

At the very least, you want your host to be transparent about their PUE, and ideally for it to be very low. The perfect PUE rating is 1.0 and of course perfect efficiency can never be achieved, but some companies are getting very close.

It is worth noting that PUE is not a perfect metric because there are other factors that impact the PUE such as the climate where the data centre is located, but it does nevertheless give a reasonable indication of efficiency.

Do you offer tools to help improve efficiency of your web applications?

You don’t just want efficient hardware. You also want your software to run efficiently. Ask whether each host can provide technologies that will help minimise server load, such as the latest version of PHP, service side caching technologies like Varnish or even static page generators for CMS based websites like WordPress and Drupal.

Who should you host with?

Finding a host that gives the perfect answers to all of these questions will be near impossible, but by asking the right questions, you’ll quickly get a sense of whether or not a hosting company shows any credible signs of pursuing a sustainable future.

As the market for green hosting grows there are many more options than just a few years ago, so I highly recommend doing your own research.

We are not specifically endorsing any particular hosts here, but a few hosts that our team and friends in the industry have had good experiences with include Positive Internet, Raidboxes, Wunderism, Krystal Hosting, Kualo and Data Center Light. Google Cloud Platform is also a popular option, along with the numerous specialist hosts that operate from its platform such as WP Engine and Kinsta.

Whatever host you think meets your functional requirements, check out their sustainability credentials and ask them about their approach. The more people that ask, the more they’ll know that it is something that their customers care about.

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