Here at SPRNG we are constantly looking at ways to reduce our impact on the environment and on this post I will write about our search for a web-host that would help us make our website carbon neutral.
When most people think about sustainability in graphic design they imagine the amount of trees that could be saved if we used less paper. To stop printing and move our production to electronic devices is seen as a way forward, and people forget about the energy that is needed to run these electronics (plus the environmental issues raised by their manufactory processes which I wont got into in this post).
The internet in fact has become an important polluter. Keeping a regular sized website online for a year emits as much CO2 as driving a petrol car for 1650Km (Roughly the distance between London and Warsaw).
The CO2 emissions of the website come from two sources:
1. The energy resources needed to host the website
2. The energy used every time the site is accessed by a visitor.
The first point we can easily address by moving the website to a “green host” and the second one is more tricky because we don’t have the means to find out under what conditions the website is being accessed by each of our visitors, however we have log files that tell us how many pages are opened and for how long, so we can make some approximations and offset that.
Looking for a “green host”
Every bit of data adds up! With the massive growth of the online world, the amount of energy needed to power and cool the data centres that form its infrastructure has also become considerable. It is calculated that the use of IT and the Internet has nowadays moved above air transport in the CO2 worst offender’s list. The combined electricity demand of the internet/cloud globally is 623bn kWh. This total would rank 5th if you were to put it among a list of countries. The US, China, Russia and Japan would sit above, followed by India, Germany, Canada, France, Brazil, and the UK below it. There is more information on Greenpeace’s dirty-data-report page 9, and on the Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR Program 2007, on page 7.
Here are some more stats. Data centres consume between 1.5 and 2 % of the world’s electricity supply. Greenpeace estimates that the global demand for electricity from data centres in 2007 was approximately 330bn kWh, a figure almost equal to the entire electricity demand of the UK during that year. In terms of carbon, the CO2 emissions from data centres in the US alone, are greater than the aggregate of all the emissions of Argentina or Netherlands.
After reading these facts is of no surprise that there are not many “green hosts” to choose from. And finding a host was actually not as easy as we thought. We found different levels of “greenness” and lots of greenwash.
Initially we were let down by finding out that most “green hosting” companies are not directly powered with electricity from renewable resources, what they do is purchase RECs – Renewable Energy Certificates in order to offset the energy they use. Eventually we found two companies which are “off-the-grid” and produce their own electricity from renewables.
– Aiso has been around for 14 years and all this time they have powered their data centre with solar energy. Since they solely rely on their solar panels this is a so called “off-the-grid: solution. Their two solar panel arrays power the servers, office equipment, A/C and other hardware.
– They also integrated other features into their facility, like light tubes to increase natural light.
– Their back-up generators use propane gas instead of diesel.
– They collect rainwater and also are on the process of installing a green roof.
– This company runs on geothermal power and hydro-electricity, offering hosting solution truly 100% CO2 free at least regarding their electricity consumption.
– This is also an “off-the-grid” solution as their source their energy directly. Their datacenter is located in Iceland where they tap into an abundant supply of geothermal and hydroelectric energy sources.
– If you are technically minded is worth to take a look at their website where they explain their data-centre’s technical details.
– Other than the energy generation they claim to use of 100% recycled paper, donate/recycle all their old computer equipment and also that most of their workers telecommute, and none of their staff drive cars to work.
The rest of the “green hosts” that we found use RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) to neutralise their emissions.
below are some which belong to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership, a voluntary program that encourages organisations to buy green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with purchased electricity use.
– Greengeeks has the best documented information about their green initiatives. They claim to replace, with wind power, 3 times the amount of energy used by their servers.
– Fatcow purchases RECs to offset their energy use by 200%, That means that for every KWH of electricity they use, they buy twice that amount in RECs, which are applied to generate wind powered energy.
– Two other hosts 1and1 and Hostpapa have both partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) in order offset 100% of the energy usage of their data centres again by purchasing RECs.
-Finally I found Dreamhost who actually explains not to have the option to connect with a green power utility so they are purchasing Renewable Energy Credits instead.
Although by purchasing RECs these companies are showing support for renewable energy, in fact they are still being powered by dirty energy. Cynics might think that these companies only use RECs for marketing their “green credentials”, I prefer to be optimistic and believe that purchases of RECs are an immediate easy solution but hopefully in the near future and with more competition, hosting providers will purchase directly or even generate 100% clean renewable energy.
If you know of any other examples and have a suggestion, please add it to this list by leaving a comment below, thank you.