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Green Web Hosting and Environmental Impact

pipe snaking through trees / http://tumblr.unsplash.com/post/69929384463/download-by-james-forbesA good data host should be something like a suitable dinner host — stable and reliable with good table manners and some seriousness of purpose.

But with web hosting, we often do not know what is actually being served on our plates.

How reputable is the host? What kinds of security is in place to protect both data and accounts? Will the hosting provider guarantee a 100% uptime? How much data can be served and stored? How up-to-date are the host’s hardware and the software? Can you call the host with questions or have a quick chat about the weather?

There is one question that we will increasingly be asking: How green are the hosts with whom we trust our data?

According to Analytics Press, data centres used 1.3% of global electricity in 2010 and 2% in the United States.

As a consumer of a lot of data myself and the “chief green procurement officer” at Manoverboard, I’ve been wracking my brain for a couple of years about this very question. We know that there are great web hosts out there. But, how green are they?

Our B Corporation sister, Mightybytes, has an excellent tool to check out how green a website is as well as a post on the topic.

After a lot of research and connecting with many people on the topic, the question of which web hosts have energy usage as an indicator of performance remained.

McKinsey & Company reports that only 6 to 12 percent of electricity that powers servers is used for computing. The remainder is for contingency. (Yes, contingency.)

We commissioned Third Partners LLC, a consultancy based in New York that studies environmental impact and energy efficiency, to study what electricity sources are powering North American hosts’ data centres. They studied the energy mix of 10 web hosts, including their local electricity grid, greenhouse gas percentages, clean energy usage, and a company’s purchase of carbon offsets.

And, based on their data, they made some recommendations. This whitepaper, called “Green Web Hosting,” will be used to guide our decision-making in procuring hosting for ourselves and for our clients as we look to green our supply chain and improve our environmental footprint. The report helps frame Manoverboard’s triple-bottom line commitment to people, planet, and prosperity.

We hope it will be a useful start for procurement officers, business owners, and sustainability professionals, as well as website designers, application developers, and digital creatives who seek to better understand and modify their environmental footprint.

One note: We are disappointed, though not completely surprised, that one of our favourite hosting providers, Media Temple, ranks so poorly in the whitepaper. It’s clear that there is much room for improvement among the larger hosts. The good news is that there are numerous excellent green options for web hosting.

Three hosts we identified even get five stars for providing carbon-free and outstanding energy performance.

Download the Green Web Hosting whitepaper.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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