This article explains green hosting and how it works, how it can help you reduce your carbon footprint, provides guidance for picking a green hosting provider, and highlights other benefits of sustainable web hosting.

Believe it or not, your website has a carbon footprint, and that contributes to your organisation’s total carbon footprint.

Actually, every piece of technology you use every day – both hardware and software – has a carbon footprint. That includes the device you’re using to read this article and the data network that connects your device to the Internet.

A website is often a significant contributor to a business’s digital carbon footprint, even though most people within the business are unaware of it.

But the impact digital technology, like websites, is having on the environment is actually quite staggering when you break it down.

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There are around 193 million websites active online right now, and the average site produces around 60kg of carbon every year, which is equivalent to an average car driving 270 miles.

Putting that into perspective, if the Internet was a country, it would currently be the fourth biggest polluter in the world.

Right now, digital services account for approximately 3.7% of all emissions. This is predicted to grow in the coming years as we become increasingly reliant on technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

As sustainability and carbon reduction plans become a higher priority for individuals and businesses alike, changing how you use technology is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment, and your website’s hosting is a great place to start.

How exactly does your website produce emissions?

Well, your website is hosted on a server in a data centre. That data centre consumes a lot of energy, thanks to its servers and systems, electricity, and the cooling mechanisms that keep the servers from overheating.

Whenever a visitor requests to view a page of your website, that server uses electricity to transmit data to the user’s device and present the web page in their browser, and this electricity has a carbon footprint.

Diagram showing the flow of data between company, hosting servers and users

Our devices also consume energy themselves, which adds more to the total carbon footprint of your online activity.

Why it’s important to choose your green hosting provider wisely

The data centre market is growing fast. In fact, it’s projected to contribute around 6% of the UK’s total electricity consumption by 2030, according to National Grid ESO.

Your choice of hosting provider has a big impact on your website’s carbon footprint because every host operates differently. Some are more sustainable and eco-friendly than others.

Electricity consumption of servers

Traditional web hosting uses fossil fuels to generate electricity, whereas green hosting companies typically use renewable energy.
Depending on where your servers are located, there are different ways of finding out if the electricity your servers use is green:

  • Data centre-server – check your contract or contact your provider
  • Cloud servers – see the chart below (source: The State of Data Centre Energy Use in 2018, updated 2020)
GoogleA-100% with offsets today, with a commitment to ‘real-time matching’ (i.e. no carbon release)
AzureA-100% with offsets and energy certificates today, with a commitment to be carbon-negative by 2030
AWSC-100% with offsets only in four public regions today, elsewhere unknown with estimates in the less than 30-50% range. New commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030 and carbon zero (no carbon release) by 2040. The rating here would be higher, but for the continuing lack of transparency on energy usage.
OracleC-100% with offsets in a few regions, less than 30% overall
IBMC-Approximately 50% overall
AlibabaD-Unknown, but China is a major market, and it’s not known what energy is purchased
Table showing key service providers and use of renewable energy

The use of the cloud has limited the growth in energy use of digital services. Data centre workloads have grown ten-fold between 2010 and 2020, yet data centre energy use has remained extremely stable over the same period, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Graph showing global trends in data centre workloads and energy use

Energy for server cooling

Hosting servers generate heat when under load, and need to be kept cool to operate efficiently. Fans or a water-cooling system are typically used, which requires electricity.

Manufacturing of servers and cooling equipment

Building the equipment required for a data centre requires the mining of rare metals and raw materials, industrial processes, and shipping from the factory to the data centre. All these require a significant amount of energy, which directly translates into carbon emissions.

TGreen hosting companies also consider how long the servers can remain in use instead of replacing hardware just because it reaches a certain age. To further reduce waste and emissions, green servers can be reused or recycled once they’ve served their purpose.

Choosing a green hosting provider will give you a more sustainable website and reduce your carbon footprint. Most green hosts are branded to highlight their values and sustainable practices. But, in terms of real metrics, you should look for hosting providers with good power usage effectiveness (PUE).

PUE is a metric used worldwide to measure and denote the energy efficiency of a data centre or hosting environment. PUE is calculated by dividing the total amount of power entering a data centre by the power used to run the IT equipment within it.

Overall efficiency improves as the PUE ratio decreases toward 1.0. For example, a PUE of two means that for each kilowatt-per-hour (kWh) consumed by a server, one kWh must be spent on cooling.

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It’s easy to check the PUE of any hosting provider with the Green Web Foundation’s tool.

Google also has a great article explaining how it calculates its own PUE, which in 2023 was 1.10.

Even if you use a green hosting provider, your website visitors’ location can still increase your emissions if they’re physically far away from your servers.

When your local host is asked to transmit data a long way from the server to a visitor’s device – like from the UK to the US – it requires more energy to deliver the web page to that visitor’s browser.
If your website often gets visitors from different countries to your primary hosting environment, your site’s carbon footprint will grow as a result.

That is, unless you use a content delivery network (CDN) to prevent this from happening.

A CDN provides you with a secondary server in another country, which stores a cached version of your website for any visitors located abroad. So, if a visitor located on the West Coast of the US lands on your UK web page, your site’s data and content can be transmitted via a CDN based in California, which is much closer physically to the visitor than your host in the UK.

This method also has performance benefits. Using your UK hosting server to deliver your web pages to a visitor in California will invariably take longer, providing a slower user experience. So, using a CDN will enhance the speed and performance for those visitors, providing a more consistent experience for your global audience.

However, it’s worth noting that when choosing a CDN provider, you should also check to ensure they use green hosting practices, just like you would with your primary host.

As regulations become mandatory for larger businesses and all the organisations in their procurement supply chains, measuring and reducing their digital carbon footprint is becoming a priority for medium and small businesses as well.

There are new regulations coming into place that will force businesses of all sizes to become more sustainable and proactive in their carbon reduction efforts.

With that in mind, moving to a green host is an important early step towards becoming more sustainable and meeting the requirements of the new legislation.

Our must-read guide to WordPress sustainability will tell you everything you need to know to master website sustainability, reduce your WordPress website’s carbon footprint, and optimise for better performance and higher conversions.

Reducing your website’s carbon footprint doesn’t just involve switching to a new hosting provider.

In fact, you can begin measuring and reducing your site’s carbon footprint right now, in just a few quick steps.

Kanoppi is a tool that provides intelligent, automated carbon footprint insights for WordPress websites. It provides clear, actionable guidance to help reduce your website’s carbon footprint, improve website performance, and increase conversion rates, all while helping the environment.

It will enable you to make a real positive difference for your website, your users, and the planet.

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  • Louise Towler

    Louise Towler

    Founder of Kanoppi and WordPress agency Indigo Tree, with deep expertise in WordPress websites, technical SEO and commercial performance for clients across the UK.