IT serversQ: I recently opened a small, brick-and-mortar retail business here in Colorado and now that things are up and running without a hitch — knock on wood — we’re looking to expand our web presence beyond a simple Facebook page.

Here’s the thing: I’m not exactly web-savvy. My nephew is a web designer so we’ve enlisted him to help out, and during a couple of initial meetings with him he’s mentioned the possibility of using a “green” host for our website. I have a basic understanding of what a web host is — a company that rents out web space on a “big computer” that operates 24/7 — but I’m not quite sure how one can be eco-friendly. I’d like to go with a green web host once I understand exactly one is. Care to fill me in?

Looking for the green web host(ess) with the most(est),

Grace — Centennial, Colo.

A: Hey Grace,

Congrats on the new business. I’m glad to hear things are going swimmingly enough so that you’ve decided to dip your feet into the World Wide Interwebs. You’re essentially correct about what exactly a web host is: a company that operates those “big computers” — they’re called servers — where your website “lives.” Think of a web host as a landlord for a website. For a monthly or yearly fee, the web host provides a home, the server space, for your site and all of its data so that when someone types in the address for your business it magically appears on their computer. There are all sorts of web hosts out there catering to different kinds of sites but that’s the gist of it.

Keep in mind that your website doesn’t just magically exist, floating to and fro about some kind of virtual ether. It lives in an actual computer maintained by the host in an energy-guzzling data center. The servers and other pieces of equipment in a data center, particularly cooling systems, require a whole lot of juice to keep all those websites up and running 24/7. So, yes, your own website does have the potential to have a carbon footprint. In fact, according to SuperGreen Hosting, an average server produces 12.5 metric tons of CO2 annually, whereas an average home produces 6.5 metric tons. Furthermore, it’s believed that web hosting could have a larger footprint than the airline industry by the year 2020 unless drastic changes are made. Ai yi yi.

To minimize their environmental impacts, many web hosting companies are purchasing carbon offsets and/or RECs (renewable energy credits) or even directly powering their operations with clean energy sources such as wind or solar. And aside from the energy needed to power the servers and other equipment, green web hosts frequently practice various, day-to-day green business practices like recycling, telecommuting and tree-planting.

I would not consider myself part of the “IT crowd” by any means and can’t personally recommend a green web host, but sites like Hosting Review maintain helpful lists of the top green hosting services. From my own research, green web hosts that seem to have good eco reps include iPage, a company that’s an EPA Green Power Partner and operates its servers, offices, and data centers with 100 percent wind energy; DreamHost, another EPA Green Power Partner that decided to go carbon neutral after learning that its business generated as much CO2 as 545 average-sized homes; and then there’s GreenGeeks, a 300 percent wind powered company that even encourages employees to bring in home-cooked meals for lunch and dinner so that the amount of take-out food waste at company HQ is drastically reduced.

So there you have it, Grace. Websites do, believe it or not, have carbon footprints. To minimize yours, I’d highly suggest going with a green web host.

— Matt

Photo: Nora**/Flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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