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After reading about the environmental impact of server farms I wonder what are the alternatives for a someone who needs to host a website.

Is there a sustainable choice when it comes to hosting a domain?

Is hosting a website at home on a computer powered by green energy the best green option?

Is there another green alternative to the server farms?

  • I didn't vote to close it, but I think this question needs to be more specific. What kind of hosting are you looking for, what scale etc.? Where in the world are you? As its currently put it's a bit too broad, imo. – gerrit Feb 2 '13 at 11:24
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    I didn't think this as a shopping question, I have read an article about the impact server farms have on the environment and was wondering what the alternatives were. What can someone do to efficiently host a website and have a minimal impact on the environment? Should I host it on my computer and produce my own energy?That's not very easy, and is it the only alternative?Maybe someone has a better idea, that's why I asked. – 0ana Feb 2 '13 at 13:31
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    @0ana: you need to edit that into your question. Clarify it, polish it, based on our feedback. As it stands, the question is not constructive enough. – Martijn Pieters Feb 2 '13 at 14:42
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    HostPapa.com offers webhosting powered by green electricity – Steven Roose Feb 3 '13 at 1:33
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    Yeah, this might be a candidate for closing. Alternately the answer is very simple and you gave it yourself in the question: host it yourself, generate your power. But that doesn't work for a large traffic website or where you don't have the money to spend on a large bandwidth connection. But the only other option is to point to providers with a reputation for environmental awareness. But that puts us in the position of trying to sort out green-washing from actual sustainable companies, which is difficult and makes this basically a shopping question. – Daniel Bingham Feb 4 '13 at 21:33
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I feel like the term 'sustainable choice' is pretty open here - sustainability is mostly a case of what we as a civilization want to devote limited resources to. In general, server farms are going to be a more efficient use of electricity than everyone hosting a site locally (even if that were technically feasible). And, for context, while server farms consume a lot of electricity on an absolute basis, the whole internet uses about 2% of the nationwide total, a very good deal considering the services provided (and clearly room to improve). Having pages hosted at home would require a lot of personal computers to be on all the time, rather than shared servers. So, assuming we want to have a digitally connected civilization, server farms are probably a good choice to get economies of scale.

To the second question: Primarily, what you want to look for is where they get their electricity, ideally whether they pay attention to energy efficiency, and, if possible, whether they are decent to their employees. There are several companies out there that buy renewable energy directly, or buy renewable energy credits (RECs) equal to or greater than their demand. It's probably preferable to go with one that buys direct, but either way will help incentivize more green power. Statements of corporate responsibility - sponsorship, values, etc. - might help with the other metrics. As with anything, there are a lot of different impacts that could be considered, but since electricity is responsible for the bulk of the global warming impacts from the internet (as well as some respiratory-related ones), that's a straightforward decision tool.

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You could ask the service providers for the PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) score of the Data Centre the services run out of. Although it's not a perfect measurement it widespread enough that the information should be readily available and could be useful in determining a providers commitment to driving down their use of on-grid electricity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_usage_effectiveness

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I would not recommended RECS (Renewable Energy certificates). Even though they are endorsed by the USEPA and several other NGOS, it's been empirically proven to have no impact on the additionality of renewable energy investment or the dispatching of renewable energy generators. For more information I would read studies from Michael Gillenwater and the GHGinstitute. Having the servers powered directly from a renewable energy source (renewable energy generators physically connected to the electricity transmitted to the servers) is the best way to ensure your using renewable energy. However this may not be the easiest or most inexpensive method. Renewable generation is also variable generation which I would assume may be an issue for servers that need to run 24/7.

To elaborate further, Renewable Energy Credits are commodity instruments used to represent the ownership of an environmental attribute for 1 MWH of renewable energy generated. I don't want to go too deep into it, because I'm basically say that I would not recommend it as a metric for determining how sustainable a company or organization is (in this case a hosting service). Many organizations endorse RECS, but if you would like to further understand why they do not impact renewable energy generation, please check out the links below.

http://ghginstitute.org/2014/03/12/is-your-green-power-really-just-green-washing/ http://ghginstitute.org/2015/01/26/have-you-fallen-for-the-green-power-accounting-shell-game/

Brander, M. 2014. “The Enron of carbon accounting?” Isonomia Blog Post, March 7th, 2014. Gillenwater, M., Lu, X. & Fischlein, M., 2014. “Additionality of wind energy investments in the U.S. voluntary green power market.” Renewable Energy, 63, pp.452–457. Gillenwater, M., 2013. “Probabilistic decision model of wind power investment and influence of green power market.” Energy Policy, 63, pp.1111–1125. Gillenwater, M. 2013. “Redefining RECS: Additionality in the Voluntary Renewable Energy Certificate Market“, Doctoral dissertation, Princeton University. Offset Quality Initiative, 2009. “Maintaining Carbon Market Integrity: Why Renewable Energy Certificates Are Not Offsets”, June. Gillenwater, M., 2008a. “Taking green power into account,” Environmental Finance, October. Gillenwater, M., 2008b. “Redefining RECs (Part 1): Untangling attributes and offsets,” Energy Policy, Volume 36, Issue 6, Pages 2109-2119. Gillenwater, M., 2008c. “Redefining RECs (Part 2): Untangling certificates and emission markets,” Energy Policy, Volume 36, Issue 6, June 2008, Pages 2120-2129.

  • Welcome to sustainability.SE! Can you give a bit more context on RECS, and how they apply to server farms and sustainability? Also, can you provide links to the studies you reference, and maybe give a bit of detail on their contents? – LShaver Jan 16 '17 at 18:57
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    This answer looks more like a comment on AlexanderTD's answer – THelper Jan 17 '17 at 12:20
  • You're correct. First time posting. Sorry about that. – Chris Goldie Jan 17 '17 at 19:02
  • Since I think there's some good info here, that doesn't belong as an answer to this question, I created a new question on RECs. – LShaver Jan 17 '17 at 21:29
  • The question doesn't mention the US, but this answer seems to assume that only the US needs to be considered. RECs are issued in many countries and AFAIK only US certificates are covered by what I assume is the US Environmental Protection Agency? – Móż Jan 17 '17 at 22:43

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