What is the Carbon Footprint of the Internet?
The internet now has a larger carbon footprint than the aviation industry (approximately 2% of global emissions), but this isn’t common knowledge to many of its 3.9 billion daily users. How is that so, and how can its negative impact be reduced or eliminated by individuals or businesses? One answer is to switch to sustainable web hosting.
Websites, e-mail services, apps and everything else that exists on the internet are all collections of files that are sent between devices. These files are stored (hosted) on servers (a type of computer that “serves” data) connected to the internet and they send the files to your device when you navigate to a website, click an app or open your inbox.
Servers are always on – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Over the course of a year, the internet uses more energy than the whole of the UK. Most servers are sited in data centers – in a large office or institution this might be a dedicated room or floor, or in the case of major internet corporations, massive air-conditioned warehouses. Servers use a lot of electricity and generate heat, so server cabinets and data centres often need to be cooled by air conditioning. When looking at the carbon footprint of “the internet”, the energy used by web hosting (servers and data centres) accounts for 20% of total energy consumption (other major sources include the manufacturing of hardware, and powering the computers, tablets and smartphones that end users access the internet with).
If you’re a business looking to reduce their carbon footprint or go carbon zero then switching your web hosting to a carbon neutral provider (ideally one that runs its servers and data centers using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels) is an easy win.
How to Switch to Sustainable Web Hosting
Your business website (and probably your work e-mails) consists of your domain name registration and website hosting. These might be with two different providers or both held with the same one. Every hosting provider has a different control panel, and therefore the method of switching will vary.
The first step is to select a carbon zero hosting provider (ideally one powered by renewables), such as Leap’s very own Wunderism.
Wunderism uses UK-based data centres with a PAS 2060 rating. Although these data centres use too much energy to run entirely on renewable energy, we offset all of the remaining carbon emissions created and then some. We achieve this through a number of schemes. If you opt to switch to Wunderism then we’ll provide you with a bespoke step-by-step guide to switching, or Cory can execute it for you. Other options include direct hosting with Google, or Ecohosting, Greengeeks, Kinsta or Kualo (who also offer free hosting for charities). The internet is a complicated system, so beware of passing your domain name through a CDN (Content Delivery Network) provider whose network of distributor servers may be carbon zero, however if your actual web hosting is not carbon zero then this will still account for the majority of your website’s carbon footprint.
You can view The Green Web Foundation’s Green Hosting Directory (broken down by country) here.
Once you have your hosting set-up:
- Download current website site files and database from your existing c-panel – your hosting provider may be able to supply full back-up. Ideally do this using FTP (file transfer protocol).
- Go into your new web hosting’s control panel and upload your website and database in the same way.
- If you’re transferring your e-mails to then the process is a bit more complicated. Some new providers will offer support and somebody can assist you with the process.
As mentioned previously, the exact method for moving your website will differ between providers, and because you’ll be moving your site between two providers there is not a single, simple, methodology.
Once your website and owned online activities are all live on your new green server, tell your team, friends and customers; many of them will probably be surprised to hear of the carbon footprint of their internet use. The more people who know, the greater the chance that we’ll see the sort of widespread changes in online use and digital habits occurring that society needs in order to make positive change.