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Greener web hosting

The right web host can lower your carbon footprint and give you the freedom to grow your business
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Greener web hosting

This article first appeared in our Earth Day 2022 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, printed on 22 April 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Our lifestyles and economy are becoming increasingly digital; while going paperless and using less ‘stuff’ should be good news for the environment, many have warned that data is the new oil, and that our insatiable appetite for computing power can carry a high environmental cost.

According to the International Energy Agency, data centres consume nearly 1% of global electricity demand, and emit as much CO2 as the aviation industry.

Vast volumes of water are required to cool the facilities; in the US alone, data centres are thought to use 660 billion litres of water per year. On top of that the servers and IT equipment are made from precious resources that are intensively mined yet often only used for a short period of time, contributing to a crisis in electronic waste.

Tech and renewables

Data centres are increasingly being switched to solar, wind and even hydro power, and big tech – including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft – has been celebrated as the largest purchaser of renewable energy.

Yet that doesn’t mean these tech giants are running entirely on sun, wind and water; in fact, there might not even be sufficient clean energy in the grid to power their operations 24/7, which is why they have been described as pioneers of ‘virtual’ power purchase agreements.

At the same time it is often the operators – rather than the hosting companies themselves – that are making the switch to clean power.

‘Interestingly, the two largest hosting companies – GoDaddy and Newfold, formerly EIG – don’t seem to have made any conscious choice to reduce their impact on the environment and are instead relying on their partners, who aim to be renewably powered by 2025’, explains Simon Blackler, founder and CEO of Krystal. The web hosting company funded its own switch to 100% renewable energy in 2017, in one of several moves to create an alternative option for those conscious of their carbon footprint.

A consolidated market

When Simon founded Krystal 20 years ago, the internet was a relatively new phenomenon; not many people knew how to make websites and ‘get online’. ‘Back in the noughties it was new, exciting and a free for all’, Simon explains. ‘Those conditions attract both good and bad actors – and clients were getting the rough end.’

Prices for relatively simple tasks or designs were much higher than they should have been, service – where it existed at all – was outsourced to people who couldn’t really help and it was quite common to be able to purchase a service or product over the internet and not find a phone number or mailing address.

‘It was kind of wild in retrospect’, Simon says, ‘and that didn’t help to build trust. Reliability was a big problem.’

If website design was too expensive, web hosting was often unsustainably cheap. Individuals with some technical experience could quickly create a reliable-looking hosting ‘business’ and run it in their spare time. But as the number of clients increased, this breed of operation became impossible to maintain.

‘A significant number of these hosting companies just ceased trading without warning, leaving their clients without access to their data’, Simon remembers. ‘Many of those that didn’t were acquired by just two multinationals – GoDaddy and Newfold – which maintain over 100 brands to present the illusion of choice to consumers. I thought this was inherently disingenuous – and I still do!’

Today’s consolidated market has created a landscape where the quality of service could be seen as secondary to the maximisation of profits. Yet after leaving one company due to a perceived failure in service or support, there’s a good chance of switching to a different brand owned by the same company.

‘There is zero incentive for GoDaddy or Newfold to change their practices if their bottom line isn’t negatively affected’, Simon says.

Only a handful of independent hosting companies currently exists; if they saw more business, it would mean the average experience would get better.

A tech company with soul

Simon launched Krystal as an independent, family-owned business that wasn’t (and isn’t) for sale.

The goal was to address two issues: to offer a reliable and honest service in an industry he felt was ‘ripping people off’ and to create a purpose-driven company that would make a positive environmental impact.

‘We wanted to tackle all of the shortcomings we perceived in the industry’, Simon explains, ‘and create a technology company with a heart and soul – that exists for a purpose beyond just making money and that would benefit the planet.’

Simon reasoned that creating a platform that could do good in the world, now and long after he was gone, would give his life purpose. ‘I wanted to create a company that would be here for the long run; we wouldn’t disappear overnight without warning or sell to one of the companies we set out to challenge’, he says. ‘The pressure to generate short-term profit above all else is something that has turned many great companies away from what made them successful in the first place.’

Demand for greener hosting

From the outset Krystal has always been motivated by altruistic principles; it charges a fair and sustainable price, then invests profits in improving the company and leaving a lasting positive environmental legacy.

Last year Krystal co-founded with other UK companies and planted over 1.2 million trees. It has also pledged to plant or protect 1 billion trees by 2030, in a bid to inspire others to take action and help to leave the planet in a better state for future generations.

‘There are currently around 3 trillion trees remaining in the world; about half the number that existed before human civilisation’, Simon explains. ‘The latest IPCC report has made it clear that, in addition to cutting emissions, taking carbon out of the atmosphere is crucial. Trees do this – and so much more.’

The recent IPCC report has been described as a code red for humanity, yet the ecological collapse that it forewarns is entirely avoidable – if we all work together.

Thankfully customers have the power to drive meaningful change and are more powerful than they think. Demand for greener web hosting is on the rise, in part due to growing awareness around personal carbon footprints and a broad will to take responsibility for our own impact on the planet.

Education is key; if you don’t know your website has a carbon footprint then you don’t know it’s an area of your life or business that can be addressed and improved.

Avoiding greenwash

Simon feels some offset schemes can be ‘a quick way to assuage guilt’ and act as ‘permission to pollute or carry on harmful activities.’ There’s a risk of developed countries pushing their carbon burden to developing nations, which may or may not actually do something impactful with the money.

‘Sourcing energy from a supplier producing renewables means there’s no scope for misunderstanding’, Simon explains. ‘When we pay for electricity from a renewable source we are helping to fund and service investment in future renewable energy development. This is a virtuous circle that attracts more investment and brings down the cost; ultimately if it’s cheaper than producing energy from fossil fuels, people will switch for economic reasons which will bring the scale the planet needs.’

Krystal makes limited use of offset schemes in addition to other initiatives, which helps to build trust and avoid the accusations of greenwashing that Simon predicts will become more common in the sector.

‘Anyone looking for an authentically green web host should look for a company that promises more than vague carbon offsets’, Simon tells us. ‘Energy supply should be 100% renewable. Look at what other initiatives the hosting company is undertaking and whether it is seeking ways to protect and restore the environment, or just trotting out a carbon offset programme.’

Should you switch host?

Many people don’t give much thought to their host, but switching could bring important environmental benefits. When looking for a new host technical performance will of course be important but, while mileage does vary considerably, the top hosts stand out on the merits of their support. If things are run well, you’ll only need to call on them when you’ve got a query.

‘Spend some time researching various options, check reviews and ask the company a few questions to see how they treat you’, Simon advises. ‘That should give you a good feel for how they operate.’

Most hosts will offer some form of introductory pricing or a money-back guarantee, and the best will help you move your site over if you need it. This indicates they’re confident you’re going to be around for the long term, which is a good sign.

The primary advantage of finding the right hosting partner is that they will let you forget about your hosting so that you can focus on growing your business.

Simon has a keen grasp of how important this is; ‘by leaving the tech to us, our clients – individuals, designers, agencies and businesses – can focus on marketing and support for their own customers’, he explains.

Krystal also provides all the complementary services – such as domain names, email, databases, backups and SSL certificates – so clients don’t need to stitch a comprehensive service together from a patchwork of different providers.

‘Large businesses can make use of our VPS and cloud infrastructure and we run some of the largest websites in the world using clusters of servers working together in harmony to deliver scale and performance’, Simon tells us. ‘These days we also offer a range of complementary business services such as a remote helpdesk, VOIP and tools for developers. We even host other hosting companies.’

To make life easy, Krystal offers a free migration service for anyone moving between platforms or moving to Krystal from another host. ‘Migrating to a different web host can be complicated depending on the type of website (for example, which CMS it uses), but it can also be made easy with the right planning and support.’

Trust and transparency

Krystal’s products and services are governed and influenced by the company’s character: they were designed to be the best technologically, and delivered with personal support which, judging by reviews, clients seem to love.

‘Because we’re not in a race to maximise profit or shareholder return we can (and do!) do things that other companies can’t or won’t’, Simon reveals. ‘We never cut corners because we care about performance, not profit. This ends up with a tangible difference clients can feel, even over the internet.’

The web hosting industry is highly competitive, and on the surface it seems difficult to differentiate between the players. As individuals and businesses become better informed and more selective about their suppliers, transparency around origin, performance and sustainability will become distinguishing factors.

‘When we talk about transparency what we’re actually seeking is trustworthiness’, Simon explains.’ And this sector has a chequered history with regards to being trustworthy.’

Trust and transparency are so important to Krystal’s mission that, alongside principles of quality, value and rarity, they inspired the company’s name.

‘We’ve got a long way to go, as does the rest of the sector, but we’re working towards achieving B Corp status and we never rest on our laurels’, Simon says. ‘We’re excited to discover just how efficient and sustainable we can make the business.’

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