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 MillionTreePledge.org 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.’