When it comes to creating a greener Internet, it has to be said that not all ‘green’ providers are created equal. In the web hosting industry, we’ve seen a rising trend of providers hopping on the sustainability bandwagon without truly bringing the actual goods along for the ride. As a result, we see a lot of greenwashing across the industry. Unfortunately, consumers are often misled into thinking they’re doing more for the planet than they are!
In recent years, sustainability and climate change have become buzzwords co-opted by such companies, often used as a marketing tagline in hopes that consumers won’t look too deeply into it. But we reckon that doing ‘just enough’ is…not enough.
So, we want to take you behind the scenes to where the real action is and explain what greenwashing looks like in the web hosting industry and what we do that sets us apart from other web hosting providers. We are not perfect, no one is – but we aim to do way more than what’s been the standard in the industry for too long.
What greenwashing looks like in the web hosting industry
In the hosting industry, you have the big players – larger corporations or brands who have grown over many years, often by acquiring other brands (the small to medium players).
In recent years, as more consumers show a deeper concern for sustainability and carbon footprints in how they choose their web hosting providers, these corporations have begun doing the bare minimum for the environment to promote that they care about our shared planet.
This is called greenwashing – a deceptive marketing practice where a company falsely portrays its products, services, or environmental efforts as more environmentally friendly or sustainable than they are to attract environmentally-conscious consumers.
A non-digital example that we can use is the fast-fashion industry. Quite a few of the big companies have an ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ range of clothing specifically to appeal to eco-conscious consumers. Still, when you look deeper into it, you’ll notice that there are suspicious things to note about the manufacturing process, fabric composition, or lack of consideration for end-of-life processing (that’s a fancy way of saying they don’t consider how their clothes end up in landfill waste).
When it comes to the web hosting, the team here at True Green feels that we have a responsibility to inform consumers like you about the prevalence of greenwashing in the web hosting industry and give you the tools to identify the common ways this marketing tactic is used, so you can make an informed decision when choosing a web hosting provider.
Here are a few common greenwashing claims by web hosting companies:
1. They’ll claim to have energy-efficient datacentres
Datacentres are where all your website files are stored on servers, which use a massive amount of energy. When web hosting companies claim that they have energy-efficient datacentres, please know that this claim is incredibly vague! Any datacentre can do one tiny and generally low impact thing – like switch to LED lightbulbs – and claim that they are energy-efficient.
The computer technology industry is always looking for ways to create more efficient servers that can store more memory and processing power, but the truth behind why is more cynical than the desire to save the environment: to be frank, creating efficient systems saves a lot of people a lot of money.
A web hosting company that claims to have energy-efficient datacentres is making a pretty standard promise. We, too, can claim the same! It’s the bare minimum for modern datacentres in this day and age – nothing extra special.
2. They’ll help you plant just one tree
Let us say that planting trees is an admirable thing to do for any individual or company. We’ve planted 1,367 trees so far through our partnership with Carbon Neutral. But we do this in full acknowledgement that whilst trees are an essential component in tackling climate change, they take many years to grow and become a beast in carbon capture. We also have the unlucky reality of trees that underperform or die (may they rest in leaves).
All this to say: If a web hosting company is boasting this as their only claim to fame in terms of being more green and sustainable – it’s time to question it! Often, the tree planting program happens just at the start of the customer sign up (as opposed to how we do it, which is planting trees to offset the carbon footprint of all our clients throughout the year). Is that one tree planted on your behalf truly enough? We think not.
3. They’re powered by 100% Renewable Energy
Our ultimate dream for True Green is for our operations to be powered by 100% renewable energy. Sadly, our research has shown that this is simply not possible…yet.
So when we saw that other companies have been making this bold claim, we wanted to know more. We thought that perhaps they know something we don’t, but as we discovered during our research, they feel more okay with stretching the truth than we do.
Most Australian web hosting companies that make this claim are known to use upstream providers (such as Google) who claim they use renewable power. Only that’s not true – their servers are not entirely powered by wind, solar, or hydroelectric energy. Nope, it’s simply that their server’s energy usage is being offset by renewable energy carbon credits or offset schemes, mixed in with what’s left in the energy grid.
These schemes do drive more investment in renewable energy long-term, which is a great thing! But it doesn’t change the fact that these servers are still running on the national electricity network here in Australia, which is, in turn, powered mostly by fossil fuels.
While there are international providers who are directly powered by renewable energy sources, using them results in a problem called latency. The further away your server location is from your customers (or from your location), the more energy is used for information to travel between borders. So, while using a cleaner provider overseas is an option (and one that we used early on in our passion project days), it would result in websites that don’t perform fast enough for today’s savvy consumers.
We currently work with providers like Cloudflare, who claim to be powered by renewable energy, and Sucuri, who reported a 97% renewable energy mix for their Equinix datacentre. But we still cannot control the fact that the electricity grid still powers a portion of our servers. So, until we are 100% sure that renewable energy sources fully power our servers, we will not make that claim. And while we’re not there yet, it is a big part of our vision and ambition to ensure this claim can finally be accurate in the future!
4. They are committed to Corporate Social Responsibility
We should also give an honourable mention to the big brands with a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) focus. Not the ones that release glossy brochures with a zillion words you can’t quite understand or those that make vague statements during specific national days (hashtag rainbow washing), but those companies who genuinely donate back to charities or environmental causes. Good on them.
However – and here’s another sadly cynical take – it’s usually got something to do with getting a tax deduction. At the risk of sounding petty, it’s not hard for a massive corporation to spare a bit of their budget for a CSR campaign to drum up a good news story while adding to their tax deductibles. It is what it is!
How True Green web hosting is different
So I guess after reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Far out – what can I do to solve this problem, and how is True Green any different?”.
Well, our name says it all! True Green is a play-off of the well-known Aussie phrase ‘true blue’ – we always stay true to our values, which includes being as green as possible in the way we operate.
We aim to be transparent in what we do and how we do it. We’re well aware we’re not perfect, but we also know that we are doing better than most and continue to strive to better ourselves at every opportunity. We’re a work in progress, but we’ll always be open about when and how that progress occurs.
Putting sustainability first is the way we do business. To do this without resorting to greenwashing, we take several steps to ensure we’re always living by the promise we make to you.
1. We donate 1% of our revenue every year to environmental causes.
A key cause is the Its Time Foundation’s Solar for Schools program. This program helps schools in remote communities ditch fossil fuel generators and replace them with solar panels. With the savings they get from reduced reliance on fossil fuel electricity, schools in remote communities like the Pacific Islands can get the school supplies they need. Plus, the program involves a regular plastic ocean clean-up as well!
2. We plant trees with Carbon Neutral to help reduce server emissions
Our suppliers upstream tell us how much we’d need to offset to cover the energy used up by your email or web server. We then verified that information with The Green Web Foundation, to calculate how many trees are required to offset the carbon footprint of all our clients. So we don’t just plant a tree every time a client signs up – we plant trees throughout that client’s time with us. To ensure we do more than the average, we also plant another tree for those on our Security Plus plans. The tree planting occurs every year based on how many active services we have. Tree planting isn’t perfect, as not all trees blossom in their habitat. And that’s why we partnered with Carbon Neutral to give them a good chance to thrive in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity corridor in Western Australia. Trees are also future carbon stores, meaning it’ll take several years for a tree to contribute. Hence, it should not be the only activity a green web host does.
3. We carbon offset based on actual page views
We hate averages as much as data scientists and pollsters do. So, we add up the page views of our active hosting clients and multiply that by a conservative carbon figure per page. The result is an annual carbon report card, which shows you how much you have contributed. Every year, those who host with True Green also get to vote on which carbon offset program we support with Carbon Neutral-accredited projects. So you’ll get a say in how your carbon offsets are utilised for the greater good!
4. We choose suppliers that match our values
As much as possible, we opt for suppliers that think and do incredible things for the planet. From our energy-efficient servers, paperless activities, GreenPower that we encourage our team to use, to energy audits, to the ETIKO fair trade clothing our team members wear, and even finding eco or ethical solutions to our sponsorship eco chargers – everything we do has a purpose.
5. We encourage e-waste recycling
We encourage our team to recycle their e-waste, offer a program for our eco chargers, and are planning to find more ways to help our hosting clients and Aussies do more of this.
6. We want to be completely carbon neutral…one day
And until that day comes, we will not claim that title! Before we get to that point, we must fully audit our supply chain and invest in being green to go further than any other web hosting provider has dreamed of. Even if the national energy grid achieves 100% renewables, we will still do more for the planet because doing ‘just enough’ is simply not enough to solve this climate crisis.
Truly green web hosting with True Green
Our shared planet is going through a crisis that will impact us all, and yet only a few companies are out there doing more than their bit to help solve it. While more giant web hosting corporations are content with doing the bare minimum, we believe there are people out there who want their web hosting company to do more than just that.
That’s where we come in! Planet-friendly practices are at the core of what we do and will continue to be a driving force behind every business decision. If you are an eco-conscious business owner looking to work with a green web hosting company with values aligned with yours, look no further! Head to our Green Web page to learn about green web hosting and how it will benefit you and our planet.