Ways to make your company green and sustainable

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 May 2015

As US Secretary of State John Kerry warns world leaders at the Climate Summit in Peru that the world is "still on a course leading to tragedy" there will never be a better time for us as web agencies, marketers and website owners to adopt greener working habits than now. We will all have to make these changes at some point: so why wait?

By 2020, the Web Hosting industry will surpass the Airline industry in Environmental Pollution! Δ

Although the concept of a green web agency or a low carbon footprint website may seem odd to some, there is a huge amount that we can be doing to make the web a greener place... and I am not just talking about reading this article whilst stroking our beards.

How large is the web's carbon footprint?

Change in average web page size 2013-2014

From 2003 - 2014, the average web page size increased 17-fold (93.7K to over 1600K)**. The cause? Broadband (and coming soon fiber) internet connections are improving the speed of the web allowing web developers to design and build more cumbersome websites. Single enterprise-scale data centers used to store our website data are often the size of shopping malls consuming 100 times the electricity per square metre.

Some estimates suggest that the web hosting industry will contribute 5% of global climate change by 2050 Δ.

Carbon footprint comparison

Despite industry-leading efforts in data center efficiency, Facebook reported a 19% one-year rise in carbon footprint in 2013. However average Facebook use per person for the entire year still has about the same carbon impact as a medium latte.

Comparison of carbon emissions from email twitter and google search

As far as social networks go, Twitter is also fairly green, with one tweet estimated to cost 0.02 grams of CO2 emissions. In comparison, a Google search query emits 0.2 grams of CO2 whilst a spam email puffs out 0.3 grams (another great reason if it was needed to stop spamming forever)*.

What can we do?

Internet users are not going to stop searching, and there are also some obvious advantages to using the internet, such as a massive saving of paper by reading our news on line - so the future has to be one in which we embrace renewable energy and adopt sustainable practices: and this is exactly what I want to explore for the remainder of this article.

Below I investigate ways you can be greener online, and how you can create a greener office environment with more sustainable environmentally friendly practices. I really do hope you find some inspiration from this and it helps you move forward to a greener future.

Ways to be greener online

Many companies use green hosting or carbon neutrality as an effective selling point with a positive effect on brand image.

Switch to a hosting company who use renewable energy

By choosing to host your website with an environmentally friendly web hosting company your website's carbon footprint can be lowered, neutralised or even negated. There are a few other list of green hosts around the web, but here I have listed only well-established, reliable web hosting companies, with a clear green policy and mission statement on their websites.

Hosting companies directly using renewable energy

GreenGeeks use wind-powered servers AND work with environmental foundations to purchase wind energy credits to put back into the grid for three times the amount of energy they actually consume. In effect GreenGeeks not only wipe out their carbon footprint but are negating the carbon footprint of two additional companies of their size.

Swiss company HostPoint use 100% hydropower-energy (without Pumped storage) to power their datacenter. While this guarantees carbon neutrality in the production of the energy, to achive complete carbon neutrality, they compensate emissons through a partnership with MyClimate.org. As an additional effort to save energy, Hostpoint also use Cold Aisle Containments for our servers to optimise power usage effectiveness. We have a number of sites on Hostpoint, and can report an excellent service.

iPage use 100% wind energy hosting AND have bought enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset your energy use by 200%. Our web agency have used iPage for some of our websites and can vouch for a decent experience, though they do seem to have a major issue with Joomla form to email scripts.

Aiso are powered by an onsite solar farm, have a green roof and recycle moisture for cooling.

Hosting companies who "offset" carbon emissions

The following hosting companies purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), similar to offsetting carbon emissions from their datacenters. These companies are essentially paying for green energy to be put back into the power grid equal to the amount they use - Dreamhost, Canvashost, Hostgator, Hostpapa, Fatcow, Acorn host.

Efficient Hosting Companies

Whilst not renewable, Openhost appear to be setting the way in terms of efficiency with servers shown to be 80% more energy efficient than physical hardware.

There are other hosts who have solar powered offices and will plant a tree on your behalf, but if you are going green, why not go the whole hog.

Offset your own carbon footprint

If your office cannot directly access green energy, or you want to offset for example business travel, the following websites will calculate your carbon footprint and offset it for a fee: CO2 Stats and CO2 Neutral Website.

Remove digital litter

Web designers in particular can play their part in keeping the web tidy by simply removing old websites and large files such as video.

Suppose an average website has 20 images of 100Kb each unused (for some websites, this figure can be massively higher), that would be 2Mb redundant images per website. Multiply this by the 1 billion plus websites worldwide, and that gives you a massive saving of space, saving on servers used to store that space, and ultimately a saving of energy used to run the servers.

Estimated energy saving by moving present day business services to the cloud

Move your services to the cloud

Research recently published by the Berkeley Lab (get the download) found that moving all office workers in the United States to the cloud could reduce the energy used by information technology by up to a staggering 87%.

Why is the cloud more efficient?

The cloud is large, so it can more efficiently distribute resources among many users. Rather than using a large number of smaller servers each with low utilization, the cloud has fewer but far larger servers with a higher utilisation and efficiency. Furthermore, the cloud has state of the art, highly efficient and continually optimised cooling systems.

Before switching your business over to cloud computing, here are some important considerations you should make.

Environmental impact of email locally server Vs cloud based email
Cloud based email services

Using cloud based email services such as gmail is more energy efficient than using email hosted on local servers (such as on a server in your office or room). A business using Gmail decreases the environmental impact of their email service by up to 98%.

Small businesses with less than 50 people can save up to 172.8 kWh of energy and 101.6 kg of carbon per user per year by using Gmail instead of locally-hosted email.

Ways to create a greener office with sustainable practices

Save on paper

Paper manufacturing is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels worldwide. δ

Average worldwide annual paper consumption is 48kg per person with North America accounting for over one third α. Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. Europe is leading the way with over 71% of paper being recycled.

The best way to save paper is by not using it at all, so printing on both sides, or adding one of the "Think before you print" icons below your email signature and on electronic documents is a positive difference that you can make right now.

Think before your print leaf designThink before your print grass designThink before your print pointy finger design

Cut down on work travel

To reduce fuel emissions, offer incentives that encourage car sharing, walking and taking public transport. Adding a solar powered car battery charger will essentially mean free green fuel for workers - a strong incentive to switch over to electric powered vehicles.

Allowing employees to work from home can also significantly reduce business miles.

Consider co-working

Coworking, or office sharing can help keep costs down for your company by saving on rent, whilst also reducing your company's carbon footprint. Allowing employees to telecommute has the double sided environmental benefit of less cars on the road, and saving office space due to workers rotating in shifts.

Recycle everything

Buy recycled products, and recycle everything from ink cartridges to coffee cups. Old office furniture can often be useful at local schools, or donated to charity, or even sold to upcycling stores.

Lower carbon emissions of LED lighting Vs traditional incandescent lighting

Save electricity

Better than going green is never using energy in the first place. Here are a number of often simple steps to smash energy consumption directly within your office - use energy efficient equipment, switch to LED lighting, switch everything off at night before you leave, optimise the energy efficiency settings for your own laptop.

As well as lasting over 40 longer on average, LED lighting emits roughly one tenth the carbon dioxide of traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Switch to renewables

Switch to a renewable energy provider may be as easy as phoning your electricity supplier and requesting them to make the switch for you.

Organise an annual charity event

Many web based companies are now getting involved in charity events - just to take a look at your Facebook feed and my guess is that you will find one of your friends or colleagues raising money for a good cause. We don't all need to start a foundation like Bill Gates - every little helps, and this could be anything as humble as organising a pickup of plastic bottles in your park to collecting taking part in a charity run.

At Jeyjoo our aim is to give 5% of our time to charity every year, by offering our web design services for free.

Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day is celebrated annually on the 22 April. You can help by organising an event or taking part in an Earth Day initiative.



References

* Fastcompany
** Websiteoptimisation.com
Δ GreenGeeks
δ American Forest and Paper Association, (Garner, J.W. Energy Conservation Practices Offer Environmental and Cost Benefits. Pulp & Paper, October 2002).
α Source: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) Discussion Paper (IIED, London, September 1996)

Further reading

Find out what Google is doing to make the IT sector greener.
Forbes - how green is the web.

Mike Fitzpatrick

Mike Fitzpatrick is the founder and web developer at Jeyjoo web design. He works with both individuals and companies to grow their businesses online.
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