How Green Is Your Blog? From Eco Web Hosts to Green Power

BlogHer Original Post

How green is your blog? We often share tips on saving money and the environment by saving energy at BlogHer -- and of course, greening your blogging habit's part of that. But thanks to all the mixed messages and sometimes-shady green marketing out there, green blogging often sounds confusing or contradictory. How exactly does one green a blog?

We could worry about everything from getting a green computer to recycling your laptop, but for this post, I'm focusing just on blogging's energy use. Basically, your blogging habit pulls power from the grid at three places: Your own computer, your readers' computers, and your web host's servers. Your mission as a would-be green blogger: Reduce and green your power consumption in each of these areas. Here's how to go about it:

1. Green your host. If you don't have your own domain (i.e. if you have a domain that looks like yourblog.wordpress.com or myblog.blogspot.com), you can't pick your own host -- so move on to step two. If you do have your own domain, however, pick a green company to host your blog -- and choose carefully to make sure your company really is green.

What makes a web host eco-friendly? Two types of companies will tout their web hosting services as green. The first type actually produces its own green power, whether via its own solar panels, wind turbines, or other renewable energy source. The second type gets its energy from the electrical grid, just like "conventional" web hosts -- then simply buys carbon offsets for the amount of energy they use.

I recommend the first type -- both for environmental and practical purposes. With the second type, you need to do a lot more research to figure out whether the web hosting deal you're getting is really green. If a company's greening effort's achieved mainly through carbon offsets, that means the company's initially creating a lot of carbon pollution (usually by drawing from the conventional grid, which in the U.S., still gets a lot of its power from coal) -- then paying for greening initiatives (i.e., planting trees that will soak up carbon dioxide) to technically offset the amount of carbon they've put into the atmosphere.

Those purchased carbon offsets could be putting money toward really good causes -- but it'll be your onus to investigate if those carbon-offsetting projects are really legit (yes, there have been scams). Considering the fact that anyone can buy carbon offsets, I don't really see the point of going through the trouble switching to a new web host who'll buy offsets. After all, you can just stick to your current dirty web host and buy carbon offsets from a reputable offsetting company you trust with the same end result.

That's why I generally recommend going with a web host that produces its own green energy -- and thus doesn't put extra carbon emissions out there in the first place to require offsetting. My web host AISO, for example, draws power from its own solar panels -- which means I know exactly where my power's coming from (the sun!) and what it's not made from (dirty coal). Treehugger has a handy list of companies that get their power from renewable sources to get you started.

I want to make clear that I'm not unilaterally denouncing green web hosts that don't produce their own green energy. Green bloggers Karina Tipton and Jenn Sturiale at Tiny Choices, for example, use Acorn Host, which buys renewable energy certificates. Karina and Jenn describe the company as "carbon neutral, powered by green energy, and a woman owned business," though I'd quibble with that middle point since drawing from the conventional grid and buying RECs is not the same as being powered by green energy. Still, the Green America-approved, woman-owned business could be a good choice for some -- especially if you live in Portland, where the founder works to support local indie businesses and nonprofits.

Of course, a green host should not sacrifice good performance and customer service. Do some research to get reviews from people who've used the host you're considering. TriplePundit, for example, raves about SolarHost:

The site overall does a great job of being both accessible and helpful to those who aren't tech focused, and pleasing those who need to know, to the last detail, what they’ll be getting. Overall, it’s more in line with how modern business is moving: More human, less tech, great results.

But not all green hosts get such good reviews. Sheryl Lyon from A Much Better Way tried making the switch to Green Geeks -- and the aftermath was so disastrous Sheryl documented them in detail in a post ending with this angry statement:

I should have uploaded a ton of stuff to their servers and forced them to use another windmill.

Of course Green Geeks doesn't even use windmills, since this is yet another web host that simply buys offsets.

2. Green your readers. As you can tell from step 1, I believe carbon offsets should really only be a last resort, when you can't reduce energy use or get your energy from renewable sources. But when it comes to greening your readers' computer habits, offsets are about all you have -- for the simple reason that you just can't force your readers to behave greenly!

So I use CO2Stats (see bottom right corner of my personal blog) which buys renewable energy certificates to offset the energy used by my readers while they're on my site -- for free (with ads). That said, I got that free deal because I was an early adopter.

Sign up now and you've got to pay -- but you'll have better options for offsetting all matter of computer use practices. This company will "calculate the combined carbon emissions of the servers, networks, and visitors' computers that supported your website" -- then let you pay to offset. So if you don't have your own domain, for example, and can't switch to a green web host, CO2Stats and services like them can help you offset all your bloggy activities in one go.

3. Green your power. Keep your blogging activities at home as green as possible by greening your computer use habits. And be sure to opt for green power from your utility if given the option. If you own your own home and your budget allows, maybe you'll even want to get your own solar panels or small wind turbine!

Then, consider offsetting what you can't reduce. Companies like Little Green Genie will calculate your personal computer energy use -- depending on where you live (i.e. how much of your state’s electricity comes from renewable sources) -- and lets you offset your eco-sins.
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A final note about offsetting: Lately, instead of buying from companies that specifically sell carbon offsets, I've started donating to local nonprofits that do green work. For example, I donated to a local tree planting nonprofit called Treepeople to "offset" a flight -- even though Treepeople doesn't label its plant-a-tree donations as "offsets." This makes me feel I'm making a contribution to my own community -- a tangible contribution, since I'm very familiar with the work my local nonprofit does.

Got other tips for greening the blogging life? Rants or raves about specific green web hosts? Share them in the comments!
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BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs at greenLAgirl.com.

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