The Green Programmer

What can we do for a sustainable web?

Photo credit: Frank Carver (c) 2020

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am currently undertaking research for a PhD in sustainable software. I don’t have full results from my experimentation so far, but the more I look into this area, and the more that I see of the huge impact the internet has on the environment, the more I want to start making changes right now.

This post covers some of the things I am doing, and some of the things you can do too, to help make our contribution to the internet “greener”.

The first thing I have to re-iterate is that there is nothing magic about “the cloud”. What we think of as cloud services and cloud storage are just computers running software in a data centre somewhere around the world. This has two major implications:

  • Nothing is really free. You may pay nothing for your “cloud” email account or photo or video storage, but somebody is paying, both in money and in the environmental impact.
  • If you choose wisely, you can potentially reduce the impact of your internet use, often without significant additional costs. The tricky bit is choosing wisely!

I would hope that most people would, if all other things were equal, choose to use internet services with a lower environmental cost. Unfortunately, it’s not at all easy to work out the true environmental cost of the services on offer. Unlike, for example, home appliances and cars, there is little or no information available on this topic. Service providers make bold claims about the value and usability of the services they provide, but the real costs are almost never mentioned.

I want to bring this out into the open, and encourage everyone involved, from software developers to service providers, to compete on environmental impact as well as on end-user cost and provided facilities.

Part of how I am addressing this is through my PhD research, but as a single researcher it’s difficult to even scratch the surface of such a huge area. My research is currently concentrating on a very specific area of software for the internet and attempting to develop measurable comparisons between some “behind the scenes” components. But I also want to take every opportunity to highlight anyone else who is already taking a stand in this area.

And this is something you can do too.

Take, for example the area of web hosting. It’s a huge business, and there are many big names. A quick google turns up DreamHost, BlueHost, HostGator, Wix, GoDaddy, Ionos, and thousands more. They compete on a variety of things such as price, features, speed and so on, but very few are up-front about their environmental credentials.

When I was setting up this website and blog, I looked at a lot of such hosting providers and quickly became discouraged, but then I was delighted to find GreenGeeks, a web hosting provider which competes on its environmental impact. I have been very happy with their service, and will certainly recommend them for the practical side of web hosting. But there is something which is more important to me. By choosing to host my website with GreenGeeks, and by publicising it in posts such as this, I am voting with my credit card as well as my writing for the idea of inuformed choice and not hiding the environmental cost of internet services.

  • If you are looking for an ethical web hosting provider, please take a look at GreenGeeks.
  • If you know of any other internet providers which advertise and compete on their “green” credentials, please let me know, so I can feature them here too.

Note that I have been so impressed with GreenGeeks’ approach that I have signed up as an affiliate, which in turn means that if you buy from them after clicking through my links I get a small payment. I encourage you to check them out and make your own informed decision.