Is There Such Thing as a Sustainable Internet? How Green is WordPress?

Michael Firnkes Last updated 01.12.2020
7 Min.
Green Internet
Last updated 01.12.2020

No responsible online company today can ignore the topic of sustainability. The sheer amount of energy needed to keep the Internet, WordPress and web hosting running is immense and growing. From the very beginning, offering green hosting has been our priority at RAIDBOXES. But the question remains: How ecological can the web really be? And what authentic steps can we all take ourselves as internet professionals to reduce our impact on the environment? We tackle these questions and more in today’s article.

What does WordPress have to do with the environment?

WordPress community member Simon Kraft aka @krafit explores the relationship between WordPress and sustainability in his blog. He also regularly speaks on the topic at WordCamps and WP MeetUps. At WordCamp Stuttgart 2019 there was even a separate topic area on "Sustainability and Performance".

Simon explains the connection as follows:

"Internet operations already account for just under 10% of annual global energy consumption. This figure is likely to rise to over 20% by 2030."

Currently, about 41 percent of all websites worldwide are operated with WordPress. In concrete terms, this means that how well WordPress performs is one of the factors that will determine the future of our planet.

"We have to counter the trend of increasingly complex and overloaded websites... We already have all the tools for climate-friendly websites in our hands. We just have to be consistent in using them."

Simon believes this is a responsibility we all share as website operators. In his postWordPress, the web and the climate, he lists specific actions we can take:

  • Remove unnecessary ballast from your website. Especially features that involve large data transfers, e.g. Google Maps or social media integrations that connect to the networks every time a page is viewed.
  • Reconsider image galleries and oversized feature images. When we posted a magazine article on SEO, for example, we converted large GIFs to much smaller still images. These explain the topic just as well but have the benefit of minimizing load time. This is an approach we follow for all articles in our magazine wp unboxed.
  • Clean out your plugins. This not only makes your WordPress more secure, but it can also give your website a performance boost.
  • Slim down your development. If you develop plugins and themes, Simon has some special tips for you. Simplify the code, update old code libraries or remove them. Every byte that's not transferred saves resources.

WordPress developers in particular can have a much bigger impact than they realize. Because their source code is used on a large number of websites. The entire traffic that arises from a poorly thought out development increases its impact exponentially.

Do you run websites or online shops with WooCommerce? You can also make an important contribution. Check out our following articles:

On websitecarbon.com you can roughly estimate the CO₂ emissions of your website. We list more tools in our article on green hosting.

Tip: Simon Kraft is still looking for comrades-in-arms to make WordPress more sustainable. He has started wpforfuture.org for this purpose. The site is not yet live. But you can subscribe to the newsletter and you will be informed about the launch.

websitecarbon
The site websitecarbon.com

Sustainable surfing

Something we're rarely aware of when it comes to sustainability is how our "surfing" habits have a major influence on our personal carbon footprint. Ranting about SUVs, decrying air travel while also streaming every possible series on Netflix and Co? These don't seem to fit together.

If you really want to get involved with protecting the environment, you need to take a critical look at your behavior and consider the following points:

  • Do I really need to upload every file, backup, and photo to the cloud?
  • How long do the files need to be stored? Am I deleting data I no longer need?
  • When would a local backup be enough, e.g. on a USB stick or external hard drive?
  • How often do I use things like live streaming or data-heavy games?
  • Are there certain features that increase traffic but I can do without?
  • Are there files I download from Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or Netflix and similar services without ever actually watching or listening to them?
  • Are there materials in the office I download repeatedly? Can I save them locally?

Your user behavior in social networks also plays a role. Do I really need to reload my timeline on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Co. every five minutes? Do I have to let autoplay on YouTube run in the background? Each individual task only consumes a small amount of data. But when you consider the sum of all the users performing these tasks, it quickly amounts to a gigantic data load.

Green alternatives to Google

The search engine Ecosia takes a different approach. It is technically based on Microsoft's Bing. The difference is that the profits are used to support reforestation projects. Similar to RAIDBOXES. For every WordPress site , which you host with us, we plant a tree for you. More about that later.

Ecosia is based in Berlin. The company promises the following key points for sustainability:

  • Transparency: The search engine publishes monthly reports. In it, you can see how much money has been raised and what percentage of the revenue goes to tree projects.
  • CO2-neutral: Through various projects, Ecosia is not only climate-neutral, but climate-positive. Google also strives to use renewable energies, but admits that there is still room for improvement.
  • Privacy: Ecosia claims to protect privacy. For example, search queries are not stored permanently or the data is not passed on to advertisers. Indirectly, this also reduces power consumption.

With the green leaf campaign, the project goes one step further. Search results from sustainable companies and initiatives are highlighted with a corresponding symbol:

Ecosia search engine
The "green" search results for Ecosia

The search engine works together with eco-labels such as Hilfswerft or natrue.org. Alternatives to Google still enjoy an absolute niche existence. But the first discussions about the market power of the Internet giants are already here.

Tip: Maria Steinberg lists more digital ways to plant trees on her blog.

Measures for online shops

The t3n sees it in a recent article for online retailers quite pragmatic:

Ignoring climate change will be expensive. Retailers need to become carbon neutral.

The author sees this as our "responsibility towards future generations". But it's also a responsibility "from a PR point of view". That's certainly one way of looking and if it actually helps the environment - why not.

Do you use WordPress and WooCommerce to run an online shop? Check out the guidebook from t3n. It tackles, among others, the following questions:

  • What can shop owners do to become climate neutral? Just like Amazon already gives itself a green coat of paint.
  • Is offsetting carbon emissions just an interim solution?
  • When is a greenwashing allegation justified?
  • What advisory services are available on sustainability and environmental protection?
  • In which specific areas can CO2 emissions be reduced? For example, the choice of green electricity, in shipping, or in the vehicle fleet.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel if you want your online shop to be more ecological. We've collected interesting articles on the topic of "green online shops" for you below. Get inspiration from the shops mentioned in the following articles:

Sustainable shopping
Example of a green online shop: Acovadostore

WordPress hosting: RAIDBOXES and climate action

Web hosting consumes energy. This does not only concern the servers themselves, on which your WordPress or WooCommerce project is located. The infrastructure of a data center also needs a lot of resources. As a hosting provider, we also need electricity for our office, marketing and for the travels of our employees, among other things. For example, to the WordCamps.

You want to offer your customers a particularly fast portal? That is understandable. But then you use a high-performance web hosting that consumes more energy. In return, features like server-side caching ensure that the data load is reduced.

Green hosting can't make the energy needed obsolete. But it can compensate it to a certain degree. In principle, there are three ways to do this:

  1. Ensure the electricity used comes from sources that are as "clean" as possible
  2. Support projects that minimize CO2 emissions
  3. Follow an overall sustainable corporate philosophy

At RAIDBOXES , we use all three options for our green hosting. Because we want to do more for the common good step by step. With our renaturation programs, we not only work climate-neutral, but even climate-positive:

  • We support Eden Reforestation Projects (Eden for short). The non-profit organisation works in regions that are particularly suffering from climate change and global deforestation. With the help of our customers, we have been able to plant over 13,000 trees so far.
  • RAIDBOXES uses 100 percent electricity from hydropower. We are aware that not all green electricity is the same. That is why we pay attention to fair framework conditions with our energy partners.
  • In addition to compensating for our green WordPress hosting, we're gradually implementing a corporate philosophy that focuses on sustainability in all areas.
  • These are, for example, points such as our vision on the subject of open source and equal opportunities, the concept of the Holacracy , environmentally conscious products and materials for our office or the support of home office and remote work.

You also want to rely on climate-positive web hosting? And use the advantages of managed hosting for WordPress or WooCommerce ? Then take a look at our climate-positive WordPress hosting.

Tip: As an agency you have even more leverage: Develop your projects for free, recommend our WordPress Green Hosting, earn top commissions and have trees planted for it. See our FREE DEV affiliate program.

Hear more about our campaign "Plant, Prevent, Protect" in this video (in German):

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Eden relies on local residents or workers for their projects and pays them from donated funds. That was another reason why we chose to work with this partner. The organization makes an active contribution to the fight against poverty. And this is an essential part of our approach to sustainability.

How "green" is your behavior on the net? You have questions or further tips? Feel free to use the comment function. You want more news about WordPress and sustainability? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter.

Contributed photo: Becca Lavin

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Comments on this article

I think you raise some valid points. With WordPress being used on so many websites it's undeniable that they have a big impact on the environment. The question is what the affect of an alternative would be - for a lot of people they would likely use a website builder which isn't necessarily better.

Your suggestion to reduce the number of plugins is probably something we should all be doing as there is probably a lot of electricity wasted through plugins that aren't even being used.

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