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

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

Internet companies can no longer ignore the issue of sustainability. At RAIDBOXES, we've taken the issue seriously from the very beginning starting with our Green hosting. The internet, WordPress, and WordPress hosting all consume a lot of energy. So how environmentally friendly can the web really be? Are sustainable approaches authentic? An overview of the current debates.

What does WordPress have to do with the environment?

Simon Kraft aka @krafit is an institution in the German-speaking WordPress scene. In his blog he writes extensively about the interplay between WordPress and sustainability. At WordCamps and WP MeetUps he regularly speaks on the topic. At the WordCamp Stuttgart 2019 there was a separate 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 39 percent of all websites worldwide run on WordPress. In other words: how performant WordPress works 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 sees us all as carrying some of the responsibility. In WordPress, the web, and the planet, he lists concrete measures we can all take:

  • Remove unnecessary ballast from your website. Especially those areas that send a lot of data. For example, maps from Google Maps. Or social media integrations that connect to the networks every time a page is viewed.
  • Do you really need to have image galleries and oversized images for your posts? When editing our article on SEO I exchanged large .gifs for significantly smaller still images, for example. These explain the topic just as well and also minimize the loading time. Moreover, the feature image to this article is quite deliberately at a very low .jpg quality level.
  • Get rid of plugins you no longer need. It doesn't only make your WordPress project more secure, in many cases it also improves speed.
  • Do you develop plugins and themes? Simon has some special tips (in German) for you. Simplify code, update or remove old code libraries. You save resources with every byte that isn't transmitted.

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:

At websitecarbon.com you can get a rough estimate of your website's carbon footprint. In our article on Green hosting we also list more tools to help you find this information.

Tip: Simon Kraft is still looking for helping hands to make WordPress more sustainable. He's starting wpforfuture.org for this purpose. Although the site isn't live yet, you can subscribe to the newsletter and he'll let you know when it starts.

website carbon
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

A novel approach is followed by the search engine Ecosia. It's technically based on Bing from Microsoft. The difference is the profits generated are used to support reforestation projects. RAIDBOXES has a similar pledge to plant a tree for every website you host with us. More on that later.

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

  • Transparency: The search engine publishes monthly reports. This shows how much money has been raised and what percentage of the income goes into tree projects.
  • CO2-neutral: Through different projects Ecosia is not only climate-neutral, it's climate-positive. Google also strives to use renewable energies but admits they still have room for improvement.
  • Privacy: Ecosia claims to protect your privacy. For example, by not permanently saving search queries or not passing on data to advertisers. This also indirectly reduces electricity consumption.

With the action green leaf the project goes one step further. Sustainable companies and initiatives are highlighted in the search results with a green leaf symbol:

Ecosia search engine
The "green" search results for Ecosia

The search engine works together with eco-labels like Hilfswerft , natrue.org. Google alternatives still only have an extremely niche existence. But discussions about the market power of the internet giants are already well underway.

Tip: Maria Steinberg lists further digital ways to plant trees.

Measures for online shops

The t3n takes a pragmatic view in a recent article for online shops :

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 as Amazon is already getting a green lick 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 devours energy. And we don't just mean the servers on which your WordPress or WooCommerce project lies. The infrastructure of a data center also requires a lot of resources. As a hosting provider, we need electricity for our office, marketing, and our employees' travel. For example, to go to WordCamps.

You want to offer your customers a particularly fast portal? Of course you do! But when you use high-performance web hosting, it consumes more energy. On the other hand, features like server-side caching reduce the data load.

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 for our Green hosting because we want to do more for the common good - bit by bit. With our renaturation programs, we not only work in a climate-neutral way, we're even climate positive.

  • We support Eden Reforestation Projects (short: Eden). The non-profit organization works in regions particularly affected by climate change and global deforestation. With the help of our customers, we've so far been able to plant over 117,500 trees.
  • RAIDBOXES uses 100% electricity from hydropower. We know not all green electricity is the same. That's why we pay attention to fair 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.
  • This philosophy includes, for example, our vision Open Source and Equal Opportunities, the concept of Holacracy, environmentally conscious products and materials for our office and supporting remote work.

Do you also want to rely on climate-positive web hosting and enjoy the benefits of managed hosting for WordPress or WooCommerce? 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 commission and get even more trees planted. See our FREE DEV Partner 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? Please leave us a comment. Do you want more current articles on WordPress and sustainability? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Picture: Becca Lavin

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