The Green Hosting Scam?

I occasionally read The Web Hosting Show and for the most part, I enjoy it and think Mitch has done a pretty good job. I then see a post titled When is a Green Web Host Really Green? and this phrase:

That means that you are environmentally friendly and you fall under what is a scam in my opinion with the whole carbon offset project.

jumps out at me. Ouch, Mitch.

There seems to be a misconception regarding Green Tags (Renewable Energy Certificates) and Carbon Emissions Trading in that some folks seem to think “buying offsets” either through certificates or through cap and trade is the same thing, and that’s not actually the case. For one thing, cap and trade is an enforced trading scheme set up by governments to bring down carbon emissions where companies trade their allotments among themselves, so if you can buy enough credits and someone didn’t use all theirs, you can pollute more – renewable energy certificates are an entirely voluntary program that anyone can participate in.

We purchase our REC’s from BEF, and if you visit their site you can see exactly where the energy that we buy comes from. Again, this is voluntary, and its a megawatt for megawatt replacement, not a “carbon emissions trading” scheme where we’re allowed to pollute a certain amount and then buy more if we need go over. The way this works is that we purchased whatever energy we need (which, since we lease servers, is factored in to our fees to the NOC) and then we buy it again, clean, if we are unable to buy it clean initially – our home office is powered by 100% renewable energy because we pay a premium to do so to our electric company so we don’t re-buy that. Our NOC is not, and so we re-purchase our portion of that energy to be fed into the grid so that someone, somewhere, will use the solar energy we paid for when they would have chosen or had to use non-renewable energy instead.

REC’s are a simply economics game – for every REC that’s purchased, a renewable energy plant gets money to sell the more expensive energy to an electric company without their paying a premium rate, and their purchase price is offset or negated by our choice to voluntarily purchase it. The plant can then charge less for the more expensive renewable energy, and someone else somewhere else gets to pay no more than they are willing for their energy and get the more expensive, premium solar energy we purchased because we paid for it for them. If more people do this, renewable energy demand will go up, prices will go down, and more clean energy is put into the grid to replace non-renewable energy. It is an entirely market-driven solution – those willing to pay more cover the rear of those who won’t, and it doesn’t matter whether you have direct access to an electric company to do it with.

The argument that people can pay more and sin as well is something that perplexes me – for a small company, I can tell you that buying solar to cover just what we have running is not exactly cheap. In addition, we chose solar and not wind or wind/solar combo certificates even though it was much more expensive because we don’t want to feel like our money is going into chopping up birds and if given the choice, we’d prefer solar.

I personally have no incentive to choose more power-hungry servers, or drive more, or pollute more when I have to re-buy the energy again to cover our usage – I would venture a guess that most web hosting companies that attempt to go carbon neutral have the same motivating factor. It’s not cheap to be green, and the less energy you use in general the less you have to buy twice to green yourself, so it has a two-fold effect.

And let me tell you, at a time when paying for oil-derived energy is rapidly rising, it can be a bit un-fun to have to pay your electric bill twice in the same month, which we have done every single month for a year now.

I have to admit I’m surprised when anyone calls Green Hosting a “scam” – even if a hosting company undertakes purchasing Green Tags solely as a marketing angle, and they don’t recycle at home, and the color green and the carbon neutral claim appeared only because of market forces and not because of any real specific desire to help out the earth, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s a legitimate and honest purchase. It’s certainly better than the many hosts who are doing absolutely nothing at all.

We personally didn’t do it as a marketing angle – we freecycle extensively, recycle extensively, purchase used whenever and where ever we can so that we don’t contribute more than we have to for what we need. When we go camping, it’s in a tent and not a fossil-fuel burning RV (even though, admittedly, I long for an air conditioner in the Texas heat sometimes), and live in a small house instead of constantly trading up for bigger (and more expensive to heat and cool). We have no offices, and never will – there’s no point. Instead of paying for advertising, we participate in Kiva and we have had a significant and extensive non-profit program since the day we opened. I personally know where our motivations lie, and I’m not really very worried that our clients are going to suddenly question our commitment to the environment. Since our only new business tends to come from word of mouth, I don’t tend to feel that I need to be worried people will think we’re scamming. And if ya do, fine.

What I do worry about is that this idea that green hosting and green tags is a “scam” will become prevalent in the industry and that people who would normally host somewhere that claims green will avoid them if this idea of it all being a “scam” becomes entrenched. It also worries me that other companies will avoid the green designation altogether, or worse, refuse to participate in the REC programs for fear of being branded scam artists by others in the industry.

We grew as a company before we stuck the “We’re Green” badge on our site, and I have no doubt that we would have continued to grow regardless of whether we had done it, or claimed it – the designation seems to make our clients happy, and the fact that we’ve done what we done makes our clients happy. Since it is something we’re doing, and since it’s true, it is something we have a right to claim. Any company that buys their energy twice to support renewable energy deserves to make that claim.

I’ll admit its disconcerting, though, to see people claim it’s a scam because of the wider implications of people rejecting it outright and companies refusing to participate.

2 Responses to The Green Hosting Scam?

  1. Patricia says:
    July 18, 2008 at 3:35 pm.

    Well explained. I had wondered how hosting companies could be green and this elucidates it completely. Cool.

  2. Patricia says:
    July 18, 2008 at 10:35 am.

    Well explained. I had wondered how hosting companies could be green and this elucidates it completely. Cool.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>