When we talk about building an end-to-end sustainable business, there really are so many factors that we need to think about.

Mel already wrote about the options for an ethical hosting company – this post is the follow-on from that.

So the response we received from the top two choices for hosting were – I won’t say disappointing – less than we’d hoped. One of them, GreenGeeks, responded to us, outlining their green credentials (they offset 300% of the power consumption of their servers using renewable wind energy).

The second option, Dreamhost, initially responded, telling us that the request was being ‘escalated’, which we were informed might extend the reply period beyond 24 hours. But here we are, 8 days after, and we have yet to receive any further response at all.

So I don’t know about our confidence level on that one. According to their website, they do carbon offset their entire operations (not just server running emissions), which is pretty great. So I don’t have anything bad to say about them as a company, just that I can’t elaborate because they have not yet responded to our questions at all.

But then, by sheer coincidence, I stumbled across an article from Hostgator, the hosting provider we have been using for all our sites for over two years now. It was a snippet in an unrelated Google search, which said simply: “…we offset 130% of all our server running and cooling carbon emissions…”

Could it be that we were *accidentally* using a green host this entire time? I’ve got to say, that moment was a combination of excitement and relief, because one, it meant we were accidentally doing a good thing by being with this particular company and two, moving hosts is hard – it’s kind of like moving banks. Yes, there are services that can do it for you (and indeed, Green Geeks will move your site for free), but you first need to make sure you have backups, etc. And there is always a risk that something could go wrong and lead to downtime.

So I have a natural bias, if for no other reason but convenience, to remain with Hostgator.

But of course, we needed to check out the bona fides first. So I clicked the article link, where I was welcomed by a refreshingly unassuming article on the Hostgator blog, from which I extract the following relevant parts:
How has HostGator gone green?

HostGator has purchased certified Wind Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for 130% of the electricity used to both power and cool its Shared and Reseller servers.

Is this just a marketing ploy?

No. HostGator really does want to do its part to help deal with climate change. If we were only interested in marketing, we could have done a program at a much lower cost. Instead, we’ve implemented a very strong program at a substantial cost.

What makes this different from other hosting companies’ green hosting?

We’re both powering and cooling our Shared and Reseller servers, we’ve invested in wind energy to offset 130% of that electricity. As far as we know, no other hosting company has gone as far as HostGator.

I don’t believe in climate change.

We haven’t raised prices at all, so you won’t be paying any extra now that we’ve gone green. Even aside from climate change, switching to renewable energy helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create new jobs and improve local air quality.

What convinces me that it’s not just a marketing ploy has nothing to do with the type of carbon offsetting they selected; that’s pretty easy to play off as a ploy, or not a ploy, or whatever. What’s far more convincing, in my view, is the fact that this article is really hard to find. And it’s also the only mention of the carbon offsetting program that I can find anywhere on their site.

Moreover, I wasn’t able to find any press releases or media articles about it. So I do genuinely believe they went green because they considered it was the right thing to do.

And I don’t mean to pillory any other company that goes green for a business reason – business reasons are behind many sustainability decisions – but it is refreshing that the words “ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY PER CENT SUSTAINABLE” aren’t plastered all over their home page.

Is 300% better than 130%? In the pure mathematical sense, yes. But I’m not going to go into great detail about how many emissions the average server creates – or whether Hostgator’s way of counting cooling costs, as well as running costs (in carbon terms) makes up for the shortfall. What I’ll instead say is that I will not – indeed, can not – criticize a company for making a real effort – and both of these companies seem to – to reduce the adverse environmental impact of their business’ operations.

So if their ethical credentials are both strong on the environmental side, what other factors are important?

Well, the service is obviously crucial – but both companies have extremely good reviews on this front. Hostgator has, for us, been sketchy at times in the past but their systems are very good so when you do need something urgently, they are always able to help you out (especially after US business hours).

The second factor is performance. According to a test performed by WhatsWP.com (https://whatswp.com/hostgator-vs-greengeeks/), Hostgator’s servers were, on average, 11 per cent faster than Green Geeks’. Not a huge margin, but if you’re running an ecommerce store, split seconds really do count on loading times.

The cost of both companies is really similar, so we didn’t let that factor into our decision.

We did contact Hostgator – who kindly sent us a list of community initiatives they support, from a puppy adoption drive in Austin to supporting the Red Cross in the ‘Tour De Rouge’ (http://www.hostgator.com/blog/2015/05/04/the-2015-tour-du-rouge/), they pride themselves on getting involved in the community. Which is nice. Not the kind of ‘big impact’ stuff we were looking for, but warm and fluffy and there’s a place for that too. Needless to say, these initiatives, while indicative of a good company culture, did not move the needle far in either direction.

The wash up of all this is that we will continue to be hosted by Hostgator.

If you are considering one of these options for your store, we have made affiliate arrangements with them both, which means they will pay us if you sign up (which will help us keep Fair Marketeers running), as well as giving you a discount. Just use one of these links:

The Domain Name

At the outset, it is worth noting that most ‘green’ hosting companies – indeed, most hosting companies – do sell domains. But the price of them varies wildly.

For the .co extension, we found prices between about $10 and $50 per annum for the same product. There is no product differentiation with domain names, other than possible a few ancillary features (like free email forwarding) that we do not need.

So for a business, we accept it’s hard to justify paying an additional $40 to get your domain from a host whose only point of difference is a carbon offset program.

The second challenge was that some of those we fond that were more reasonable on the pricing scale simply didn’t offer the more ‘exotic’ top-level domains (TLDs), of which .co, Colombia’s country extension, is apparently one.

We did look at Hostgator, Dreamhost and GreenGeeks as options, but the prices ($29.95, $24.99 and $34.95) are quite steep, comparative to some of the other options. All else being equal we’d be far better off simply offsetting our contribution to global emissions through domain hosting and registering with another hosting company.

The main two options, if I ask the internet, for a reliable and cheap domain hosting company are GoDaddy and NameCheap. They’re both huge players and offer a high level of service and a good first year price (GoDaddy – $2.99, NameCheap – $8.88; after that, rising to $29.99 and $22.99, respectively). We have used NameCheap for a lot of our own domains and have never had any complaints.

We have never registered a domain through GoDaddy, primarily for two reasons – one, their early advertising was pretty sexist and objectified women, which we found distasteful and offensive. And two, their strong support of the SOPA Bill (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16320149) was, in our view and the view of many more knowledgeable that us, threatening to the neutrality of the whole internet and extremely worrying as supporters of freedom of communication.

In contrast, NameCheap were one of the most vociferous critics of the Bill (https://blog.namecheap.com/we-say-no-to-sopa/) and won a lot of customers from GoDaddy as a result. Perhaps owing to the immense backlash they suffered, or perhaps due to a genuine change of heart (but who’s believing that?) GoDaddy did subsequently change their position – but not before suffering a huge amount of brand damage.

Perhaps they are genuine, but we’d rather stick with a company that remained true to its principles and was right the whole time. That ought to be rewarded.

Finally, and we really can’t nuance this – GoDaddy’s Founder (and, until recently, Executive Chairman) Bob Parsons shot an elephant in Zimbabwe and then posed proudly with it for photographs.

Does that make him a bad guy? I don’t know – all I know is that I don’t like people who shoot big, majestic herbivores for sport.

I also liked NameCheap’s response to this story, which I think is well-nuanced: https://blog.namecheap.com/elephants/

Their outrage is palpable in this post, as you might expect from any rational observer; competitor or not. The offer to transfer a domain also seems to have worked out for them; maybe they made a loss for the first year, but within five short days they gained 20,433 new customers and donated over $20,000 to the Save the Elephants charity.

So I’m not going to say GoDaddy are bad guys, just that I’m happy we’ve decided to go with the good guys that don’t like killing elephants. NameCheap are not a green hosting company, but we will offset our own domain hosting emissions by buying carbon credits directly. We’ll talk about how to do this in a subsequent post (spoiler alert: it’s easy – and much cheaper than you might think).