Pursuing an ethical lifestyle is important and, luckily, gaining in popularity. We buy fair trade bananas and trainers, and invest in sustainable housing and agriculture. But, ethical value is often overlooked as factor in the choice of a web host. As you’re buying a digital product, it’s easy to forget about the people and products involved in this service. This article explains some things to keep in mind when you’re choosing a web host.
The company that manages your web server may well be local, paying its employees above minimum wage, and offering them health insurance. That’s only the end station of the supply chain, though. Many computer systems are produced and assembled in developing countries, where profit is sometimes chosen over the wellbeing of factory workers. Ethically conscious web hosts don’t just buy any computer to accommodate their server, but encourage good working conditions at the source.
Websites have to be online 24/7, so the servers their data is stored on have to be turned on and connected to the internet at all times, inevitably leading to high energy use. Some eco-hosts compensate for this by using only solar-powered servers, or by planting trees to compensate for carbon-emission. A more innovation solution, however, is to look at the core of hosting technology. It’s surprising that the buzz around cloud computing does not often extend to sustainability, because it’s a great way to reduce both use of energy and e-waste.
A server always uses energy, even when it doesn’t handle traffic. Also, it has to have enough resources available to deal with peak loads. Web hosting means that data centres are shared, so processing power and storage space that are not currently required by one client are allocated to whoever needs it at that moment. These servers are used more efficiently than private ones, so fewer are needed to offer the same possibilities.
Another sustainability issue is that technological innovations leave server computers out-dated, so they end up as e-waste that contains toxic materials. Sharing power and space on a network of servers provides a more robust system that is less dependent of the capabilities of individual computers. Similarly, a website that is hosted in the cloud is compatible with any device someone uses to visit it, because not only is the content run centrally, but the software is as well. Using your device as a virtual desktop has the same desirable result: you won’t have to throw it away for one with more impressive specifications.
Finally, an ethical web host has to take care of you: the customer. It has to be open about its policies, and listen to your suggestions. Transparency gives you the chance to form your own opinion about their methods. Does their website show a list of their suppliers? Where do they get their energy? How do they treat their employees? Maybe you can even contribute to their services by using their open source software.
Find a host you can trust: not just with your applications, but also with your world.