June 17th, 2020

Investigating Green VPS Hosting Options

After writing about the size, speed and performance of this site, I went down the rabbit hole of green VPS hosting. This is what I found.


Transparency note: this article does contain affiliate links, but these were added after I did the research and the article has not been influenced by any hosting company.

I'm aware that any claim to be "green" or sustainable by a technology company could be "greenwashing": making them sound like they are more sustainable then they actually are! But it seems to me that hosting companies should at least show some commitment to investing in green power or either offsetting themselves or encouraging clients to and providing a way for that to happen.

Any acknowledgement that hosting has an environmental impact would be seen positively by me here.

And before we start I want to note that I don't really like the term "green". I prefer "sustainable" and "clean". Our energy sources need to be those that a) won't run out (like sunlight and wind) and b) doesn't generate emissions. But "green" seems to be the term people use, so I will use that mostly here.

YES, there is embodied energy in the making of things too. But that's harder to reason about. I'm primary concerned here with data-centre energy supply as that does seem to be a thing that companies talk about.

I'm also in the UK and so looking for UK or western-European companies to work with. Partly for speed and location, but also for GDPR compliance reasons.

What I'm after

I do a lot of WordPress work, and green WordPress/PHP hosting - be it shared, managed, or dedicated - is pretty easy to find.

I use and highly recommend Kualo (affiliate link!) for shared cPanel hosting and 34SP.com's managed WordPress hosting. Though Guru and Krystal have great reputations too.

You can find loads more in the Green Web Foundation's directory.

But I'm working a lot more with Laravel, Statamic, and probably, eventually, Craft. And these don't work so well on shared PHP hosting. Decent Git integration and SSH are hard to get. Running the composer dependency manager or WP-CLI can fail due to lack of resources (even on "pro" plans). And I sometimes just don't have enough control over the environment.

As a simple example, THIS site is built on Statamic and used to run on Kualo Pro Reseller Hosting using cPanel. And I couldn't run composer update because it ran out of memory. I could pay to "boost" the resources of the site, but the cost of doing so was the same as the cost of giving the site its own cheap VPS.

I use Laravel Forge for provisioning and deploying my Laravel VPS's and apps and it works really well, but I need a VPS to run it on top of.

That plain, unmanaged, cloud-based VPS is what I'm after.

The Big Players aren't very green...

...or if they are, they don't shout about it.

This site is currently hosted on a Digital Ocean droplet. Digital Ocean say very little about their green credentials.

I looked around and could find very little from any of the likes of AWS, Linode, DigitalOcean, Vultr and Hetzner. Even if they are "green" in some way, they don't seem to consider it a "feature" of their service and promote it in any way at all.

I put a Tweet out to the world and got lots of helpful replies from people who had looked into this more deeply than I had.

@jardinec says he looked into Linode - from what he remembers the Linode servers were in a London data centre that ran on 70% renewables. Linode actually replied to us (applause for that!) to say that they have some green initiatives, and linking some information about some of their datacentres that I've not yet looked into.

@JayGreasley said that Google were supposedly pretty green - I'd not even considered them! - but that Amazon (AWS) also have some good initiatives. Which I like. Especially as Amazon are BUILDING new clean energy capacity. BUT...they are Google and Amazon.

Rob de Kort read that Digital Ocean's AMS3 is outsourced to a company that was "doing pretty well on this regard". Chris Adams thought that "some of Digital Ocean's infra in Europe uses low carbon power ... but it's hard to tell and they don't talk about it publicly".

Chris Adams was really helpful. He suggested Memset "for decent priced VPS and being better on climate than most". They claim to be "The UK's first carbon neutral web host". Cloud VPS's start at £10/month.

Chris also recommended Hetzner and he seemed to think they were pretty green. Their information suggests they use some green energy in their European data centres, but I don't think they claim 100%. This may just be lost in translation though.

The small players can't compete

As my friend Tim Nash pointed out, "a lot of traditional hosts, simply can't compete on price with folks like AWS/Google so compete on things like Managed Services. Once you are not racing to the bottom with finances, you can look at things not purely on cost."

And it's really important to note this: many of the smaller, UK-based hosting companies just don't try to compete on unmanaged VPS (which is what companies like Digital Ocean and Linode provide), preferring to offer a more expensive, but "managed" service that comes with a much higher level of support and things like backups included in the price.

So it's difficult to provide direct comparisons.

But my thought is that I mostly seem to have a choice:

The only smaller UK-based host that I'd come across that came close to a reasonably-priced VPS on green energy was Krystal, who do unmanaged VPS from £9.99 + VAT/month. The only problem is that currently they don't support Ubuntu 20.04 images which Laravel Forge needs.

Other options that came up

Some other recommendations came up in the course of conversations, some of which look really good.

Tim Wakeling suggested Freethought Internet who do Cloud VPS's from £10/month inc VAT and they seem really friendly and helpful. This looks really good and I may well try it out. And (after a gentle nudge from me) they support Ubuntu 20.04 so I can run Forge.

Phil Sturgeon and Dave McCourt both recommended eco Web Hosting who do cloud VPS from £7.99/month. This seems like a good deal and also worth trying. They also DO support Ubuntu 20.04!

So there ARE options out there, it would seem. But they are harder to find. I may try some out and see how I get on.

Considering my options

Of the big, international players, Hetzner seems to be the best. Linode may be green if you pick the right datacentre/location for your server. But ultimately none seem to care that much about selling environmental friendliness as a feature, and this concerns me.

Of the smaller players, the following cheaper, unmanaged VPS's seem to be an option:

I'm sure I'll let you know how I get on.

With thanks to everyone listed here who helped out and made recommendations. I think I listed everyone already except Hannah Smith who connected me to several useful people and Darren Beale who made useful comments.