Surfing the Green Wave

Eco-minded ISPs and Web Hosts Take to the Internet

If you’re still subscribing to the initialed Internet service provider (ISP) that litters America’s mailboxes and newsstands with non-recyclable promotional CDs and packaging, you’re not alone—but you’re also helping support those practices. Even if you have shunned the big, pricey ISPs in favor of a discounted competitor, you may not realize that you can have low prices and a greener Internet experience.

Most people have probably never thought much about the environmental impact of their web surfing, but there is one. Logging on not only uses the electricity in your home, but taps into the energy needed to keep your favorite sites up and running.

Behind every website, whether it’s a behemoth like weather.com or your Uncle Bob’s family genealogy page, there’s a computer called a server, which can be as large as an office-sized supercomputer or as small as someone’s PC. Those servers use energy, and especially for larger, popular sites, are expected to be able to meet the demand of thousands or even millions of visitors at once. A server can’t be turned off, since websites are available around the clock.

Whether you surf the ever-widening web for fun or profit (about 26 million Americans work from home at least one day a week), there are green and competitive options. There are ISPs that funnel money to your favorite green organizations, wind-powered e-mail servers and solar-run website servers, especially useful if you run your own small business, blog or website. Together, they can make your online experience (and that of your customers) a more environmentally conscious one.

Greener Gateways

Everyone who wants to go online needs an ISP, whether it offers dial-up, DSL, cable or other services. These days, there are lots of companies that will not only open your computer to the web, but will do some good while you’re researching the perfect solar-powered cell phone charger or catching up on the latest environmental campaigns on your favorite green group’s website.

Red Jellyfish—symbolized by an endearing treefrog mascot—is one of the original green ISPs, and casts a wide net when it comes to products and news with an environmentally oriented twist. Rotating content features a plethora of green products, pressing environmental news, "eco-hippie" podcasts, free e-cards, and addictive puzzles. The site also sells posters, provides e-mail accounts and recycles old cell phones.

The rainforest is the major beneficiary of Red Jellyfish’s fundraising. For every person who buys the service for a year, 6,000 square feet of rainforest is purchased (or 10,000 square feet in the case of DSL subscribers). Red Jellyfish also uses all recycled materials for mailings and renewable energy credits to power its servers. I have used Red Jellyfish for more than a year, and have found it relatively easy to get a real person on the line when those computer problems strike (and yes, tech support is available 24/7). Options include regular dial-up service ($19.95 per month), high-speed dial up (which is up to five times faster for $21.95 per month), or, in some areas, DSL ($46.95 per month, with a one-time setup fee of $99 and a one-year contract requirement).

EcoISP also provides greener connections to the Internet, and has a homepage that provides a portal for eco-themed shopping, search engines, forums and links. Additionally, the company donates 50 percent of its profits to nonprofit environmental organizations.

"What makes us unique is that the money that’s raised is directed to specific organizations chosen by the subscribers," explains Dennis Corrigan, EcoISP’s CEO. "It’s a convenient way for people to support their favorite organizations on a regular basis rather than just writing a check once a year."

EcoISP’s stated policy is that it is "nonjudgmental and non-exclusionary," says Corrigan. That translates to a diversity of some 200 groups on the benefit list. Whatever your environmental passion, you’re sure to find a group that will be doing the work you find important. EcoISP’s servers do not run on alternative energy, but the company does use only recycled paper in its offices, and takes other sustainable steps.

Consummate Hosts

If you have a home or small business, a personal or family website, or have joined the swelling ranks of web-savvy people who post their thoughts and dreams on weblogs, you should know that there are quite a few options in terms of companies that will host your webpages, offer you storage and e-mail accounts, or help promote your sites.

Sustainable Marketing is a soup-to-nuts web host that uses wind power to offset its energy use. As the name implies, the company not only provides web-based services like e-mail and data storage, but also marketing information and assistance to business owners. The company explains that it works to provide traditional marketing and discipline to green entrepreneurs, teaches social responsibility, and works to reform buying behavior to build a more sustainable relationship with local communities and the Earth.

Solar Webworks gets its computing power from the sun, as does SolarHost, a website designer that recently merged with Solar Data Centers. SolarHost specializes in website design and hosting medium- to large-sized businesses. Solar Webworks offers web design at a flat, hourly rate of $50, and specializes in website redesigns.

Locomotive Media is completely wind-powered, and estimates this move keeps 13,680 pounds of carbon dioxide and 44 pounds of nitrogen oxide from being pumped into the air by fossil-fuel power plants. That amount has the same effect as not driving 14,967 miles and planting 1.52 acres of trees.

In a unique take on Internet identity, Animail boasts more than 350 evocative e-mail address endings, so you can let everyone know what’s important to you by using the last half of your email address as an advocacy link. Choices range from yourname@ilovetrees.net to yourname@pandaemail .com and yourname@tamarins.com. The basic e-mail service is only $9.95 a year (you can also get a free address, but you will have to deal with ads when you are checking your inbox). All the proceeds go to animal and environmental organizations.

Utah-based Elfon is also 100 percent wind-powered, and offers discounts on web hosting plans if you purchase renewable energy credits for your home or business. This web host supports the local Salt Lake City environmental community, and donates funds to homegrown organizations such as Salt Lake’s Living Planet Aquarium.

Another locally focused web host is the minority-owned WebCTel, which boasts of being "New England’s only solar-powered website, e-mail and database application service." Headquartered in a reclaimed rubber manufacturing plant in Boston (now with high-efficiency windows, water recycling and other green features), WebCTel also offers employment opportunities and training in urban communities.

The GaiaHost Collective provides some of the cheapest business e-mail around at just $5 a month, and is run by a worker-owned collective that uses locally owned products and services, promotes open-source software and accepts bartering and local

currency in exchange for services when possible.

GaiaHost specializes in helping out those new to websites, guiding you through the process of setting up your own page.

STARRE VARTAN is an Internet-savvy writer who runs the woman-focused green website Eco-chick.com.