I find that a lot of people are surprised to know that the internet isn't environmentally friendly. How so? Isn't the internet just a nonphysical entity of digital something-or-others floating around somewhere in cyberspace? Well...
In order for your website to be up and functioning, all the files that make up your website have to be hosted on a server. A server is a physical machine, that has to be on constantly (or else nobody can see your website). So just think of it as a computer that is running 24x7, to keep your website online. Think of all the websites in the world. They are all hosted on a server, somewhere. Even though a single server can host many websites, that still uses quite a bit of energy. Many servers aren't even operating at full efficiency. Just three years ago, a study found:
"...computer servers are used at only 6 percent of their capacity on average, while data center facilities as a whole are used at 56 percent of peak performance. In other words, if data centers were hotels, they would be bankrupt and shut down instead of growing like kudzu." (Source)
(Kudzu? Yeah, I had to look that one up. It's a plant—a spreading vine known for its out-of-control growth).
A large portion of energy usage in data centers is the process of cooling the components (i.e. running the air conditioning at full blast to keep the servers from overheating). It works, but at what cost? I read an estimation that the effect of running all the servers in the United States alone is equal to that of five nuclear power plants. And that, my friends, is a huge impact on the environment.
Green web hosting
All that can sound kind of scary. What to do, what to do? Well, I invest in and utilize a hosting company that has "gone green"...they use wind power as a source of their energy generation and are 100% carbon neutral. They pool their server resources to operate more efficiently, and they even instituted a telecommuting program for the staff to save on carbon emissions. They also have a commitment to supporting green programs all over the world.
I think it's important to try and reduce your negative impact on the environment. I'm not just talking "carbon credits" here, I'm talking real, tangible ways. Try to reduce your own energy consumption. Your computer isn't a server that has to be on 24/7, so maybe shut it off and unplug it at night. If you use something, give back. Plant a tree. Recycle. Reduce your own waste. No, I'm not a tree-hugging hippie, but I do believe in responsible stewardship of what we've got. After all, we do have to live here.