My Virtual Forest

I'm generally a big fan of my web hosting provider, Krystal. I've often praised their excellent customer service and affordability, but there have still been moments when I've considered jumping ship. During those times, one of the main reasons I've ended up staying is their commitment to green computing. They've been using green energy to power their servers for years now[1], and generally make positive noises towards owning the fact that powering the web requires, well, power (of all kinds).

Around Christmas last year, I became aware that those efforts had taken another step – one even more in line with my own environmental beliefs – as Krystal had begun actively funding a reforesting and rewilding project in Scotland. Their official page for green initiatives has a really nice paragraph on why they became involved in climate activism:

In our eyes, achieving carbon neutrality of our electrical energy usage isn’t the end goal, it’s the barest minimum first step. The planet is fast-approaching a global disaster, and merely being able to say that as a business we’re not actively making that process worse is wholly inadequate.

Dang, Krystal, them's some fighting words! (And I love it ❤)

Since then, the company has continued to diversify its climate action portfolio, partnering with several other foundations and projects. They were founding members of the Million Tree Pledge, a sort of environmental equivalent to the Pay It Forward concept; they've also become involved in the SME Climate Hub, begun work on B Corp status, and pledged to take part in the UN's Race to Zero campaign, all of which are generally positive moves.

At a more individual level, they provide a referral scheme with Ecotricity (their green energy supplier) and provide all employees with carbon footprint offsetting as a core employment perk.

It's all pretty impressive, but until recently I'd not really looked into the how behind their occasional announcements. Then, last week, I received an email from Krystal celebrating their successful completion of the first part of the Million Tree Pledge, having just planted their millionth tree – nice 🐴👍

The email provided some interesting stats, alongside an explanation of how they've been able to achieve this milestone: by partnering with another UK firm, Ecologi. Based in Bristol, Ecologi have popped onto my radar a couple of times, but I've never had reason to explore their website before. Well, having now done so, you can colour me impressed.

Their design is extremely nice, but the underlying business is even nicer. Ecologi are effectively a charitable equivalent to carbon credits: sign up for a monthly donation, and they'll ensure the money goes towards carbon-negative projects all over the world. That mainly means focusing on planting trees, but I'm glad to see that their emphasis is not simply on biomass. Each project is selected on a more intersectional basis, ensuring that initiatives work with local people and ecosystems in the most effective way possible. That means some projects exist to prevent or reduce the loss of existing forests, either through buying land and donating to local conservation groups, or through more imaginative solutions like providing local communities with alternative, sustainable fuel sources, meaning that forest clearance for wood is reduced. Elsewhere, more traditional reforestation projects are still selected to maximise impact. For example, in Madagascar, rather than simply planting trees on grey land, they're actively working with coastal communities to regreen coastlines with mangroves, to bring other natural resources like fish back to the area.

It's a genuinely impressive portfolio, backed up by certifications like Gold Standard and partnerships with other respected charities. Better yet, each company that signs up with Ecologi are provided with a dedicated page that lets them track their specific goals (individuals using the service get the same, though I assume privately rather than publicly).

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Krystal are currently ranked #1 out of all businesses taking part for their contributions 👏👏👏 Now, admittedly, the leaderboard isn't that large, and I can't see every other company taking part nor how long they've been going for (though read on). But I do know that some pretty large organisations are in the running, including the likes of Nokia Mobile[2] and River Island, so it's still pretty impressive.

Speaking of impressive, these business pages are really good fun. Up top they provide an extremely brief overview of the company, including an SEO-boosting cross-link, and some key stats. Not all companies share the same stats, or even have any (again, Nokia just skips this part entirely), and I'd love to know what drives this difference. For example, Krystal proudly displays their carbon reduction equivalent in tonnes of CO2, the number of trees they've planted (hence the millionth sapling celebration), and the number of months the company has been "climate positive"[3]:

Key stats, showing 8 months working with Ecologi, 448 tonnes of carbon reduction, and over a million trees planted.
Clicking the little question mark icons brings up more detailed information on the exact projects Krystal have been involved with, which is a really nice touch.

Scroll down past the stats, though, and there's another surprise in store: a mini SVG forest, reminiscent of games like Animal Crossing and Farmville due to the hexagonal grid layout. This virtual representation of the trees planted or saved through direct action is just a really wonderful feature. Each grid square can contain a variety of possible images, from solitary saplings alongside British flags to denote (mainly Scottish) local reforestation schemes, to sparkling clusters for bonus trees (normally earned via referrals), to packed units with signs reading 50,000, 100,000, or more to show large donations.

Keep exploring down the page, and you'll notice the images used for the trees go from simple leaves just sprouting from the ground, to saplings, to full-grown trees. Click on any grid square, and a popup dialogue will appear giving further information, including the location of the trees, the project they were planted for, how long ago the trees were planted (a stat clearly used to determine how "old" the images should appear), and even the scientific species name.

An example of part of the virtual forest, showing a few rows of saplings; some are individual plants with British flags, others are clusters with three saplings and sparkles denoting 30 trees, and others are large groups of over a dozen with billboards reading 50,000 and 250,000.
Trees are shown in vaguely chronological order, so I guess Krystal weren't number one on the leaderboard (where they lead by less than 200,000 trees) until that massive 300,000 sapling push that obviously happened fairly recently.

Even with several "groves" on their grid numbering into the 100,000's, simply scrolling through the over-a-million trees Krystal has planted is a fairly arduous task, which really helps drive home just how impressive the feat is. It's somehow a very satisfying way of visualising that positive impact, and that's just coming from the perspective of being a customer – hopefully those working at Krystal feel an even greater sense of pride when viewing the page.

Ecologi are hardly the only charity that displays business progress with stats or quirky virtual representations. Heck, in writing this post I ended up taking a look at Krystal's similar page on the Trees for Life website, which provides a detailed timeline of when the company has donated to the charity, and how many trees each donation effectively bought, alongside a running total. But I'm not sure I've ever seen an example that was so filled with character whilst also being a genuinely morale-boosting experience.

In fact, I enjoyed what I saw so much that I've signed up for their personal plan. For now, I've opted into their cheapest, single-person option, but if I continue to be impressed by the service I'll happily bump that up in the future. You can check out my own virtual forest here and, if you'd be interested in doing the same, feel free to use my referral code by clicking here – it'll plant some sparkly saplings as a general "thank you" ✨🌳🌳🌳✨

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  • <p>I continue to be impressed by the commitment Krystal – my web host – shows towards green computing. Their recent milestone of planting a million trees also highlighted a really cool charity: Ecologi.</p>
  • Murray Adcock.
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