Would you choose to use an alternative search engine if you knew that when you shopped online or checked your share prices you could be ‘virtually’ planting a tree? Would it feel good, playing a vital part in a global reforestation movement? Hopefully if you care about the world (which now, more than ever, everyone needs to), it would affect your choice of default search engine but you may also be sceptical to begin with. You wouldn’t be alone in that thought, but it seems that Ecosia really is tech for good; a positive start to offsetting part of your digital footprint.
Founded over a decade ago in 2009, Ecosia is a search engine based in Berlin, Germany, that donates at least 80% of its profits to non-profit organisations with a focus on reforestation. It considers itself a social business, it is carbon neutral and its aim was to plant an impressive one billion native trees by 2020 – I’m hopeful that their programme is achieving that now that the year is upon us.
Conscious search users can download the free browser extension or smartphone app and conduct their search activity using the Ecosia front-end. The environmentally friendly search engine is powered by Bing, which itself handles more than 400 million search requests per day. The Microsoft Bing search technology divides opinion on whether it is, or ever will be, as efficient as Google, but both search engine companies make their money through advertising revenue.
How is Ecosia environmentally friendly?
Ecosia supports tree-planting projects across 15 different countries and 9000 planting sites, focusing on biodiversity hotspots. The organisation is currently planting a new tree every second and gaining users fast. But how are they doing it? They explain all about their mission and ethos on their blog. They say:
They list Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Colombia, Spain, Senegal, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Indonesia as the countries they currently work in and said, “To achieve this, we work with local partners who are able to monitor your trees on the ground. We listen to the expertise of village chiefs in Burkina Faso, or the advice from a small farmers’ collective in Spain”.
When using Ecosia, it’s rewarding to see the small tree counter in the top corner of your screen showing how many trees you’ve contributed to planting and it makes me wonder about the people who are doing the physical hard work.
User Will Binfield commented (via Quora):
“I hesitated for months before downloading Ecosia. I was justifying this by telling myself it might be more difficult to use than google, it would be too difficult to install and that they were actually going to plant any trees.
Finally I took the plunge and in the end it took me literally two seconds to download and use as it was an extension to my current browser.
I seldom notice I’m using Ecosia rather than Google anymore. If you are really concerned, use Ecosia as a default then Google as a reserve if you need it.”
So how is Ecosia being held accountable?
Ecosia claims to provide full company financial transparency, releasing regular financial reports, whilst also protecting the privacy of its users. It releases tree planting receipts and video footage from projects. Ecosia is also B Lab-certified which means that the company’s overall impact is assessed and it has to meet B Lab standards.
As Nathan Weinshenker aluded to in his Medium article, companies that have ‘save the earth’ as a key part of their business model can only be a good thing. Nathan said, “By pushing more companies to take active stances on environmental concerns, we can expect companies to reserve more funds towards charitable causes”.
How is Ecosia different from Google?
Ok, so Ecosia has a search giant towering over it. But it is also pulling its own nice tools out of the bag, including type search tags that utilise hashtag short codes. Type #fb after your search and it takes you straight to a Facebook search, #v is for for videos and #tw will take you to the twitter results for your search. There’s lots more of those shortcuts too.
The functions you need to stick with Google for at the moment include maps, definition snippets (the thing where it uses semantics to provide you with an explanation of a word at the top of the search results) and the frequently asked questions facility. But you can put #g after your search and it will take you through to Google; helpful.
I’m sure the Ecosia.org dev team are continually working on improvements though, especially as their user base and therefore, user feedback increases.
Offsetting part of your digital footprint might not be something you have given much thought to before. Let’s face it, we need to be making great strides in offsetting our non-digital footprint first, but if you choose to make the switch over to Ecosia, every time you end up clicking on a search ad, you could be helping to save the world. That’s pretty cool.
Rachael Dines, Director of Shake It Up Creative