Ecosia is a search engine like many others available on the Internet on first glance. You open its website or add it to your browser, type in search terms, get a list of results, and open the linked sites. It would not really be anything special if that would be all there is to it.
What sets it apart is that Ecosia uses 80% of the its profits from user searches for environmental projects. The vast majority of the money is used to plant trees in various parts of the world, part of it is invested in "renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and grassroots activism".
The project planted more than 120 million trees so far; reason enough to take a closer look at what it has to offer, how it does what it does, how it handles user privacy, and how well the actual search engine works.
Ecosia makes money when users click on ads displayed to them in the search results. Ecosia promises that it does not create user profiles and does not sell data to advertisers. It uses no external tracking tools such as Google Analytics, but collects data temporarily by default to improve its service. If you enable Do Not Track in your browser, it is honoring that so that you may opt-out of that tracking as well.
Search results are provided by Microsoft's Bing search engine. Ecosia may be accessed using any web browser, as a browser extension, or as mobile apps on Android and iOS.
Users may sign-in to keep track of their searches across all their devices; the main idea behind the feature is to provide users with a rough estimate on how many trees their searches have planted. Ecosia suggests that a tree is planted every 45 searches on average.
Ecosia earns money when users click on advertisement or make purchases after following advertising links. While not mentioned explicitly, just using Ecosia for searches without ever clicking on advertisement, does not contribute to the company's financials and thus does not result in new trees being planted.
Ecosia users are asked not to click on ads randomly, as this may lead to lower income for the project in the process.
However, Ecosia's attractiveness grows the more users start using the service, and that could lead to better revenue share agreements or opportunities.
Search results are provided by Bing but Ecosia does add a few flavors of its own to the results, including green leaf and coal icons next to company websites that are "planet-friendly organizations" or "the world's most destructive companies".
Bing's results may not always be of the same quality as those provided by Google; this is especially true for non-English searches. It may be necessary to run searches using other search engines if the results are not satisfactory.
Ecosia uses 80% of its profit for green investments, the planting of trees, and to a smaller degree "spreading the word". The company publishes financial reports for each month on its website, and is based in Berlin, Germany.
For December 2020, it made a little bit more than 2.7 million Euro. The money was used to plant nearly 5 million trees. A list of regions and partners is provided on the page, with options to find out more about each of the projects.
The company explains how it determines where trees need to be planted:
First, we figured out where trees are most urgently needed. That led us to focus on vulnerable biodiversity hotspots, bird migration routes, and environmental crisis zones. A biodiversity hotspot has a lot of biodiversity while also being at risk for destruction. This makes it a highly impactful conservation area.
Next, our tree-planting experts sought out amazing local partners who do the hard work of growing, nurturing and planting trees in these areas. Once they’re in the ground, we continue to work with these partners, using satellite tech and field visits, to ensure our trees survive.
Ecosia maintains a small store and provides users with options to gift trees directly. The company states that it earns about 0.5 cents (Euro) per search, and that it takes approximately 45 searches to finance the planting of a new tree.
It is clear that Ecosia's mission is quite different from that of other search engine companies. Most of the profit is used for environmental projects, and if that appeals to you, you can contribute to the success by starting to use Ecosia. The company publishes blog posts about its planting activities regularly to keep users in the loop.
Options to get users involved beyond that are missing, e.g. through polls to determine the next project / area, or through the use of webcams that provide footage of planted trees, or even through voluntary work.
Now You: Have you tried or looked at Ecosia? What is your take on the project?Advertisement
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.