Ecosia: Planting Trees by Searching
Several years ago I came across Ecosia, a search engine which helps the environment through planting trees. I didn't adopt it back then, partly because the impact of what they do was lost on me somewhat, and partly because I didn't find the actual results or the usability as good as what I was used to. Both of these have now changed so I wanted to share.
As I recently posted, one of my goals for this year is to be more eco-conscious and reduce my impact where I can. By chance, I was reminded of Ecosia and thought I should give it another look - it's had several years to mature beyond what I remembered. And I'm glad that I did.
How is Ecosia Different?
On the face of it, Ecosia doesn't seem very different at all - if you're used to Google or Bing, it'll feel very familiar indeed. And that's a good thing, as a search engine should just work. You ask for something, you get results - and those results are hopefully a good match.
However what is different is what happens after each search. Unlike any other search engine, they use their profits to plant trees. Like all search engines, Ecosia displays ads along with your results and with ads comes revenue from advertisers. What they then do is invest the profits in various tree-planting projects around the world. They publish monthly reports which shows what money has gone and in turn, the benefits that it will bring. I like this level of transparency.
A question which has been asked more than once - and it's a fair one - is whether or not what they say is true. They're a private company and despite all their reports, they could just be telling us what we want to hear, right? Well, I can't verify that everything they claim is true of course, but it's a question which has come up a fair bit and Path Around the World delved a little deeper and everything checked out, so I'm pretty confident. Snopes also state that it is a true fact. It's also worth noting that Ecosia are a certified B Corporation as well.
I've been using Ecosia now for maybe three or four weeks and have generally found the search results to be pretty good. I haven't been doing like-for-like searches with Ecosia and other search engines, so have no actual comparison data to share with you to back this up, but what I can say is that in my work, and generally day-to-day, I do a lot of searching, and I'm generally finding what I need with no more effort than I'd expect.
I have sometimes reverted to Google if I'm finding that I'm not getting great results - something Ecosia even makes easy through their use of search tags - but most of the time I find the reason I got poor results was that there wasn't much to offer. Google often gives me a slightly different set of results but they're not really any better.
Ecosia has a couple of other good things going for it: they're very privacy-friendly, and also the fact that they are beyond carbon-neutral, going as far as being actually carbon-negative.
In terms of privacy, they ensure that your data is never sold to advertisers and that a record of your searches is not stored permanently. They also make it possible to opt out of the limited amount of tracking they do use by default. It's all explained in a very straightforward way on their privacy page.
On the carbon front, Ecosia started building their own solar facilities in 2018 and have since added enough capacity to cover all searches. You can be sure that no extra coal or gas is being burnt to give you your search results. Check out their blog to find out more and read about the CO2 impact of an Ecosia search.
Installing and Using
The quickest and easiest way to get started using Ecosia is simply to visit ecosia.org and search, just like you would with Google or Bing. However it's probably better to go all-in and use the extension for whatever browser you use. It's all too easy to just fall back to whatever provider your browser uses by default otherwise. There are extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari (via Mac App Store) and there are also mobile apps for iOS and Android. You can also use Ecosia as the default search provider in Edge or a number of other browsers.
Go and Plant Trees
Who knew just searching the web - or, if your job is anything like mine, literally doing work - could help give a little something back to the planet? It feels almost like cheating in a way - but in the best possible way. So what are you waiting for? Go and give it a go and watch your own little tree counter grow over time.