Self-described as “the search engine that plants trees,” Ecosia has been branded as one of the world’s most- if not- the ethical search engine. However, I believe a lot of uncertainty still remains with the intricacies of Ecosia’s work, leading potential users to too often wonder whether it is too good to true, and unfortunately err on the side of “yes.” In my opinion, Ecosia lives up to all expectations and is an excellent example of passive environmentalism. However in order to bolster its impacts, I really do feel Ecosia must double-down on telling people about its work. That is not to say it is not transparent -it is- but as someone who was initially very sceptical about the work of an Ecosia search, more could be done to show potential users that it is an ethical way to browse the web; one that is immeasurably more ethical than Google.
First things first, since the end of 2020, Ecosia has been 200% renewable. In other words, Ecosia has been carbon negative- that is, removing carbon from the atmosphere- not just offsetting that which it emits. Indeed, Ecosia searches are powered by a diverse portfolio of solar systems across Germany, from Beckdorf to Ettenbühl, Emsbüren and Groß-Schacksdorf. In a time when organisations and nations are racing towards carbon neutrality, Ecosia seems to be leading the pack with its strong emphasis on not just accounting for its own emissions - but emissions more generally, demonstrating a culture of care towards collective improvement that I believe is needed more within the environmental space.
Moreover, when searching for a particularly green website or company, Ecosia provides its users with a leaf icon to demonstrate their success. The green leaf denotes organisations or businesses that have been assessed by ecological labels such as Hilfswerft, or Economy for the Common Good, allowing users to make more sustainable choices. Likewise, when searching businesses and organisations that are climate-destructive, a fossil fuel plant icon appears. Further, when searching for a particular country, Ecosia provides users with its current climate impact and how much, if all countries were to adopt a similar strategy, the atmosphere would warm using data from the Climate Action Tracker. Knowing that the 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, but preferably to 1.5 compared to pre-industrial levels, the automatic Action Tracker responses allow users to put any country’s work into perspective and see whether their current work can be universalised without further detriment to the planet.
I believe that both the icons and the automatic national Climate Action Trackers demonstrate that Ecosia values minimising its carbon footprint and maximising its carbon handprint – that is, the positive effects any education or awareness-raising has on others. Ecosia doesn’t want to be the only company protecting our common home; it wants to change behaviours and get others on board too, a critical and necessary characteristic of companies who want to do good because it is good, not solely because it is profitable.
As mentioned previously, Ecosia’s biggest marketing strategy is that it is “the search engine that plants trees.” Clearly, Ecosia cannot go into details about what trees are planted where, and why, within this catchphrase, but behind the scenes Ecosia has strict guidelines to ensure that every tree planted has the biggest positive social and environmental impact possible. It focusses on planting in the poorest regions of the planet as well as biodiversity hotspots, not planting in areas where trees were not originally present. Likewise, invasive tree species will not be introduced into any planting spaces in order to work with natural processes and not to disturb the local ecosystem.
An Ecosia search is an example of passive environmentalism. That is, ways you can contribute to the protection of the planet without really realising it! You simply download it as your browser (the instructions for how to do this are on their website and incredibly straightforward) and with every search you are contributing to reforestation in global hotspots. On the website, for every 45 searches, 1 tree is planted. Likewise, every Ecosia search accounts for 1kg of CO2 being captured. While Ecosia is very clear about both of these facts, I would prefer the counter present in the top-right of the browser to be a reflection of how many trees my searches have planted, not the number of searches I have made. In my opinion, it gives the impression of the former. Once users realise this is not the case, they may become disillusioned by Ecosia’s work and resort to their default browser.
Despite Ecosia not using third-party tracking tools like Google Analytics to optimize search outputs, I have not found Ecosia search responses to be any less relevant than Google responses. Having said this, my current online searches – as an undergraduate student – do not require me to be searching incredibly focussed, specialist topics yet. Perhaps if I were a STEM student, or further along in my educational career I may have trouble with response relevancy. However, I would advise giving Ecosia a try even if you are such a student to see if the responses that it returns are relevant to your field of study.
To assess how sustainable a non-profit like Ecoisa is, is to follow where its money is kept and invested in. Ecosia’s savings are stored with Triodos Bank (one of the world’s leading sustainable banks) and GLS, the first socio-ecological bank in Germany. Further, Ecosia stores all of its financial reports since January 2015 on its website. These are visualised using an interactive pie chart which is very easy to understand, particularly for someone with little experience in finance. However, in this instance I would have preferred thorough, written reports. While the every-day visitor to Ecosia’s website may not find pages upon pages of financial reports at all appealing, I believe their presence is important nonetheless. In my opinion, including them would be much to the success of Ecosia; providing users with intricate details about their financials will only strengthen user confidence in Ecosia’s work and help it become more mainstream. My main reason for proposing this that in many of the charts, some expenses are described as coming from ‘travel,’ for instance. Yet there is no immediate explanation for what type of travel this involves (plane rides, trains journeys, and so on) and whether carbon offsets are included in these funds.
In all, Ecosia searches are backed by sustainable investment and savings infrastructure, a care for user privacy and search relevancy, and of course a care for the environment. While it may be difficult to see the environmental impact of one’s own searches, I believe that knowing you are a part of a international community of Ecosia-users all with the same goal makes switching browsers a no-brainer.