When Christian Kroll went backpacking in Argentina in 2019, he realized how important can trees be for communities and entire countries all over the world. That’s when he came up with an idea for a search engine that would help plant trees.
In July 2020 Kroll’s startup Ecosia announced planting its 100 millionth tree. Such a number of trees absorb 1771 tonnes of CO2 every day. And for many people, it sounds just too good to be true. So if you’re wondering whether Ecosia is legit or can’t quite grasp how it works, keep reading.
What is Ecosia?
Ecosia is a search engine just like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Similarly to other companies, Ecosia generates ad revenue by including advertising in your search results. And here’s the part where Ecosia stands out among other search engines: instead of generating profit, Ecosia uses these funds to sponsor tree planting initiatives in places that need it most.
So how exactly is your search translated into a tree? Unsurprisingly, Ecosia doesn’t do the tree planting by itself. Ecosia’s tree-planting team is constantly working to find the communities and organizations to partner with. Every now and then, Ecosia signs a contract with a local planting company. The contract specifies the number of trees, the price per tree, their location, and species. This way Ecosia makes sure the trees they plant have a profound positive impact on the community. Together with a local company Ecosia determines what kind of trees will be optimal for the soil and create the most positive change in the community.
On the company’s website, you can find country profiles with detailed information of what Ecosia is doing there. For example, in Indonesia, Ecosia is tackling the issue of palm oil plantations. While the palm oil industry destroys the ecosystem and natural habitats of many endangered species, it’s also a source of income for a vast majority of local people. That’s why Ecosia is not only promoting palm oil boycott, it also helps the communities to find alternative sources of income by restoring forests on former plantations.
To make sure the missions are going well, Ecosia’s team stays in touch with their local partners and visits the sites to control the progress. When they start working with someone new, they invest a small amount of money and gradually add to it after the partner proves to be trustworthy.
How do we know it’s all true?
There’s another aspect in which Ecosia is different from its competitors: it discloses all the details about the company’s activities, including monthly financial reports. For example, in the report from June 2020, you can see that Ecosia generated a total income of €1.474.316,- that month. Staggering 80% of the surplus was allocated to planting and preserving trees all around the world.
If you aren’t convinced by Ecosia’s self reports, many independent organizations can vouch for them. In 2014 Ecosia gained a B-corp status, a recognition that is given to companies that meet B-corp’s high environmental and social standards. Alongside companies like Patagonia or Alpro, Ecosia has proven to have a positive long term impact on its community, employers, and the environment.
What about my privacy?
When starting to use a new piece of software, many people are worried about their privacy and personal data. And rightfully so. However, Ecosia doesn’t give its users any reasons to worry. In fact, all your searches made on Ecosia are securely encrypted and are anonymized within a week. Unlike Google with Google Analytics, Ecosia doesn’t use any third-party tracking tools to assure that your data won’t end up in the wrong hands. The company collects a small amount of data in order to improve its services and doesn’t sell any of it to advertisers. But if it still bothers you, you can completely opt out of tracking in your browser’s settings.
Is Ecosia’s operation sustainable too?
Looking at the company’s operational sustainability is a great way to determine whether their eco promises are legitimate or not. Ecosia’s headquarters are located in Berlin, Germany. In addition to three solar plants in Berlin, in 2020 the company also built its own solar system in Rottenbach. That let Ecosia become 200% renewable, meaning they produce twice as much solar energy than it’s needed to power all Ecosia searches. The solar system in Rottenbach sells renewable electricity for a very affordable price thus promoting sustainable energy in the community.
On the other hand, Ecosia’s critics keep pointing out one thing that’s holding the company back. Ecosia belongs to the Microsoft Search Network, a corporation that includes other search engines like Yahoo and Bing. Simply put, Ecosia is not an independent company, it also uses Microsoft’s services. Now when it comes to sustainable energy, Google is ahead of Microsoft. While Microsoft has committed to offsetting 70% of its energy usage by 2023, Google has been offsetting 100% of its energy consumption since 2018.
Overall, there is no doubt that Ecosia is a legitimate environmentally conscious company that is worth supporting. Although it’s not perfect, it is one of the best examples of how a business can improve the world instead of damaging it. With his example, Ecosia’s CEO Christian Kroll urges more businesses to take action. He believes that the way the climate crisis is dealt with now is not sustainable. At the moment, private companies harm the environment and non-profit organizations are expected to clean up the mess. Kroll, however, believes that the private sector should start taking more initiative. Moreover, in 2018 Ecosia became a “steward-owned company”, which means that no one will ever be able to sell Ecosia at a profit or take money out of the company.