Help a charity plant trees whilst you search the web
31st July 2016 | charity environment
How many times have you used a search engine today? Think about it. Did you search for when that new Netflix series is due out? Did you search for Pokémon Go tips? Or maybe you did what my Mum does and search for Facebook rather than just typing facebook.com straight into the address bar. My favourite search engine anecdote is when my Grandpa saw an advert for Bing on the TV but wasn’t sure what it was. Being the tech savvy 80 year old he is, he Googled it.
On average, Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second, which is over 3.5 billion per day. You can even watch that number going up in real-time if that’s your kind of thing.
But what if that searching you were doing was being put to good use? Perhaps even helping a charity? My search engine helps plant trees and I was recommended it by a member of the Bristol Go Green initiative. It’s called Ecosia and it’s brilliant.
What is Ecosia?
Ecosia is a search engine that donates 80% of its surplus income to non-profit organisations, specifically currently focusing on planting trees in Africa. A Berlin based social business, they work with the aim of an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable planet and put people over profits, believing that “diversity, justice and equal opportunity are the keys to solving the world’s most pressing problems”. They are also a certified B Corporation meaning that they meet the high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency and on top of that (as if you needed more reason to get on board) they are also CO2 neutral.
So, how does it work?
Like most search engines, Ecosia gets the majority of it’s income from their search ads. When you click an ad or complete an online purchase via one of their “Ecolinks” advertisers pay Ecosia a bit of dollar, and Ecosia give that dollar to charity. It’s a pretty simple setup.
Averaging things out a bit between the more lucrative ads, the not-so lucrative ads, the people that click on ads and the people that don’t click on ads, Ecosia earn 0.5 cents (Euro) per search. It costs the charity WeForest about 28 cents to plant a tree. So, applying some more maths, that works out at 56 searches for every tree which extrapolated out means that Ecosia fund the planting of a new tree every 11 to 16 seconds. You even get a nice little tree counter in your search results to show you how many trees you’ve funded!
These small amounts of cents here and there add up by the way. Ecosia give the charity WeForest between $40,000 and $80,000 per month!
Technically speaking, Ecosia’s search technology is based on Bing with some of their own algorithms thrown in too. And they use Bing’s advertising system too. I hear you Google fans groan a little but it’s actually worth embracing, especially as Microsoft are now 100% carbon neutral and have been since June 2012. Credit where credit’s due; nice work Microsoft.
At the time of writing, Ecosia have funded the planting of 4,766,256 trees, which is pretty impressive. The actual charity that plants the trees are called WeForest and the project that Ecosia is currently supporting is called “Greening the Desert” which is planting trees across the drought-ridden country Burkina Faso. The project is part of a larger international effort to plant a “Great Green Wall” of trees across the whole of Africa.
Not only does planting trees obviously benefit the environment, it also hugely benefits the local community and economy. The revived land leads to more jobs, healthier livestock, more vegetation and cleaner water, all of which have a positive impact on the local economy and ultimately, the community.
Seeing is Believing
“Where’s the proof”, I hear you cynics ask. And I don’t blame you. We’re so dis-trusting of businesses these days and this all seems too good to be true.
Cards on the table – it’s not as good as Google. Did you really expect it to be? But… It’s definitely good enough! The web results are largely based on Bing so they’re not exactly drawn up by a group of people picking numbers out of a sack.
Having been specifically clocking my searches I’ve been surprised at home many are either branded, specific or functional. Things like cinemas or restaurants, dictionary definitions, wikipedia articles and VAT calculators. For these kinds of searches Ecosia does the job splendidly. And I’d say these make up maybe 80% of my searches.
Where Ecosia is OK-ish, but I do find myself wandering back to Google, is for research – specifically, niche research. Things like researching particular pieces of code or open-ended searches. Questions, for example, yield juicier fruits in Google. But this really is manageable as it takes a matter of milliseconds to open a new tab (ctrl-T), type “Goo”, hit enter (inevitably Google is the first in the history results) and type my query into Google. The amount of time this takes is, in my view, definitely worth the 800 odd trees I’ve helped to plant!
Ecosia does have an images, news, videos and maps tab which are all fine for most things but, again, Google is better for the niche and research stuff. Ecosia does also have a “Google” tab which looks as if it’s trying to show Google’s results but I’m not convinced this actually works. Comparing searches with the real Google still shows a different set.
By the way, it’s worth noting that Google can’t be (and isn’t) ignored! In my work as a freelance web designer and developer here in Bristol it’s crucial that I’m still up to date with Google’s performance and functionality. I may use Ecosia but I still keep a close eye on Google.
Bottom line – no it’s not as good as Google but it’s completely usable and, by the way, in case you’d forgotten the rest of this article, Google doesn’t give 80% of its profits to planting trees. So, yeh, there’s that.
So obviously you want to give this a go because, y’know, why not? Ecosia have got you covered with really easy setup instructions for making it the default search engine in all the major browsers. Obviously you can just use it straight from going to www.ecosia.org too…
So why not?
In the last 20 or so years two major things have been on the rise; Internet use, and global warming. And it’s fair to say that technology in the wider sense hasn’t exactly had the most positive impact on the environment. So how great then that there are enterprises like this out there aiming to address that balance. Surely our future is one where our reliance on the Internet co-exists with our reliance on the environment, leading to a positive, sustainable cohesion. These are the kind of initiatives and organisations that are going to help achieve that cohesion.
Sure, this isn’t quite as good as Google. But worst case scenario; you do a search, then you go and do the same search on Google. That’s 2 seconds. I reckon 80% of my searches are fine through Ecosia and it’s great that all that searching I’m doing anyway actually does some good at the same time. Give it a go and let me know how you find it!