Today, the scale of the impact of digital technology on the environment represents about 10% of global energy consumption and 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, this is what we call digital pollution. This represents the total energy impact generated by the activities of the digital world. It includes, for example, the data centers, the manufacture of computers, the consumption of time on the Internet, the emails sent and even the fact of doing an Internet search on a browser. After all, hundreds of millions of requests are made to search engines worldwide every hour. “Green” or “eco-friendly” browsers have emerged in recent years, including Ecosia.
What is Ecosia?
« Search the web to plant the trees», is the promise of the German search engine Ecosia. Launched in December 2009 by Christian Kroll following “a trip around the world helped him understand the problems of deforestation” the Ecosia website tells us. The principle is simple, the user, by carrying out an internet search, allows the company to donate part of its profits to associations. These non-profit organizations work in the reforestation of poor, arid and deforested regions, particularly in Africa and South America. Ecosia is free and open to all, users just need to add an extension to their browser. About 80% of its profits, i.e., about 50% of Ecosia’s revenues, are donated to associations. Ecosia passed the 100 million trees planted in July 2020, an average of 10 million trees planted each year since the search engine was created. Ecosia donates the money to local programs in some thirty countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda, Senegal etc.
Where does the money come from to plant these trees?
Ecosia’s revenue, like most search engines, is primarily based on advertising. As Ecosia is a meta-search engine, its search results are generated by Bing and the advertising inserts by Yahoo. In effect, Ecosia displays advertisements that generate revenue with each click of the user and donates a portion to tree planting. But if the user chooses to stop displaying this advertising content, the revenue generated by the searches decreases. The search engine also earns a profit from the commissions on the sales of the online shop. For example, the sale of a T-shirt allows 20 trees to be planted. One of the great qualities of Ecosia is its transparency, so we can see in its activity report of January 2022, that Ecosia declares to have recorded 2.37 million euros of income and 1.12 million euros have been paid back for tree planting. The rest covers green investments, operating costs (salaries, rent, servers…), advertising costs and taxes.
How much research is needed to plant a tree?
It doesn’t really depend on the number of searches, but rather on the clicks made on the various ads, which do not all bring in the same amount of money. But according to Ecosia,”Taking into account that not every Ecosia user clicks on ad every time they search, we earn an average of 0.5 cents (Euro) per search” the site states. They point out that it would take 45 searches to finance the planting of a tree.
Is Ecosia really an ecological search engine?
The answer is rather paradoxical, because a search engine pollutes. Yes, Ecosia has many advantages and is one of the greenest and most ecological browsers, it plants trees to compensate for some of the pollution generated by internet traffic. But it is still a meta-search engine, which means that it draws its information from other general search engines. Ecosia is therefore not independent, which means that a large number of servers are used when users make a search. Ecosia uses Bing’s servers for search and Yahoo’s for advertising. This increases server consumption and therefore the associated pollution. So, theoretically, by using this “greener” browser we are still increasing our carbon footprint, whereas Ecosia’s primary goal is to reduce it. But every problem has its solution, and in order to gradually solve this problem, Ecosia has invested in its own photovoltaic panels. The aim is to power the servers and stay within its ecological objective. Their production would currently be enough to cover the needs of the Bing servers used by Ecosia and therefore to power all Ecosia’s research 100% with renewable energy. This shows that the company is doing everything possible to reduce its negative effects on the environment as much as possible, as they promise. In addition, Ecosia is certified as a “B Corporation”, which is a certification given to companies that meet societal and environmental requirements and are transparent with public.
Ecology is ok, but what about the personal data of its users?
Indeed, user data is a recurring issue in today’s digital world. And the search engine does everything possible to respect the privacy of its users. Ecosia makes it a point of honor not to create tracking from the search history of Internet users, for example. Moreover, Ecosia does not save data in an untimely manner like Google. Searches are recorded on servers but deleted after one week to guarantee a certain protection of personal data. Indeed, no data collected by the browser will be communicated or sold to other organizations. So, data is not massively collected unlike other giants like Google. But as I said above, Ecosia uses other search engines such as Bing, which results in the sharing of information when you search with it, even if Ecosia says it has negotiated the anonymization of data with Bing, what is really going on?
But who uses Ecosia today?
Ecosia has an average of 4 million active users per month. And more than 15 million users worldwide use Ecosia to do their research. The French are the number one user of Ecosia, representing 23% of users. Germany is next with 17% and then the United States with 15%.
But why change?
Ecosia is a browser that is totally transparent with its users. Ecosia does not pretend to be “ecological” or “green” to be trendy or to attract users. But despite some negative effects on the environment, it does everything possible to correct them and keep its commitments, and that its environmental impact is zero. Also, the greater the number of users, the greater the impact on the environment. Ecosia is therefore a good way of offsetting part of your carbon footprint when you search online. The only small grey area could be the personal data of users, whether the anonymity of this data is well respected by Bing. Even if Ecosia is not a revolution to save the planet, small actions make big changes. So, if you too want to see the number of trees planted increase thanks to your searches, all to your computers, and install the extension.