While we’d love for challenges as wide-ranging as climate change and habitat destruction to be solved with the click of a ‘like’ or ‘share’ button, we know that’s not how the world works. Real change is difficult and takes more involvement than five seconds spent at a computer screen.
Ecosia, the most ethical company you’ve never heard of, may well be challenging such basic assumptions. It’s a search engine to rival Google which promises users that all they have to do to make the world greener is add a plug-in to their browser and surf the web as normal. Since 2009, the company claims to have planted 62 million trees, saying each search takes 1kg of carbon dioxide out of the air that 45 searches are enough to plant a new tree.
How? Like Google, Ecosia makes its money by selling adverts and the right to appear at the top of searches. But unlike Google, it then takes this revenue and invests just under half of it — or 80% if operating costs are removed — on a series of replanting programmes. The company works in 21 areas where deforestation is rife and there’s a serious threat to plant and animal diversity, including countries like Burkina Faso, Senegal and Spain. It also continually documents progress to prove trees remain and are not cut down.
Ecosia was the first German company to become a certified benefit corporation by B-Lab, meaning it contributes positively to the world, and is also very clear on its ethical principles, promising full financial transparency by publishing its financial reports every month.
Similarly, in a world where data is power — Google “knows everything about you,” according to one privacy expert quoted on MSN news — Ecosia also promises to forge a new path: it doesn’t sell data to advertisers, there are no third-party trackers, and all searches are anonymised in one week.
The Berlin-based company was created by German entrepreneur Christian Kroll, a Business Administration graduate who was “disappointed” that most people considered profit-making “the only valid objective for a business.” Because it uses 100% renewable energy for its servers and invests extensively in tree-planting, which is effective at carbon capture, the company is actually CO2 negative — even if it does link up with Bing, a Microsoft product, to help power the search functions.
Ecosia recently pledged to plant one million trees in Brazil, in direct response to far-right President Bolsonaro’s outright contempt for the rainforests and moves to open it up to logging companies. Since Bolsonaro came to power, deforestation in Brazil has increased by a massive 88%, as weak law enforcement is allowing the agricultural sector to expand into previously protected areas.
The company writes in a blog that the trees will be planted along Brazil’s coastal strip over the course of the next six months, “reconnecting the remaining forest patches” of the Mata Atlântica, a forest older than the Amazon of which only 8% remains. The announcement involves an expansion of an already successful partnership with the charity PACTO Mata Atlântica.
Assessing whether it is worth switching to Ecosia, popular YouTube blogger Our Changing Climate said: “If you’re an average web searcher like me, then most of the time Ecosia feels the same as Google. And when it comes down to it, you’re going to have to use a search engine.”
He went on to describe Ecosia as “an easy way to bring a little bit of green back into this world.”
Robert Scott Lazar
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