Go Green with Ecosia: The Search Engine with a Sustainable Business Model

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screenshot of search box from the Ecosia.org home page with text that reads 197,655,276 trees planted by the Ecosia community

I find that growth and destruction can go hand in hand—especially in the business world. In order for a business to grow, it must consume or be consumed. Often in this capitalist model, exceptional profits come at the cost of consummation. One notable victim of business growth is the passive partner known as natural resources. While it is impressive to see Bitcoin’s meteoric rise, it comes at the consummation cost of using more than 500 billion gallons of water this year. Fast fashion is a multi-trillion-dollar industry, and yet the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) claims the business is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions. However, what if there was a way to have a sustainable business model that was also ethically responsible? Ecosia, a non-profit search engine, is not only a thriving business but is also directly responsible for planting over 185 million trees. Focusing on sustainability and social responsibility, Ecosia demonstrates how business models can positively impact the environment. If Bentley wants to expand their sustainable practices, the community should consider exploring the features of the Ecosia search engine. 

“[T]here is a more ethical alternative to the kind of greedy capitalism that is coming close to destroying the planet,” said Christian Kroll, the founder of Ecosia, in an interview with BBC (Bearne, 2020). Founded in 2009, Ecosia’s main source of revenue comes from displayed advertisements on their search engine. If a user clicks on an ad, Ecosia earns money from advertisers. Even if a user never clicks on ads, the more people who use Ecosia, the value of ads placed on the search engine increases. On average, Ecosia generates about 3 million dollars each month. After factoring in the costs of IT infrastructure, HR, marketing, and research development, “it invests 20% of its surplus income towards renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and grassroot activism and the remaining 80% into planting and protecting trees worldwide” (Ivanov, 2022). Ecosia prioritizes planting a native species in biodiversity hotspots like Brazil, Senegal, and Indonesia, and less on planting a bunch of pine trees and calling it a day. They also work with organizations in New York, LA, and London to plant urban trees. Besides tree planting, their investments into renewable energy has allowed them to be carbon neutral as well as invest $23 million into solar energy (Zolar Sees $23 Million Investment, 2022). 

While Ecosia has an ambitious mission, how does it fair as a search engine? Pretty good actually. I’ve been using the search engine since 2014, and I have synced my account to all of my computers as well as my phone. While you do not need to create an account to use the search engine, registered users get a tree counter at the top of the search page that calculates how many tree planting they have helped fund due to their searches. As of now, I have funded around 340 tree planting just by using the search engine. Generally, Ecosia calculates that “it takes 45 searches to raise the 0.22 euro (20p; 26 US cents) cost of planting of one tree” (Bearne, 2020). So, if I do some math … I’ve conducted around 15,000 searches. While I’m older than Ecosia’s core demographic, as “80% of its users are said to be 29 or younger” (Bearne, 2020), I enjoy the search engine’s environmental mission as well as its other key feature: privacy. 

Unlike Google, whose use of user data is somewhat up for auction, Ecosia takes user privacy very seriously. Similar to DuckDuckGo, Ecosia has privacy controls built in for users. According to Piotr Drozd, a former Head of Growth and Analytics at Ecosia, the company does not “store any data or employ personalisation algorithms, virtually each and every data point [collected] is either aggregated or cookie-based” (Ivanov, 2022). While Ecosia could significantly boost their revenue with personalized search results, it would come at the cost of acquiring a significant amount of personal data from the user. Currently, Ecosia only gathers the users’ IP address and search results, which is used to improve searchability. I respect Ecosia’s commitment to integrity, and to put it simply: I came for here the trees and stayed for the privacy. I assume other users of Ecosia feel the same. 

Despite its growth over the years, Ecosia still has a small userbase. With Google dominating 83% of desktop searches, Bing controlling 9%, and Yahoo at around 2%, Ecosia has significant room to expand (Bianchi, 2023). However, Kroll hopes to change the market share in the next decade saying, “We calculated that if everyone used us instead of Google, we could plant around 300 billion trees every year and we would get to that 1 trillion very quickly – it’s not impossible but we need more users to do it” (Lehnis, 2022). Slow, but steady growth is happening with the company. In 2020, Ecosia won Best App for the Planet in the AppGallery Europe Editors’ Choice Awards. In a recent study, the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) assigned a test group to temporarily switch their search engine to Ecosia. The results showed that “80% of participants agreed that CNWL should use Ecosia as its default search engine” and “86% said they would use Ecosia on their personal devices” (Cussans, 2023). Many universities across the world are also changing their default engines to Ecosia, and switching over only takes a few minutes on most devices. If something as simple as changing the search engine on your device can result in positive impacts to the Earth, shouldn’t you at least try it? 


References

Ahlgren, L. (2023, December 4). Tree-planting search engine Ecosia launches ‘green’ AI chatbot. The New Web. https://thenextweb.com/news/tree-planting-search-engine-ecosia-launches-green-ai-chatbot

Bearne, S. (2020, August 30). The search engine boss who wants to help us all plant trees. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-53922786

Bianchi, T. (2023, May 10). Global search engine desktop market share 2023. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines/

Brookes, T. (2021, February 5). What Is Ecosia? Meet a Google alternative that plants trees. How-To Geek. https://www.howtogeek.com/710964/what-is-ecosia-meet-a-google-alternative-that-plants-trees/

Cussans, A. (2023). Ecosia: Bringing a greener search engine to the NHS. BJPsych Open, 9, S84. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo.2023.263

Cyphers, B. (2020, March 19). Google says it doesn’t ‘sell’ your data. Here’s how the company shares, monetizes, and exploits it. Electronic Frontier Foundation. https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/03/google-says-it-doesnt-sell-your-data-heres-how-company-shares-monetizes-and

Daily Business Now. (2020, December 28). AppGallery Europe reveals the best apps of 2020. https://dailybusinessnow.com/2020/12/28/appgallery-europe-reveals-the-best-apps-of-2020/

Ivanov, K. (2022). Values-based business model innovation-The case of Ecosia and its business model. International Journal of Innovation Management, 26(5). https://doi.org/10.1142/S1363919622400023

Lehnis, M. (2022, August 25). ‘If everyone used us instead of Google, we could plant 300 billion trees a year’ says Ecosia founder Christian Kroll. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/mariannelehnis/2022/08/25/if-everyone-used-us-instead-of-google-we-could-plant-300-billion-trees-a-year-says-ecosia-founder-christian-kroll/?sh=4352ee1030f0

Leonard, J. (2022). Computing – Incisive Media: Green search engine Ecosia sees jump in user numbers. Computing, http://ezp.bentley.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/trade-journals/computing-incisive-media-green-search-engine/docview/2675533702/se-2?accountid=8576

Niiler, E. (2023, December 6). Bitcoin mining used more water than New York City last year. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/science/environment/bitcoin-water-cryptocurrency-transactions-mining-607f46e9

Smythe, C. (2018, May 16). How fast fashion became a multi-trillion-dollar industry. The Business of Business. https://www.businessofbusiness.com/articles/examining-fast-fashions-appeal-and-issues/

St Andrews adopts green web technology. (2022, January 21). University of St Andrews news. https://news.st-andrews.ac.uk/archive/st-andrews-adopts-green-web-technology/

Tran. (2022, July 20). From LA to London: why we’re planting urban trees. The Ecosia Blog. https://blog.ecosia.org/urban-trees-heatwave/

World Bank. (2019, October 8). How much do our wardrobes cost to the environment?. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-ambiente

Zolar sees $23 million investment from Ecosia. (2022, March 17). Financial Services Monitor Worldwide. http://ezp.bentley.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/wire-feeds/zolar-sees-23-million-investment-ecosia/docview/2639977435/se-2?accountid=8576

 

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