Ecosia is an environmentally friendly search engine that wants to give back by planting trees in exchange for your searches.
It first came to our attention when a search icon appeared on a team member’s iOS device as a search engine option. You see, Apple give options for users each time they type a search into their browser bar.
The Ecosia business model can be explained simply by saying they show ads to make money, then donate 80% of their profits to tree planting organisations. Brilliantly simple and effective.
How Does It work?
The question on your lips is probably how does the environmentally friendly search engine Ecosia work? Some people will think about the technical side involving the searches and results, others about how does their pledge of planting trees actually work? Let’s dive in.
Did Ecosia build an entirely new search engine? No, they are using search engine technology developed by Microsoft’s Bing. So Ecosia are powered by Bing and this is how they deliver their search results. The only problem we can see with this is it’s unclear if Bing is actually carbon neutral or not (though it will be) and we talk about this a little more in the Green Pledge section below.
The basic results you see are going to be ranked by Bing, but other technology like the adverts that appear and the design are handled by Ecosia. So Ecosia will be able to decide where, when and how ads appear when you search for things.
An example of changes Ecosia have made to their engine’s search results is the green leaf icon they have added to the website title of planet-friendly organisations since 2019.
Ecosia tell us the websites of these organisations “have been assessed by ecological labels such as Hilfswerft, or Economy for the Common Good. Many, like Ecosia, are also certified B Corporation members.”
Conversely, websites whose organisations find themselves on the Coal Exit List get a dirty factory icon added to their search results. Thanks to a few other sources like “data by the Climate Accountability Institute and The Guardian”, Ecosia are helping us to identify the organisations posing the biggest threat to our world.
Their developers are also working to ensure the ads work perfectly, knowledge panels fire up, image search and more as part of managing a custom search engine from Bing. Boy have thy done a great job of balancing everything, enhancing an already great search engine with their own algorithms and cool little additions like being able to go directly to a Wikpedia page by typing “search term #w”.
Their green pledge is to plant trees for every search you do. It doesn’t mean that for every single search you make there will be one tree planted, rather you need to make about 45 searches before they plant one tree.
Most people use Google and the average person will make a search 3 to 4 times a day, so if you use Ecosia for 14 days, you’d probably plant one tree. If an environmentally concious business with 30 employees made Ecosia the default search engine on their machines, there would be a total of 90 searches and two trees planted every day! In this month of may, that business would have planted 44 trees. Imagine the impact this would have on a national scale?
Do businesses even consider the carbon implications of using search engines when calculating their carbon footprint? It’s probably a moot point now since Google went carbon neutral back in 2007. But carbon neutral doesn’t mean there is a positive impact on the environment, only that any harm caused is mitigated in some way.
According to their own data, Microsoft is not carbon neutral, though they plan to be carbon negative by 2030. that doesn’t really give us an answer for the search engine itself, so we’ll have to assume Bing is not carbon neutral right now. Hopefully Ecosia have taken this into account and both mitigate Bing’s carbon emissions and their own before claiming a positive environmental impact.
You can keep track on how Ecosia are doing regarding their pledge because they are very accountable, publishing financial reports on a regular basis.
Quality of results
The features, boxes, adverts and images are all brilliant. The results are definitely unique compared to Google, matching more to what you would expect from a Bing search. Ecosia aren’t reinventing the wheel here, so you’re not going to find something wildly different. This is a good thing as the quality of results stays high.
The main difference in what you see comes with the adverts that appear, or some websites getting enhancements in Ecosia that they don’t have in other search engines. We found the quality was good enough that we’d always find what we wanted in the first three results.
Because we research, we often go to the fourth, fifth or even sixth page of results and this is no different with Ecosia, Bing or Google. We did not feel at any point that Ecosia is providing results any less worthy than any other search engine we’ve used.
Ecosia are very serious about protecting our privacy as we could expect from an ethical, green company. Why can’t more organisations be the same?
When dealing with your data, they make sure they collect as little as possible and what they do collect is encrypted and anonymised. A great example they give is that where they store IP addresses, they do it in a way that makes them anonymous, so they can’t be connected back to you. Then after seven days, any search data they have becomes fully anonymised.
Another great thing Ecosia do is respecting “do not track” requests sent by browsers. These requests are often ignored by websites, but Ecosia respect them. This means that no tracking analytics data is collected at all if your browser sends that request.
To understand and process your data, Ecosia use an in-house analytics system that encrypts the data so it doesn’t leak out and can’t be accessed by unauthorised entities.
Yes it does.
Essential, always present cookies are there only to store your settings, such as preferred language and the search counter so you can see how many searches you have made. Also, these cookies make sure you don’t see the same tree update messages repeated over and over again.
These essential cookies are also used to see what features are being used and the most popular blog posts. With these cookies, they can continue to improve the quality of results with features like knowledge panels and such.
In fact, they stick to the GDPR and will display a cookie warning when you first start the browser even outside the EU and European countries who have implemented the GDPR. We don’t think it’s exactly the same for other major search engines.
If you allow non-essential cookies, you will help Ecosia to get personalised search results. Ecosia can also see how effective their adverts are, like if you made an install after seeing an ad for something, so they can avoid spending money on adverts that don’t help plant trees.
Do Ecosia sell your data?
No, they don’t.
Ecosia are not selling your data to third parties and even avoid forwarding information to its search partner Bing that is unnecessary. For example, they need to pass information to Bing so they can answer your query, but your IP is obfuscated, so they can’t actually identify the individual making the request.
Even more cool is their use of servers across the globe to speed everything up for you. It means that if you make a request in Germany, the request will be processed in Germany alone under its stricter privacy laws. Quicker, efficient and more private, it’s like you’re getting another layer of privacy between you and the main search engine.
Have you considered using the Ecosia search app, which might be even more secure and easier than using a browser? Certainly their apps don’t share data to third parties, just like ecosia.org, so you get the perfect experience in a super secure environment.
“The critics go even further, claiming that Ecosia’s approach is wrong. According to them, search engines just cannot be environmentally friendly. The servers with which the searches are conducted use a very large amount of power. This means that carbon dioxide is emitted which is, in turn, environmentally damaging.” – https://www.goethe.de/en/kul/ges/20446262.html
This is a totally valid point, but the thing is, our thirst for knowledge isn’t about to dry up any time soon. Microsoft have been testing underwater data centres that are much more efficient, saving precious resources. Microsoft have also pledged to become carbon negative before 2030, so they’re moving in the right direction for sure.
At least Ecosia recognise there is damage being done to the environment by our use of technology and are doing something to redress the balance and guess what? Ecosia’s “solar panels produced enough electricity to power your searches with renewables nearly five times over”. So there.
Our Usage Statistics
Here is an example of a single team member’s use of Ecosia, documenting daily average searches made and the number of trees planted. Use of Ecosia was not restricted to work only, but we don’t track colleague use of the internet, so didn’t request a report including that kind of detail. The first day of the test was Monday (Day 1) and the last was Sunday (Day 7).
After one user searching exclusively with Ecosia, we had planted a total of 4.444444444 trees.
Searches per browser per day
An interesting trend, perhaps just a reflection on the week we performed the test, is the first day saw the most searches performed, planting just over one tree on that day alone. Days 4, 5 and 6 were slow days, making enough searches for at or just under 0.4 trees. Days 2, 3 and 7 seem to be regular search days, planting 0.7 trees on average.
It was also interesting that Thursday, Friday and Saturday had fewer than 20 searches, but the mobile phone’s browser was used 10x more than in the first three days. On Sunday, 91% of the searches conducted were on a mobile phone’s browser.
Trees planted per browser
When we look at the number of trees planted per browser, Firefox is the clear favourite, desktop only beating the phone browser and we still have enough love for Edge that it comes in third place, planting half a tree.
Firefox (desktop) 1.86
Firefox (phone) 1.53
Edge (desktop) 0.53
Other (desktop) 0.44
The above adds up to 4.36 and not 4.44 because we have only shown those results to two decimal places.
We did notice that after two days of using Ecosia in Firefox on desktop, a box for Google search was pinned to the list of ‘top sites’ displayed when opening a new tab. Interesting that would happen while we were testing Ecosia. We’d like to resist the suggestion that the browser recognised a change in behaviour and tried to get us back to using a ‘preferred’ or ‘recommended’ search engine, but this could be the case.
Ecosia aren’t yet seen as a mainstream search engine, and we had to add it manually to some browsers like Microsoft Edge, which is a little ironic since Microsoft developed edge and they provide results for Ecosia.
We think they’re great and Ecosia also help locals to have employment planting the trees we’ve funded through our searches. Ecosia is an environmentally friendly search engine that holds itself accountable every month, letting us know exactly how many trees they plant. Their blog is a great resource that is updated on a regular basis with their latest projects and news.
Of course, you can go straight to ecosia.org and start planting trees right away.
You can also get the app on Android.