10.22.2020 Culture

Sustainable Interneting: Why You Should Consider Changing Your Search Engine

Logan Cross
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Living a truly sustainable life is harder than it looks. Even if you remove single-use plastics and grow your own food, it’s almost impossible to avoid dealing with not-so-ethical companies, especially when it comes to tech. In 2020, chances are even the staunchest eco-warriors are using Google to learn more about renewable energy, CSA boxes, or Project Drawdown—but with the arrival of some new players in the space, things are changing.

One such brand is Ecosia, a free-to-use search engine that not only prioritizes the privacy of its users but also uses company profits to plant and protect trees.The best part about using Ecosia? It’s an easy way to make sure that you’re doing your part to fight climate change without having to fully go off the grid.

Susy Peddie, Ecosia’s Global Public Relations Manager, explained that the brand tackles climate change by planting trees in areas in which they are most needed. Susy shared that 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions can be traced to deforestation. Ecosia believes planting trees is a huge part of the solution as they reduce carbon, restore biodiversity, and help regulate extreme weather systems. Ecosia uses the profits it makes from its users’ searches as well as its ad revenue toward tree plantation. “Ecosia is an alternative search engine, so yes, you can use Ecosia instead of Google,” said Peddie.

If you’re wondering how many times you need to search “lolcat” to save the world, Susy says that “every 45 searches (on average) finances one tree.

Another factor that separates Ecosia from Google or Bing is that they value transparency over profit. Peddie said they consider themselves a “privacy-friendly” search engine, so Ecosia does not store any of your searches permanently. They don’t create personal profiles based on your search history and most importantly—they don’t sell your data. “Transparency is incredibly important to Ecosia, because our main goal is not profit, but to plant as many trees as possible,” Peddie stressed. “In 2018, our founder and CEO, Christian Kroll, gave away his shares in Ecosia and we turned it into a steward-owned company, meaning it can never be sold or have profits taken out of it.” Peddie also noted that the company publicly publishes their financial reports every month so users can see everything from operational costs to the salaries of their employees. Susy shared that, “these reports allow us to be accountable and open with our users and are our most-viewed pieces of content”. She continued, “people can see the positive impact their searches are having and they trust us to plant trees where they are needed most.”

Making the switch over to Ecosia is simple and the company provides multiple options. You can search directly at ecosia.org, download their mobile app, change your settings in your browser to make Ecosia your default search engine, or you can download the browser extension.

If you’re worried about a less optimal user experience—don’t be. Ecosia operates similarly to Google and Bing, except with Ecosia you’ll also be reminded of the power of your search result through its homepage display that shows the number of trees planted. “Searching for information online is something most of us are doing every day,” said Peddie. “[By] making the switch to Ecosia, you can instantly start having a positive impact on the environment.” However, Ecosia isn’t relying on their users alone to make a positive impact—they’ve also built their own solar plants with the goal to move from being a renewable energy brand to a carbon-negative brand. “Ecosia has seen huge growth in the past two years as the climate crisis has picked up in the news, and grassroots climate movements have taken hold,” noted Peddie. “The movement is only going to get bigger and we believe Ecosia will too.”

Although climate change is their ultimate goal, in light of the recent COVID-19 crisis, Ecosia has shifted their priorities from growth to finding ways to support users during this time. Due to the coronavirus, some of their tree-planting projects are being affected. According to their blog, they’re fully prepared to put some of their projects on pause until further notice. “Many companies use a small portion of their profits for good causes, such as tree planting. But in times of COVID-19, and in the critical economic situation that is likely to follow, these “corporate social responsibility” budgets are the first to be cut,” the post says. “This means that our reforestation partners who rely on multiple sources of funding might suddenly be faced with the possibility of having to drastically reduce their operations. We will do everything in our power to prevent this.”

Typing “how many Google searches per day” into Ecosia reveals that although Google does not share its data, it’s estimated that there are around 5 billion Google searches a day. Imagine the planet we’d be living on if even a quarter of those searches were instead entered into Ecosia. In the same vein as keep cups, reusable bags, and buying locally, these small and simple changes in mass have the power to change the world.

Logan Cross is a writer, editor, and dancer based in Los Angeles who enjoys fictional podcasts and rejecting her friends’ request to learn TikTok dances.

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