Ecosia, the search engine for a sustainable future

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On: September 27, 2020
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What is it ? And why is this so cool ? 

Ecosia is a search engine, created by the German entrepreneur Christian Kroll in 2009 and was subsequently nominated the first B Corporation of the country. As a corporation this status means that it balances purpose and profit, as the social business model of the search engine model generates a positive global impact and is prevalent to solely profits. Ecosia is therefore a unique search engine compared to others. Its focus and core values are primarily ecological and directed towards data privacy and not collection ; and in the green engine’s attempt to compensate for its gas emissions in planting trees, Ecosia is a conscious browser, rather new in its kind, aim and structure.

Its creation was first focused to help the deceleration of deforestation is now funding reforestation projects all over the world ; since its creation, it has raised over $1.5 million for rainforest protection according to Tech.eu. In 2019, the company had reached a pivotal point: planting over 50 million trees globally! This means that ecologically speaking and according to Ecosia’s sources, 2.5 millions tonnes of CO2 were removed from the atmosphere, 60,000 hectares were restored, and over 500 native tree species were planted. Nowadays in 2020, Ecosia plants a tree every second across its 21 reforestation projects worlwide. As stated on Ecosia’s website, « more than CO2 neutral, the company’s servers run on 200% renewable energy, and every search request removes 1kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.» By using this browser, the user is directly involved in the fight against deforestation but also greenhouse gas effects, empowering communities, and impacting human lives’ conditions and environments globally. « Planting trees, Protecting your privacy, Using renewable energy » that is one of the motto of the company, using the engine is reducing CO2 emissions. 

This sustainable engine, as a new media object, creates a relation of trust between the user, the engine used with its repercussions, and the Earth itself : connecting to Parikka’s words «it is through and in media that we grasp earth as an object for cognitive, practical, and affective relations.» (2015 ; 12). As a social business, Ecosia has enabled its users to actively take part of change through their screens, following Norman’s notions, using the engine’s low-level affordances as the interface’s technical features (Sun and Hart-Davidson, 2014: 3537) and turning the profits into the planting of trees. 

What’s the point ?  

As an IT-based green business modelKroll’s clever concept has already won various awards and gained consequent popularity in a short amount of time, today it registers over 15 million active users. As Ruch et al. explain, « Search engines need electricity to provide their services  and indirectly produce CO2. The estimation of greenhouse gas emissions for the average search query using the market leader Google fluctuate between 0.2g and 10.0g of CO2 » (2011). With the Internet-based installation of CO2GLE, created by Joana Moll in 2014, an Internet user is able to see in real-time the carbon footprint emitted by Google generated each second spent on a web page: http://www.janavirgin.com/CO2/ . This illustrates the real-time material impact the Internet has on our ecosystem and why we need search engines like Ecosia for a sustainable future. Its mechanism as a search engine is simple : an internet user searches the web with Ecosia, the search ads generate income, and the engine directly reinvests its financial gain to plant trees. The Ecosia’s search results are powered by Microsoft Bing, which is already powering Yahoo!Search, Bing is the second largest search engine in the US, after Google of course. Ecosia has a contract with Bing, using its search technology but enhancing it with Ecosia’s own algortihms ; this contract also has a positive resonance on the green search engine’s privacy policies regarding its users’ data, in comparison to Google or DuckDuckGo. “Ecosia will soon be included on Chrome’s default search engine list in several major markets, including the UK, US, France and Germany” according to Lomas for Techcrunch. This has been made possible as Ecosia dedicates 80% of its advertising profits to its cherished cause, and it shows : as you are reading this article, today over 108 millions trees have been planted globally and the number just keeps growing.

Its one of a kind transparency and privacy policy 

 The company has a total transparency policy regarding its income, every six weeks a detailed and graphic financial report is published and accessible to all on Ecosia’s website. Therefore the engine’s users are able to see exactly how the money they are generating by using the interface is used and re-distributed by the business. Ecosia is distinguishing itself from other search engines as trustworthy

Ecosia’s detailed financial report of September 2019

Besides Ecosia’s aim as a company being fundamentally different than Google’s, as well as not having the same place in our everyday life infrastructures, what sets apart Ecosia from Google is its privacy policy. As explained in the company’s podcast n°10, one of its tech lead and developer explains that Ecosia is actively protecting its users privacy. Ecosia is the opposite of its big brother Google, which van Dijck already alarmed us about : « Google’s powerful position in the information retrieval market warrants extre vigilance with regards to the reliability, relevance and transparency of its rankings. » (2010 ; 579). 

Having a total transparency, the company doesn’t sell its data to advertisers as all data is deleted in the next three days of its generation, the company irreversibly anonymizes all data from its searches, and assures its users that there are no third party trackers or internal tracking. In comparison to Google, or DuckduckGo (partnered with Bing too) which are both based in the US, the law grants the possible State’s access of companies data-centers that reside ion the U.S grounds. In other words, Ecosia’s infrastructures’ policies, its achievements and accessibility link us back to Cubitt et al. idea that « Sustainability will only be achieved once the larger population realizes that the Internet is not weightless and information is not immaterial. » (2011 ;155) And that is what Ecosia is teaching us through its values.

Why it is urgent to use it?

The green particularity of Ecosia answers a sensitive and alarming issue to our century and consumming societies, that is environmental sustainability, placing consciousness at the very center of its politics.  

Through the browser’s ethic and transparency, users are being held responsible and aware of their « invisible » ecological impact in terms of online research, and the application of measures to reduce them. Ecosia enables its users to understand Gaver’s notion of affordances « the complementary of the acting organism and the acted-upon environment » (1991 : 80). This engine is using a sustainable business model leading the company and now the world to its ecological ideal, to quote Ecosia’s founder and CEO, « if we had only 10-15% of Google’s market share then we could already plant enough trees to stop global deforestation. » That is why everyone should encourage Ecosia by using it, as it not only provides search results, environmental sustainability, data anonymity but also educates the world’s population to understand that our natural resources are limited and need care, Ecosia as an engine with its partners, have showed us that change is possible and necessary for a common sustainable and hopeful future : « What digital media have demonstrated is that a different type of economy is possible, one grounded in collaboration (Scholz, 2008) and peer-to-peer systems » (Bauwens ; 2005). 

REFERENCES:

Parikka, Jussi. A Geology of Media. University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 

Quito, Anne. “Every Google Search Results in CO2 Emissions. This Real-Time Data Viz Shows How Much.” Quartz, Quartz, 7 May 2018, qz.com/1267709/every-google-search-results-in-co2-emissions-this-real-time-dataviz-shows-how-much/. 

Moll, Joana. CO2GLE, 2014, www.janavirgin.com/CO2/CO2GLE_about.html. 

“A Spotlight on Ecosia – the Search Engine That Helps Plant Trees.” Edited by Charmaine Li, Tech.eu, Fores Media Limited, 30 Apr. 2014, tech.eu/features/1155/ecosia/. 

Ruch, Thierry Jean; Schmidt, Nils-Holger; Decker, Jasmin; and Kolbe, Lutz M., “Ecosia – Who Cares About a Green Search Engine?” (2011). AMCIS 2011 Proceedings – All Submissions. 304.
http://aisel.aisnet.org/amcis2011_submissions/304

“Ecosia The Ethical Search Engine.” Website and Blog, Gabriel Hemery, 25 May 2019, gabrielhemery.com/ecosia-the-ethical-search-engine.

Cubitt, Sean, et al. “Does Cloud Computing Have a Silver Lining?” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 2011, pp. 149–158, doi:10.1177/0163443710382974.

Lomas, Natasha. “Tree Planting Search Engine Ecosia Is Getting a Visibility Boost in Chrome.” TechCrunch, 12 Mar. 2020, tcrn.ch/2TXP3kt.

van Dijck, José. “Search Engines and the Production of Academic Knowledge.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 13, no. 6, Nov. 2010, pp. 574–592, doi:10.1177/1367877910376582.

“The Ecosia Podcast- Episode 10:  How Ecosia Protects Your PrivacyOnline.” EcosiaBlog, 12  June 2020, blog.ecosia.org/ecosia-privacy-data/.

“Certified B Corporation.” Bcorporation.Net, 2018, bcorporation.net.

Bucher, Taina, and Anne Helmond. 2018. “The Affordances of Social Media Platforms.” InThe SAGE Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burgess, Thomas Poell, and Alice Marwick. London and New York: SAGE Publications Ltd.

http://www.annehelmond.nl/wordpress/wpcontent/uploads//2016/07/BucherHelmond_SocialMediaAffordances
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