In this Our Changing Climate environmental video essay, I look whether the search engine Ecosia is legit. Specifically, I figure out if Ecosia is real when they say Ecosia plants trees for every web search you make. Because there are no Snopes pieces on the Ecosia, I figured it would be important see if Ecosia is actually planting trees as they claim, as well as try to figure out whether switching from Google to Ecosia makes sense.
Transcript provided by YouTube:
This is an Acacia sapling planted in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.
Given the right conditions, this little leafy plant will transform over many years into
a wide-branched, shade-giving tree.
And right now, Acacia trees, along with a variety of herbs and grasses, are sprouting
in pockets of land across the Sahel region–helping to combat the ever-growing threat of desertification
caused by climate change.
But these little saplings didn’t magically sprout out of the ground.
They’re the product of a string of connections that lead back to a search engine called Ecosia.
Yes, a search engine is in part responsible for a tree planting project in Burkina Faso.
In fact, Ecosia now claims that they’ve helped plant over 52 million trees.
But to me, it seems almost too good to be true that every time I search for something
on the web, someone halfway across the world plants a tree.
So, it’s time to get to the bottom of this with a simple question: Is Ecosia legitimate?
Or more specifically, does Ecosia actually use their profits to plant trees and is it
environmentally and ethically better to use Ecosia over other search tools like Google?
Ecosia is the brainchild of German entrepreneur, Christian Kroll, and essentially transforms
revenue from ads that pop up in your search results into planted trees.
If you’re curious how the search engine actually works, I’d highly recommend watching
my friend Levi’s video on Ecosia.
In it, he lays out the details of his experience with Ecosia, and why people are so attracted
to the idea of planting trees.
In order to figure out whether Ecosia is legit, we need to understand if and how searching
for things on the internet leads to tree planting.
So, let’s follow the money.
Ecosia generates revenue by selling ad space in their search engine.
They then turn around and use that to support what they call “local partners” or non-profit
organizations that are doing tree planting projects primarily in the global south.
So for example, a clothing company might pay to push their link to the top of Ecosia’s
This money then gets transferred into Ecosia’s coffers, and according to their financial
reports, is used to cover four main expenses: Operating costs, Marketing, Reinvestment,
and tree planting.
In total Ecosia donates roughly 47% of their total revenue every month to tree planting
projects, or 80% of its profits if you take operating costs out of the picture.
Of course, these financial reports are self-published and might not be trustworthy.
But Ecosia has been a certified as a B-corporation since 2014, which means that it’s been verified
by the third-party B-corps standard that assesses how much of a positive impact companies have
on their workers, customers, community, and environment.
So, overall I think that it’s safe to assume that Ecosia’s financial reports are correct.
When it comes to giving money to tree-planting operations, Ecosia doesn’t directly allocate
money to local people planting trees all around the world, instead they work with companies
like WeForest in Burkina Faso or Brazil-based Copaiba.
Currently, Ecosia finances 21 different tree planting operations in biodiversity hotspots,
which, according to Ecosia, are zones that “face extreme threats, hold at least 1,500
species of endemic plants and have been diminished by at least 70 percent.”
This means that planting vegetation in these places would have high-impact results.
So, when an organization like WeForest receives money from Ecosia, they work with surrounding
towns to create tree planting plans that are location specific.
In Burkina Faso, that takes the form of planting native Acacia trees to combat desertification
caused by drought.
While in Madagascar, the Ecosia-backed Eden Reforestation Project hires and trains people
from local towns to help replenish the mangrove forest estuaries in the Northwest of the country.
All this goes to show that yes, Ecosia is actually planting trees.
But the key thing here is that it’s not as simple as a click from your computer translating
to a sapling in the ground.
There is a chain of organizations, people, money, and hard work that help make your search
on Ecosia transform into a planted tree.
But even if Ecosia is actually converting revenue into trees, does that mean you should
use it over a search engine like Google?
In my opinion, yes.
If you’re average web searcher like me, then most of the time Ecosia feels the same
And when it comes down to it, you’re going to have to use a search engine, so why not
use one that seeks to plant trees instead of one that owns half of the internet?
That being said there is one problem: Ecosia’s search results and ads are powered by Microsoft’s
So even though Ecosia might be a well-meaning company, you are still using a souped-up Microsoft
product when you use Ecosia.
Considering the fact that Google uses 100% renewable energy to power their data centers
while Microsoft Bing only draws 44% of its energy from renewables, Ecosia seems a bit
less environmentally friendly.
But Microsoft has committed to a 75% reduction in carbon emissions across its whole operation
by 2030, and Ecosia’s tree planting projects are essentially carbon negative.
Because as the 52 million trees they’ve planted mature, the trees will suck in roughly
2.5 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in their lifetime.
According to Ecosia, every search you make with them takes 1kg of Carbon dioxide out
of the atmosphere.
So, as Bing switches to a greener grid and Ecosia grows in size, the search engines carbon
impact will only shrink.
Ultimately, when I started researching this video, I was skeptical of search engines like
They always seem to be a little too good to be true.
But after looking behind the scenes of their operation, I could find few reasons not to
make the switch from Google to Ecosia.
When it comes down to it, the team behind this ecologically-minded search engine seems
to be doing some good environmental work and are also transparent about their finances
and tree planting projects.
Plus, the switch isn’t that hard, and the way I see it is that Ecosia is an easy way
to bring a little bit of green back into this world.
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This post was previously published on YouTube.