• 12.18.13

This Search Engine Plants Trees, If You Can Bear To Give Up Google

By directing ad-click dollars to environmental projects, Ecosia delivers more than just search results.

This Search Engine Plants Trees, If You Can Bear To Give Up Google
[Image: Trees via Shutterstock]

Would you give up Google to save the rainforest?


That’s the pitch of German search engine Ecosia as it looks to expand in the U.S. and elsewhere, billing itself as the “Green Google alternative.” The company is the creation of Christian Kroll, who is a bit of a serial search-engine social entrepreneur. (Say that three times fast.)

In 2007, he founded his first in Kathmandu, called Xabbel. Every time its users clicked a sponsored ad, a portion of the revenue would go to social causes in Nepal. Xabbel didn’t last, but the concept stuck.

After a trip to the South American rainforest, he found a new cause to direct his ad dollars. “After learning that tropical deforestation contributes up to 17% of global CO2 emissions, it dawned on me that you might have a real impact on climate change if you could successfully preserve the rainforest,” he says.

He founded a series of plant-themed search products–Forestle, Znout, and Treely–all of which were rolled into the new Ecosia when it relaunched in August. The website not only offsets all its carbon emissions (and publishes the offsets online), it delivers 80% of the revenue from its “EcoLinks” and “EcoAds” to The Nature Conservancy’s “Plant a Billion Trees” project. A dollar plants an “Ice Cream Bean Tree” in the endangered Atlantic Forest, helping to offset deforestation in the Amazon, which increased this year by an astonishing 28%.

“It also allowed us to bring back the “tree counter” which shows you how many trees you and other Ecosia users have helped plant with use of Ecosia,” notes Kroll.

Kroll says that since Ecosia’s August relaunch, the site has grown by 40% (and by 60% in non-German-speaking markets) to nearly 2.5 million monthly active users; enough traffic, Kroll says, to plant a new tree every minute.

The search itself is a tweaked version of Yahoo, and seems to deliver similar results (though seemingly stripped of niceties like images and “suggested results”). Why not Google? They have a policy against it: “We want users to click on ads because they are interested in the products or services offered by the advertiser, not because they are interested in supporting a site or a charity.”


But for those who simply can’t give up Google, Ecosia does have a Google option. It’s “EcoAd” and “EcoLink” free, but it still promises to be “100% carbon neutral.”

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.