Story at a glance

  • Ecosia, a software company, created a search engine that plants a tree every time you use it to search.
  • The company boasts more than 74 million trees have been or will be planted using advertising revenue.
  • With more than $2 million earned in September, Ecosia has planted trees in Brazil, Tanzania and Burkina Faso.

If you don’t know how to best reduce your carbon footprint and alleviate climate change, this website can help. Meet Ecosia, a search engine that plants a tree for every 45 queries that are input into the website. Simply search results for “Changing America” on Ecosia and you're on your way toward having a tree planted. 

Ecosia’s altruistic mission and business model have been thoroughly dissected. According to an in-depth feature on Wired, Ecosia “works with organizations that plant trees by the thousands and tens of thousands in biodiverse regions, and without the use of child labor or chemical pesticides.” The company even takes preventative measures to ensure the new trees will not be subjected to further deforestation. 

Initially founded in December 2009 by Christian Kroll, a German entrepreneur, Ecosia has grown to Germany’s first B Corporation, a designation reserved for companies that meet certain environmental and social regulatory standards. The company also boasts 74 million trees planted and counting, with the running total broadcasted on the search engine homepage. Such growth is funded through ad revenue profits. 

“Every year billions of dollars are being earned in the internet only from advertising revenue,'' Kroll said in a World Wildlife Fund blog post. “There is a more eco-friendly way of using these huge profits: the money should better be used to fight global warming.”

Ecosia’s greater reach is made feasible primarily because it is part of the Microsoft Search Network. Through this partnership, Ecosia is powered by Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, and runs on the same powerful algorithm to generate millions of search hits. This allows Ecosia to compete with other search engines, such as Google, and Microsoft gets a “percentage of ad revenue,” as reported by Wired and 

The remaining revenue generated from each search advertisement on Ecosia stays with the company. According to self-published financial reports, Ecosia netted €2,039,303 million in September 2019, which amounts to approximately $2.2 million. Some 52 percent of Ecosia’s gross income went toward planting trees around the globe. The other 48 percent was divided between advertising expenditures, operational costs and company savings. 

Kroll emphasizes Ecosia’s solution as both financially and environmentally sustainable. Wired quotes him as saying: “To plant these trees we would need 1 percent of the global military budget. It’s way more cost-effective than renewable energy, electric cars. I think it’s underestimated.”

Ecosia maintains an ethical approach to its stakeholders as well, stating that it “does not pay out any dividends to its owners,” such as Kroll, and that “only employees can be shareholders,” per Wired. The company also pledges not to sell any user data to third-party brokers, a privacy issue that plagues multiple industries. "In my opinion, planting trees helps people and the environment,” Kroll said to Business Insider.

With a Google Chrome extension, an app, and 8 million active users, Ecosia looks ready to survive the competitive digital landscape and reach its goal of 100 million trees planted by 2020.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the ratio of searches to trees planted, to better reflect the origin of Ecosia, and to accurately describe their goal by 2020.

Published on Nov 14, 2019