Climate protection on the Internet: the eco-search engine Ecosia

Anyone who is asked about their ecological footprint is probably thinking about air travel, fast fashion or meat consumption – but not about the fast web search. Our everyday internet use is often a highly underestimated factor in terms of energy consumption and CO2. For example, with the power of 20 search queries on Google an energy-saving lamp can burn for an hour. With 3.8 million Google requests the minute and 4 billion worldwide Internet users will therefore quickly realize the serious importance of the energy consumption of the IT sector in the current climate change debate. [1]

The ecological search engine Ecosia tries to provide an answer to this worsening climate footprint of the IT industry: the Berlin start-up considers itself as a green alternative to web services like Google and Co. and wants to strengthen the awareness of climate-damaging IT structures.

In today’s blog post, we’ll show you what impact modern information and communication technologies actually have on climate and the environment and how services like Ecosia are trying to counteract this trend.

Climate and internet

The Internet is an integral part of our everyday lives. In professional life, for shopping or for leisure – the human being is online almost all the time. But every click on the Internet – whether surfing, searching or streaming – has real consequences for the climate. The Internet is not a purely virtual data cloud, but relies on a real, physical infrastructure.

On the one hand the devices such as laptops, smartphones or tablets consume resources during production as well as during operation. However, the largest share consists of the infrastructure: the communication network and the servers. Behind every website is a server where data is stored and made available all the time. And these data centers consume enormous amounts of energy. In addition to the actual operation, it is mainly the cooling of the servers in the energy balance: 50% of the consumed electricity have to be used to cool the computers. Overall, information and communication technologies already account for 7% of global electricity consumption today. A figure that will rise up to 20% by 2025. With this development IT services will be responsible for as much as 3.5% of global emissions in 2020, a value that corresponds to global air traffic. [2]

Ecosia was born in response to these terrifying environmental impacts. The online search engine from Germany shows what effect a seemingly simple individual decision, such as the choice of search engine can have on climate and the environment and how Internet services can also function in an environmentally friendly way.

What is Ecosia?

In October last year the Berlin start-up Ecosia caused a stir again. Director Christian Kroll made a public offer of 1 million euros for the Hambacher Forst. RWE was unimpressed by the offer – but the company was once again able to underline its own values ​​in terms of media. The online search engine founded in 2009 for the UN Climate Change Conference is committed to digital climate pollution with its ecological web search and corporate philosophy.

das Logo von Ecosia auf weißen Hintergrund

Plant trees by surfing

But how exactly does an ecological search engine work? In short: those who use Ecosia not only get search results but also plant trees at the same time. The company has already planted over 50 million trees according to their own information. 80% of the search engine’s income is donated to 20 reforestation projects in 15 different countries. This is how selected projects in for example Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and Tanzania are supported.

Ecosia earns the money for this through affiliate links and advertising. In fact, “the search engine that plants trees” is not an original search engine, but uses the algorithm of Microsoft’s search engine Bing. After a search query, Bing’s search results will be displayed – organic as well as sponsored links. When clicking on a link, Ecosia receives a share of the money Bing earns through the search ads. According to their own information is this an average of 0.50 cents per search.

The ecological alternative to Google

The reforestation projects make Ecosia a carbon neutral search engine. A regular search query has an average CO2 footprint of 0.2 grams of CO2. According to Ecosia, this output is neutralized by the trees planted and the use of renewable energies: it takes an average of 50 queries to plant a tree. With an average lifespan of 15 years this tree removes a total of 50kg of CO2 from the atmosphere – that is 1kg of CO2 per query. In addition, the data center of the website server will be powered by 100% renewable energy. Thus is Ecosia not only CO2 neutral, but even removes CO2 from the environment.

Privacy and transparency

In addition to protecting the environment, privacy and maximum transparency are part of Ecosia vision. No user data is sold to advertisers, no personal user profiles are created and all searches are anonymized after 7 days. The search engine continuously shares project updates on their social media channels, and the monthly financial reports are publicly available on the internet. Revenue and expenses can be tracked by every user on the website. For example November 2018 [3]:

  • Total revenue 941.239 €
  • Reserves 111.851 €
  • Running costs 214.751 €
  • Investment in new tree plantations € 440,925 (47% of sales or 80% of profits)

In October 2018 was Ecosia GmbH also transformed into a Purpose AG. This step means that the company cannot sell shares or sell them to anyone outside the company and that no profits may be taken. So no foreign company can buy Ecosia and all surpluses are reinvested in the company. The decision was made to send a clear signal: Ecosia is about environmental protection – not about profit.

Is there also criticism?

Ecosia uses the search algorithm of Bing – and thus their servers. While the servers used for Ecosia’s website are 100% renewable, this is not the case for Bing’s data centers. This is from a Greenpeace report on energy use in the IT industry. Microsoft is lagging behind Apple (83%), Facebook (67%) or Google (56%) with just under a third of green energy.[4] However, the Greenpeace report also highlights Microsoft’s increased efforts towards climate-neutral IT. The Group was able to achieve its goal of 50% renewable energy supply through targeted investments in solar power in 2018. By 2020, this value should rise to at least 60%.

Conclusion

Anyone using Ecosia for surfing will definitely be doing something good – for the environment in general and their own ecological footprint on the Internet. Despite criticism of the Microsoft cooperation, the successful reforestation projects and negative CO2 balance stand for themselves. Of course, projects like Ecosia cannot tackle the global climate problem of the IT industry on its own. To compensate for the rapid growth rates of Internet users and Internet-enabled devices, the big tech companies have to become more energy-efficient and, above all, more ecological. To do this, investments must be made in a climate-friendly infrastructure in the form of optimized server services, better cooling systems and a 100 percent renewable energy supply.

Fortunately, a large number of global players in the IT industry have recognized this need for action. For example, according to Greenpeace report about Apple, Google and Facebook show a significant increase in the use of clean energy sources. We say “keep it up!” And hope that we have made you think a bit. In any case we will sit down together as a team and talk about ways in which we can act more sustainably and with less impact on the environment – both at EXCELLENT.ORG and privately.

 

 

 

[1] https://blog.wiwo.de/look-at-it/2018/03/12/jede-minute-im-internet-2018-38-milllionen-google-suchen-800-000-dropbox-dateien/

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320225452_Total_Consumer_Power_Consumption_Forecast

[3] https://documents.ecosia.org/467540

[4]https://www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/publications/20170110_greenpeacestudie_gruener_klicken_zusammenfassung.pdf