Ecosia gets a new look, preparing for the era of green search

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More news from the non-profit organization climate action search engine Ecosia: This is the brand’s first major update since its launch in 2009, along with the announcement of a switch from three-year to 20-year contracts for its tree planting projects – the idea being to ensure that the trees planted with the profits from its search advertising is “intergenerational” and can survive for a long time.

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Also today, the search engine said its global usage has grown to 20 million monthly active users — up from 15 million between mid-2019 and 2021 — and now serves half a billion search queries every month. Search engine usage is highest in Germany, France, the UK and the US – and Ecosia tells us it’s looking to capitalize on the opportunities provided by a growing audience of climate-aware and often younger users.

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Tree planting is a popular measure to combat CO2 emissions, but the notion that humanity can simply plant its way out of the climate crisis has sparked a fair amount of skepticism. Poorly designed tree planting projects have also been shown do more harm than good as they can damage existing ecosystems and even reduce biodiversity. And, of course, for reforestation projects to be credible, rather than greenwashing, much more needs to be done than just dig a few holes in the ground and stick seedlings in them. Thus, the renewal of the Ecosia brand looks like an attempt not only to freshen up a rather dated look, but also to emphasize that this is not one of the symbolic green washcloths at all.

Search ad revenue has planted some 150 million trees to date, and the company touts its high survival rates, noting that its approach includes co-development projects with local partners; use of local tree species (the portfolio consists of 900+ different species, of which 30+ are on the list of endangered species); and tree monitoring for at least three years using satellite technology, geotagging, photographic evidence and site visits to track survival.

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The branding update highlights this focus on tree biodiversity – 12 tree icons modeled after native species are displayed in the product to highlight the location of its projects.

Map of Ecosia Tree Planting Projects

Image Credits: Ecosia

Ecosia also describes its projects as diverse in scope, with a goal tailored to the local community and ecosystem – in India, for example, where it works with a women-run organization in West Bengal called Soceo to plant fruit trees that provide a reliable source of income for them and their families. The point is that trees will only survive in the context in which they are valued by the local community.

The search engine recently appointed its first Chief Product Officer, Michael Metcalfe, who offers technology to support and improve the partnership process. “There’s still a lot of innovation ahead,” he told us, adding, “Probably in the future there will be stories about technology and how best to use technology and satellite images and things like that.”

When asked about the problems with tree plantations, he agreed that monocultures are doing more harm than good, but Ecosia emphasizes that the projects it supports do not create plantations, but rather plant native tree species – “with an approach that focuses on the right tree, the right place.” , restore hotspots,” it says.

“We do this around the world with many organizations that share our values, and one of our values ​​is biodiversity,” Metcalfe adds of his tree planting projects. “It also ensures that they work with community members to keep the community interested in the experience. You can just go plant trees on a hill in Africa, for example, it will not work. It’s not sustainable.”

Ecosia also does not plant trees to offset its carbon footprint, another measure often referred to as a climate change action but widely criticized as “greenwashing”.

“We don’t sell trees to people who are trying to recoup costs,” Metcalfe emphasizes. “We invest in communities, we invest in trees to make permanent change. And that’s one of the reasons we went from a three year commitment to a 20 year commitment – so it’s different when you’re doing it for financial gain… Because we have a really unique model where we basically fuel that impact group. go there and plant trees.”

Opportunity for climate change action

Ecosia has more developments in the works as usage scales. This summer, the company will launch the Climate Pledge Rating, which will apply a letter ranking to the top 20 companies (including Amazon, Meta, and Spotify), which will include displaying a verdict on those organizations’ commitment to climate action — and could lead to that some tech giants will suffer.

Metcalfe didn’t have details on how the rating system would work, but said Ecosia is working with TU Berlin to ensure the system is based on each company’s open climate commitments, in line with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He said the general idea is to encourage others to take additional action to reduce their climate impact.

Ecosia’s existing feature – where the search engine displays a leaf icon next to “planet-friendly websites” search results to help its users make more sustainable choices – has also been substantially expanded to include more than 6,500 organizations, up from a few hundred on each. Metcalfe.

The feature uses climate rating audits published by institutions such as B Corp Climate Collective, Hilfswerft, Economy for the Common Good, Climate Accountability Institute, according to an Ecosia spokesperson.

Another upcoming update that Metcalfe mentions is the (highly requested) dark mode feature, which is scheduled to launch this fall.

“Great Opportunity [in] before us is to help lead our user base,” he told TechCrunch. “We have a huge user base and we know they are interested in climate change. They’re not all equally interested, but they want to do something – they’ve bothered to change browser, they’ve bothered to change their search, they’ve bothered to download an app and install an extension so we know there’s more to do with them. And help educate them.

“We are going to double down on green search efforts. And we are going to keep improving our user experience,” he told us. “I think the brand is the first step in that direction, and the bottom line is that we are still the same company as before, but we see a great opportunity to make a bigger impact. And that’s what we want – we really want to release a lot of the energy that is contained in our users. We have fantastic users. We know they have energy and so we really want to unleash it… We agree 100% with our users that we want to do more to address climate change and the climate crisis.”

As a next step, Ecosia will soon launch a $250,000 fund to support Berlin businesses. that raise awareness of environmental or climate issues or promote sustainable lifestyles.

This is not the first attempt to fund other businesses to take climate action: recently announced he began to invest part of his profits in supporting green energy in his home market in Germany – mainly by investing millions of euros in Zolara network of solar panel installers.

Last fall, he also launched a €350m project. World Foundation to support climate-focused startups and continued to invest in startups, including a plant-based steak startup. Juicy balls; tree planting fintech TreeMap; alternative to chocolate without cocoa Koa.

“We want to do more to address climate change and the climate crisis,” Metcalfe added. “We’re still going to plant trees, we’re still going to have great partnerships, we’re still going to have a Global Fund that invests in climate change companies, but I think I, as Product Director, What worries us is that we have huge opportunities. with tens of millions of users to do more.

“Search is a utility: people go there, they type something in the field, there is some text, people click on ads from time to time, hopefully the ad is right and they go somewhere. But I think that when we can add some greenery to that path, to the user journey, to help make smarter decisions and educate them a little, I think that will be the start of something much bigger and much more important.”

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