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How a search engine aides reforestation

How a search engine aides reforestation

by ESG Business Institute -
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When many of us have a question, want to find something nearby, or are looking for information, we think, “I’m going to Google that.” The company’s name is synonymous with looking something up on the internet. But, like many large tech companies, Google often faces criticisms for its handling of user privacy, its algorithms that determine how information is disseminated, and its employee relations. The US government recently announced it was suing the company for monopolizing the search industry. 

New economic models are essential for a more sustainable and equitable capitalism so that we don’t have to rely on the Googles of the world. This is the subject of my forthcoming book The Profiteers and an example I discuss is Google competitor Ecosia.   

One of the key learnings from Ecosia relates to its ownership structure. It is a steward-owned company, so does not profit-maximize and also can’t be sold to outside investors.   

The company also is advancing rigorous nature-based solutions to climate change. Every search on Ecosia helps reforestation efforts around the world. While most tree planting initiatives, and carbon offsetting programs have been exposed as ineffective and mostly greenwashing, Ecosia shows that with thought, and detailed authentic effort, we can work to rebuild nature.  

I spoke with Christian Kroll, founder and CEO of Ecosia awhile ago, to learn about Ecosia and how the company executes its tree planting strategy. Below are some other key points from my Forbes article on Ecosia:

  • As opposed to Google, Ecosia is not a profit-maximizing company. “What we have is a competitive advantage that Google can never copy, and that is basically how we are structured as a business,” Kroll says. “That allows us to attract different types of users and different types of employees in this very, very competitive market.”   
  • Ecosia relies on a team of professionals to plant tree. “Basically, their job is to find the right tree planting partners and to negotiate contracts with them, including how and where they are going to plant trees and then follow up to see if the partner has actually delivered,” Kroll says. “At the moment, we have more than 60 tree planting partners.”  

  • Kroll describes their work as pioneering and believes they will have wider effect. He says “there are a lot of organizations we're talking to about planting billions of trees. The problem, though, is that you need to actually do it. Commitments are very easy, and even planting trees is easy, but then doing that successfully so the trees actually grow and survive and really benefit the communities and biodiversity, that is the difficult part.”  

  • Kroll suggests that people need to stop focusing solely on technology-based solution and start to explore other solutions. “In Germany, people are always just talking about electric cars, but electric cars are actually rather insignificant,” he says. “Obviously I'm a fan of technology, but I don’t think technology is more than 50% of the solution actually. The other 50% is nature, and the power of nature is currently heavily underestimated.”  

  • Tree planting has more benefits beyond environmental impact. “We're paying people to plant trees, which is kind of a kickstarter for the local economy,” Kroll says. “Usually the trees have a positive impact on the soil, which means that people can then grow food or harvest rice. Some trees also produce nuts and fruits, so that has a lot of benefits.”  

Ecosia provides an example of how simple ideas can change the world for the better. When asked about his motivation for founding Ecosia, Kroll answers “because I wanted to plant a lot of trees and wanted to get into search, I just put them together, and that's how the idea came about.”