Based in Berlin and with a workforce of just 18 dedicated individuals, Ecosia is an alternative search engine available to web browsers worldwide. It works just like other search engines in that revenue is generated from ads, however it’s unique in that at least 80% of their profits are invested into reforestation projects.
Trees are vital to our survival – they absorb CO2, which is one of the main drivers of climate change. Ecosia users are responsible for the plantation of over 6 million trees since the company’s advent and have the ambitious target of planting one billion trees by 2020!
How did the idea to link web surfing and tree planting come about?
Whilst travelling through South America, Christian Kroll, Ecosia’s founder, was learning a lot about reforestation projects in the Atlantic Rainforest in Argentina and Brazil and also read Thomas L. Friedman’s book “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. It taught him a lot about the connection between globalisation and climate change and how planting new trees could actually neutralize CO2 emissions on a big scale. This is when Christian realised he wanted to engage in forest preservation to help the environment. He came up with the idea of a search engine that helped finance planting and restoration projects after realising just how much money the search industry was worth and the potential that a social business model could have in creating a sustainable source of revenue for tree planting.
Out of all the social issues, why did you choose reforestation as the cause to invest in?
The benefit of planting trees is not only huge for the environment, but also for people. Trees can re-start water cycles, protect coastlines from erosion, restore soil fertility and provide the backbone of countless ecosystems. By restoring forests and educating people on the many benefits that they provide, we can create long term, sustainable solutions to many important issues on a local level, as well as turning the tide of deforestation on a global scale.
Where in the world are you currently working and how do you decide where would be best to invest your resources?
We only plant trees in places where there have historically been trees, and where it makes sense for people and for nature. We focus on finding projects working in the planet’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots. Right now we are funding projects in Madagascar, Peru, Burkina Faso and Indonesia. In this document our wonderful Tree Planting Officer, Pieter, explains more about how, where and why we plant trees.
What tangible impact have you seen Ecosia have that you are most proud of?
On our trip to the planting sites and communities we work with in Burkina Faso, we met Sawadogo who is the representative of the women in Gongho. She underlined the benefits that trees bring. She told us how she teaches children the importance of trees by taking them by the hand to sit under the shade of the tree, so that they can feel the cool shade. She also explained how the trees provide women with a way to earn a living of their own which allows them to continue thinking strategically about how to further improve their village. She underlined very much that before the tree planting programmes, they didn’t know about the long term benefits of trees and they would be chopped down to be used for firewood. Nowadays they are much more careful, she assured, still using certain branches of the tree but in a way that it won’t harm the tree.
Finally, what advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs who have ideas that might seem too obscure, challenging or overambitious?
All the best solutions are often obscure and challenging, keep your raison d’être at the very core of your enterprise and do not give up!