Does Ecosia really have the 'impeccable ecological credentials' that it claims to have?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

ecosia_the_green_searchOften the claim is being made that the search engine “Ecosia” has impeccable ecological credentials and then someone may add that it, however, may not always be as effective.

So, does Ecosia really have those claimed “impeccable ecological credentials”? In short, the answer has to be, probably not.

Fact is that “Ecosia” is basically just Bing (Microsoft's search engine, which is simply not as good, as search engines go, as Google). In other words, it is a partnership with Bing whereby Ecosia get a very vague “very high percentage” of ad revenue generated, the rest going to Bing, that is to say to Microsoft.

All the money going to “good causes” comes from people clicking on ads – which people like me, who have sensibly installed adblock software – often don't even see.

They give 80% of their proceeds (i.e. the commission they make from the ads, after paying a cut to Bing, i.e. Microsoft) to WWF rainforest protection efforts which is all good and fine when one does not consider how those large NGOs, such as WWF, with their corporate-style managements, function. In addition to that there is the issue of the WWF's concerns about protecting their intellectual property that has held back the spread of the wonderful One Planet Living concept.

Just using Ecosia does not help direct money to WWF in any way. Only clicking on ads does – and they explicitly state that you should not just do searches and click ads for the sake of it as these are just filtered out and not counted.

So, the truth of the matter is that using Ecosia does not mean that every time that you use it a tree is being planted, regardless of the claims that seem to be circulating.

The small part of the energy involved in your search that Ecosia use to serve the results pages is brought from the German co-operative company Greenpeace Energy (who are a bit like Ecotricity in that they both buy and build renewables, but are also a co-operative which is nice). Its good that they buy their energy from such a supplier.

However, most of the energy is still used by the Bing servers powering the search and we cannot tell how much energy these use because Microsoft refuses to tell us. Ecosia estimate that its probably about the same as a Google search (which we do know, because Google measure such stuff – and help others to do so). But its likely to be more, because Google's data centers apparently use about half of similar facilities.

Anyway, Ecosia assume it is about the same as Google and then “offset” this amount with Pure. Pure are quite good as far as “offset” people go – at least they are a charity not obviously just trying to cash in. They also cancel their carbon credits instead of selling them, another plus.

But Pure also use language that we should find rather troubling: “In simple terms, a business or individual pays to have the same amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere as they have generated. This in effect cancels out the CO2 produced from an activity or lifestyle choice.” That is pure (pardon intended) and simply not true. It is just not possible to “cancel out” CO2 already emitted by offsetting. It is already out there and the geenie cannot be put back into the bottle.

Google, in itself, has been a so-called “carbon neutral” – I say so-called because I do not believe that it is actually possible to be carbon neutral (as a business) but whatever – company since late 2007. They have also invested over $100 million in renewable energy. That is a fair bit more £125,000 that Ecosia has raised in its first year (although that has no doubt helped a bit to protect forests, a laudable aim).

Personally I would rather use Google than Ecosia (Bing) because I think Google are a much more positive force in the world than Microsoft are (mostly because Google, despite their many imperfections, provide superior tools and do lots of Good Stuff like supporting open source/ free software projects – and in my opinion source/ free software is the foundation upon which we can build the community and things that we need for this community.

Google, as a search engine, is also faster by light years in comparison to Bing and gives far better results. Though, as said, Google is by no means a totally benign force in the world. But, I do believe that it is better than Bing, that is to say Microsoft.

© 2016