As far as we know, saving Amazonian forests does not constitute Jeff Bezos’ business strategy. Neither is it anywhere near Google’s corporate responsibility goals.
There is, however, a company, whose whole business model is built around planting trees. To fulfill its goal, the company’s customers don’t need to do anything more than leisurely browse the web at their convenience.
Just like Google, Ecosia is deriving its revenues from advertising, while up to 80 percent of its surplus income goes to tree planting nonprofit organizations, mainly in Brazil. In fact, a month ago, Ecosia announced its decision to channel all of its profits into tree planting activities, and changed the company’s status to a nonprofit.
For those who are not aware of the importance of the Amazonian Ecosystem for humanity’s existence, it is worth mentioning that it is the single biggest oxygen generator in the world, also called the “Lungs of our Planet” that produces about 20 percent of all the Earth’s oxygen.
Thus, it is particularly unsettling when the Brazilian President single-handedly plans to eliminate humanity’s biggest hope for survival in the 21st century by destroying what is left of the biggest natural ecosystem.
In light of the recent Presidential elections and a new unfortunate government direction, Ecosia might leave the country. However, according to the company’s CEO, Christian Kroll, they will definitely continue to work in Brazil as now their work is even more needed than it was before the election:
“Of course, we don’t only need to plant trees, but also help people understand the benefits of forests so that they don’t cut them down. In cities like Rio de Janeiro you already have water shortages because people cut down the forests in the past” – states Christian.
As of December 2018, Ecosia had planted over 44 million trees throughout the world. About two-thirds of these trees were planted in 2018 only. Ecosia now has 20 projects in Peru, Nicaragua, Colombia, Haiti, Brazil, Morocco, Spain, California, Florida, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Indonesia.
Thus, Ecosia’s team’s working time is divided between speeches at WebSummit type venues, partnerships coordination, IT management and traveling all around the world planting trees. Talking about work-life balance, this definitely sounds like a fulfilling life to me.
Having met Christian at the WebSummit 2018, I decided to get to know what inspired him to come up with such a cool idea and what Ecosia holds for us in the coming years as their web search engine gets world popularity.
Unlike previous generations, we, Millennials, had all resources and opportunities at our fingertips. International exchanges, open borders and cross-cultural studies opened our eyes and touched our hearts. Witnessing the destruction of forests for cattle farming in Argentina and alarming social inequalities in Nepal, Christian felt compelled to come up with a solution, which would be able to tackle both problems.
Christian and his team decided to focus heavily on Amazonian rain forests and its deforestation concern. Cattle ranching is now the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, with an area the size of Portugal having been carved out for cattle ranching since 1996.
While vegan menus are becoming a norm in all Western countries and no one is staring at you like a failed lab test experiment after voicing your meal preferences, changing the attitude and giving up on meat alone would not bring us our forests back. Not anymore.
Just as oceans will not magically clean themselves out of plastic, forests will not be able to regrow organically given the current need to feed an ever-increasing population. Huge foresting efforts have to be done to regrow lost natural resources and prevent runaway global warming.
Government initiatives have not succeeded much in bringing around a needed change. Quite the opposite, political short sightedness and the desire for quick political wins among poor voters prompted politicians to support and subsidize destructive industries of the past, be it the coal industry in Poland, cattle farming in Brazil or fracking in the United States.
This is where private companies like Ecosia can play a vital part in coordinating global efforts through technology and common sense.
The question of Ecosia’s tree planting feasibility in light of an ever-increasing and conscious deforestation stays open. When confronted with the question of tracking its trees, Jacey Bingler, the company’s representative for North America, mentioned that Ecosia’s team is carefully choosing its farming strategy cooperating with local cosmetics producers and farmers who are interested in maintaining diversified agroforestry to enjoy long-term profits rather than selling the land into the monoculture slavery for short term gains. This, coupled with strong relations with local populations makes sure the trees we plant today are still there tomorrow.
According to Ecosia, the team has tree planting data for the last 3 years of operations, which spans across the survival and growth rates per species, region and planting project, impact on landscapes and water cycles, CO2 sequestration, socioeconomic impact on the communities involved in the planting, all of which might open whole new potentials for forest data monetization in the future.
Talking about the inequality issue observed in Nepal, it’s worth mentioning humanity’s current fears over automation and losing one’s jobs to AI.
“Tree planting in our focus areas is absolutely unsustainable with machines at the moment”- says Christian. Indeed, not only manpower is much cheaper than industrial seed dispensing machines, the quality of human work is way more superior. While we are already used to the images of tractors and factory seed planting machines, tree planting is happening at a post-seed stage and requires manual handling.
One of the main focuses of Ecosia projects is also the fact that tree planting provides local community members with a dependable source of income. The local farmers get paid for their work in the company’s projects, and they usually have very extensive knowledge of what grows best, what planting methods have proven to be most efficient, and they can be more precise in their planting than would be the case with most automated approaches.
Thus, almost counterintuitively, in the ever dominating world of robotics, the commercial success of the Ecosia browser would actually mean more human employment in the developing world.
I could not avoid the question of how Ecosia is staging a battle against its biggest competitor. When asked about Google, Ecosia’s CEO acknowledged he made several attempts at amicable partnership, all of which were rejected by the search engine giant.
One of the main reasons for rejections quoted by Google has been the potential compromising of ad relevance if people keep recklessly clicking on ads with a philanthropic goal of saving the planet. While definitely a valid point, I must admit even the most environmentally conscious individuals like me would get sick of clicking irrelevant ads. I cannot generalize, however. I bet there are Ecosia altruistic enthusiasts out there! Talking about spam and automated bot clicking Ecosia states they can detect this as well.
For the sake of clarification, Ecosia partners with Bing to bring search engine quality and expertise to its operations. While unable to reveal the exact split rate when a customer is using Ecosia, Christian assured most of the profits goes to Ecosia as a browser of consumer’s choice.
In the region I come from, planting a tree, building a house and growing a child is the basis of a successful and productive life. I guess that by using the tree planting browser as a default, you are fulfilling your mission while making sure thousands of people in the developing world maintain their jobs.
Back to Alexa. Most major tech companies have rolled out or are developing an AI-powered Personal Assistant, which easily brings the movie “Her” to our imagination. Google has a hair stylist disguised Duplex, Amazon has a house light playing Alexa and Apple has cheeky Siri to try to cater to a spectrum of our needs. What is up with Ecosia then?
According to Christian Kroll, CEO of Ecosia, rolling out Ecosia’s PA is the next strategic step in the company development. He says that unlike traditional PAs, Ecosia’s will diverge from pure parent company advertising and try to make you a better person.
Christian has quite ambitious plans when it comes to the creation of life shaping technology. Apart from helping us on our way to the supermarket, choosing music or checking the weather, Christian hopes his company’s personal assistant will propagate the creation of “Green consciousness.” It will be able to do this through partnerships with sustainable companies and advising people “what is truly beneficial for their health and sanity.”
Having lived in London for a bit over a year, I must admit, staying sane is the first prerequisite for navigating the murky waters of UK capital. The truth is you can hardly progress in your life if you are experiencing mental health issues.
While we are being attacked by apocalyptic articles on climate change, the ever accelerating melting of the Arctic ice cap and hellish California fires from all of our Facebook threads, feeling that we can actually do something beneficial for this fragile Planet while searching for the nearest pizzeria definitely brings relief.