An Unbiased Review of Ecosia

A few weeks ago a Dutch friend of mine introduced me to Ecosia, the Berlin-based social enterprise search engine that uses their profits to plant trees. The idea immediately clicked with me for a few reasons I’ll discuss below. Ecosia has a model that is ripe to explode with a millennial generation that truly does care about how sustainable their products are. Unfortunately projects that set out to do great for the world often receive criticism, and Ecosia won’t be immune. There were two major things that I wanted to learn about Ecosia:

      1. Is Ecosia legit? Or is it a scam?
      2. Does it work as well as Google?

Let’s get started out with the legitimacy of Ecosia because that’s the most important part.

Is Ecosia legit or a scam?

There are a few things that come to mind that they could be doing to try to mislead users if they wanted to, such as:

      • Not planting the trees they claim to
      • Collecting user data to resell
      • Offering misleading search results for their gain
      • Monitoring your data illegally with their browser extension

I think the big concern here is that they might not be planting the trees they claim to be. As far as the misleading search results or collecting data go, this isn’t really something we can test. But given the track record of the team at Ecosia I’m pretty confident they aren’t out to scam people.

Ecosia does however get criticism from a few sites online, including an article from 2Spyware claiming that Ecosia is a browser-hijacker, and borderline virus. While you can’t really dispute the claims made by 2Spyware, just keep in mind that literally everything they criticize about Ecosia is also true for Google, Bing, Yahoo, and any other search engine you use.

They claim that Ecosia may hijack your search results and place ads in them… ummm yeah that’s exactly the point, we’re trying to pay for trees here! But they do it in no way different than when Google places ads in your search results, Google just dishes out the profits to their investors instead of planting trees.

They even go as far as to say “getting rid of the Ecosia virus”, which is just absurd to me. I have a feeling this article was written by someone who hasn’t ever used Ecosia and was directed to write about Ecosia being a virus to get the search traffic.

While I do think those accusations against Ecosia aren’t based on rationality, I also have to acknowledge that they could be true, just like Google could be a virus.  My advice is to check out the Ecosia team and see if these are folks you’re willing to trust with your online data. Personally, I’m not concerned about an ecosia.org virus.

Does Ecosia Really Plant All Those Trees?

I can point you to two different resources for this. The first one is their financial reports, and the second is their tree projects. The financial reports will have to be taken at face value as Ecosia is not a public company, there is no Ecosia stock, or all the auditing and regulation that comes with it.

Ecosia Financial Reports

Ecosia Financial Report January 2018

Ecosia Financial Report 2018

Looking through the past 3 years of financial reports looks to be quite consistent. Don’t let the 57.4% fool you into thinking that they aren’t honoring their pledge to use 80% of profits to plant trees, you have to subtract out the expenses before making the calculation.

So basically:€734,653 -€210,407 =€524,246 (Revenue – (Operating Costs + Spreading the Word) = Total Profit)

Then take €421,370/€524,246 = .8037 or 80.37% (Tree Planting/Total Profit = % Spent on Tree Planting)

So this means in January Ecosia claims to have spent slightly more than their goal on planting trees. They’re also being smart and packing away a significant amount of money for the future so they can expand and ride out a stormy market.

Remember though, this is a self reported breakdown that as far as I can tell has not been independently audited. How do we actually know if Ecosia is planting these trees or not?

Tree Projects Supported by Ecosia

From what I’ve been able to find Ecosia is currently supporting projects in the following countries around the world:

      • Tanzania
      • Morocco
      • Indonesia
      • Ethiopia
      • Madagascar
      • Brazil

There are likely many more than these countries, but they’re all I could find mentioned on Ecosia’s tree projects blog. If you’re wondering what your advertising dollars are going towards take a peak at their blog. The Tanzania post has some really cool footage!

How does Ecosia make money?

Ecosia makes money in the same way that Google’s search engine makes money, through search engine ads. I say search engine because Google makes money hand-over-fist in a ton of other ways beyond it’s core search engine product.

So this means if you search for local plumbers on Ecosia and click one of the advertised services, 80% of the amount that the plumber pays for that ad will go to planting trees, pretty cool huh??

One of the reasons I’m pretty excited for the future of Ecosia is because as of now it’s only a simple search engine and it’s making a pretty decent chunk of profit, imagine if they create an Ecosia browser, display ad network, video platforms, data & cloud services, and everything else Google does. Ecosia could literally single handedly plant all the trees that the earth needs, and maybe even move on to support other good causes as well.

Ecosia vs Google

So there are a variety of ways to compare the two services. I’ll break it down into two main parts: utility and user experience. I want to make sure I’m setting realistic expectations here. Google is the 8 gazillion pound gorilla in the room. They’ve spent billions of dollars over more than 20 years making the best search tools imaginable.

We simply can’t expect Ecosia.org to outperform Google in just about anything besides doing amazing things for our planet by planting trees (although they do win at one other thing, check it out below).

What I’m saying is let’s keep in mind that the main goal is to do good for the planet, and find what level of sacrifice we’re willing to endure to make that happen.

Also, keep in mind that Ecosia does have a development team so their search engine should only improve with time. I wouldn’t expect it to ever beat Google unless there’s a sudden mass migration to the eco-friendly search engine, but maybe the sacrifices will diminish.

Alright so let’s start off with the utility of Ecosia.org vs Google.com.

Utility of Ecosia vs Google

This is all about how much time each search engine is able to save and the quality of information delivered. Do you have to click through to an article to find out what time a show is at or will it be delivered in rich snippet like Google often does? Are relevant results being shown?

Let’s take a peak at what Ecosia is capable of. I think literally everyone reading this is familiar with Google so I’ll mostly only provide images of Ecosia unless the comparison makes sense.

Unit Conversions

One of those things that I’ve really come to take for granted with Google is being able to quickly rattle off one unit and ask for another. Ecosia does a decent job at this. They’ve got most of the basic conversions, like inches to centimeters:

Ecosia unit conversions

Converting inches to centimeters with Ecosia.org

Distance Calculation

As a frequent traveler I use this feature a lot. Unfortunately Ecosia isn’t able to calculate simple distances in the search engine results page (SERP) yet. This is a pretty big bummer:

distance calculation ecosia

Distance calculation test Ecosia

Ecosia Maps

Currently when you want to use the maps feature on Ecosia.org it will take you straight to Google Maps. In my eyes this is way better than trying to hack together some in-house solution that really doesn’t work well (looking at you Apple).

I wouldn’t even dock them any points for this because they send you to the best service available and there isn’t much lag time in the redirect.

Definitions

Here’s another area where Ecosia is trailing behind Google. I love how when I google a single word Google seems to know if I’m searching for a definition. I tried typing in “social enterprise” and “define social enterprise” and neither of them brought up that incredibly useful rich snippet definition that I’ve taken for granted on Google.

definitions on Ecosia

No rich snippet defining my search term, I have to click through to get the definition.

Then take a look at what happens if you type the same search in on Google. You don’t have to click through to get the full definition. Often times the rich snippet on Google is even better than this one, saving you from having to click through to another page:

Google definition rich snippet

Google providing the full defintion in a rich snippet saving you a click

You also get that awesome frequently asked questions box with Google, I haven’t seen that at all in Ecosia.

User Experience of Ecosia vs Google

As much as I love what Google is able to do, I have to admit over the last year or two I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with how aggressive they’re getting with their advertising. I’m a digital marketer by day so I saw first hand the effect of Google’s rollout of the Local Service ads last summer.

Basically they introduced an entirely extra set of ads when someone searches for local service providers, they just package them in a cute new way:

google local service provider ads

Google results when searching for a local service provider

Notice anything funny about that page? Literally everything that shows up on the screen when searching for a local service provider is a paid advertisement. Then, you scroll down and see the map with listings below it which are NOT paid, but still not totally organic results (you have to register with Google to be in this). Only when you scroll down to practically the bottom of the page do you see organic search results.

Compare this to Ecosia when searching for a local service provider:

ecosia results local service provider

Ecosia.org results searching for local service provider

I mean there are still a lot of ads. But at least I can see some results that weren’t paid to be placed. This seems like a fundamental freedom of using the internet. I understand that Google’s search engine is a product provided by a company and they’re free to do whatever they want with it, but honestly I think that they’re pushing it too far with this.

How can they claim that they’re following their mission statement to..

“Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

..if in fact the highest bidder is determining the organization of information?

How to Uninstall Ecosia Extension

As great as Ecosia’s mission is to solve many of the world’s greatest problems by planting trees funded with search revenue, it’s understandable that for some the convenience of Google’s advanced features will prevail. If this is you, then have no fear because it’s pretty easy to uninstall Ecosia at any time.

Assuming you’ve installed the Ecosia extension on Google Chrome follow these instructions:

      1. Go to the drop down menu with three dots in the top right of the browser
      2. Hover over More Tools
      3. Click on Extensions
      4. Find the Ecosia extension and either click the toggle switch to deactivate it, or Delete to completely uninstall it

That’s it, now you’ve uninstalled the Ecosia.org extension and all your settings will go back to what they were before. Hopefully you’ll reconsider in the future for the sake of the planet 🙂

Conclusion on Ecosia Search Engine

As of now Ecosia falls short of Google in certain areas. The question of whether or not it’s still worth using Ecosia will depend on your level of dedication to protecting the environment. Eventually we as a society will have to begin making lifestyle compromises if we don’t want our grandchildren to end up living in climate controlled glass bubbles. What I’ve decided to do is have Ecosia as my default search service in the browser, and if it doesn’t give me the results I’m looking for I just go over to Google and do my search. Rory pointed out in the comments below that she has a workaround to not have to go to Google to do your search… to quote her: “You shouldn’t have to go dual browser. On Chrome, I just type [google.com followed by my query] into the url to get Google results.” Thanks for the tip Rory!

I’m really hoping that Ecosia builds out some new features in the coming years so I won’t even have to think about Google though.

I worry that if a person isn’t willing to have a little sacrifice in the utility of their search engine for the sake of the environment, are they willing to sacrifice anything?

 

2018-10-18T21:54:06+00:00

About the Author:

I've been traveling the world since 2015. One of my favorite things about traveling is trying new food. This blog will start out with travel destination information, but eventually I want to create tutorials for people to figure out how to earn an income while traveling so they can make their dreams reality!

39 Comments

  1. Thanasis August 13, 2018 at 16:00 - Reply

    This seems to be an interesting article, too bad this hovering ad discouraged me to read it and encouraged me instead to come and make this comment. I dont say there should be no ads although I hate them but not a hovering thing that covers one of the seemingly most interesting parti of this article. Goodbye

    • Nick Hastreiter October 2, 2018 at 19:48 - Reply

      Thanks for leaving this comment Thanasis. There was a glitch with the website and I wouldn’t have known it was there without you mentioning this. It should be fixed now.

  2. Leila August 15, 2018 at 13:34 - Reply

    Thanks for this! Someone suggested Ecosia to me the other day and I had no clue what they were talking about. The concept really appeals and your analysis is really helpful! Good luck with your travels and entrepreneurial adventures!

    • Nick Hastreiter November 16, 2018 at 03:14 - Reply

      Thanks Leila! Glad you enjoyed the article. Take care.

  3. RQ September 9, 2018 at 21:37 - Reply

    This is such a brilliant review – clear, nuanced, intelligent. Thank you!

    • Nick Hastreiter September 12, 2018 at 17:27 - Reply

      Thanks, glad you liked it!

  4. Kyra September 19, 2018 at 20:14 - Reply

    One thing I would add to this is that if you are looking for a specific information, specifically on science, is that google/google scholar are better resources. Understandable, yeah, so as a researcher, I just switch between the two.

    • Nick Hastreiter October 1, 2018 at 22:23 - Reply

      Ahh yeah that makes sense. There’s no way around it that Google is going to have some things that Ecosia doesn’t have at all (thank the billions of $ for that).

      You can always go dual browser — use Ecosia on Chrome and then have Safari, IE, Firefox etc. for Google.

      • Rory October 10, 2018 at 20:28 - Reply

        You shouldn’t have to go dual browser. On Chrome, I just type [google.com followed by my query] into the url to get Google results.

        • Nick Hastreiter October 18, 2018 at 21:49 - Reply

          Awesome suggestion! I’m going to add that to the article.

  5. Melissa September 21, 2018 at 00:01 - Reply

    This was great! It contained a lot of useful information that really does prove a point (depending on the viewer’s take on this dilemma) so I’m grateful!

    • Nick Hastreiter October 1, 2018 at 22:20 - Reply

      Thanks Melissa, I’m glad it was useful for you!

  6. Peter September 21, 2018 at 08:01 - Reply

    This may be a misunderstanding on my part but doesn’t one have to click on the ads for the advertiser to pay Ecosia?

    • Nick Hastreiter October 1, 2018 at 22:19 - Reply

      I haven’t actually used their ad platform but I’d be shocked if it wasn’t on a cost-per-click basis — same as with Google search ads. Why do you mention that?

  7. yeep September 21, 2018 at 13:38 - Reply

    good work man. questions i ask myself to. i was wondering why don’t they treat local EU areas too. greece needs plenty of trees planted too.

    • Nick Hastreiter October 1, 2018 at 22:17 - Reply

      That’s an interesting question. Could be a matter of where they can plant the most trees for their €?

  8. jaq September 27, 2018 at 02:10 - Reply

    The unusually useful sponsored ad in my news feed
    I’m going to check them out
    Thanks Nick

  9. Kristopher Cussans October 12, 2018 at 23:37 - Reply

    Thanks for this. I installed a charity broswer called Tab for a Cause and it gives money for every tab opened. It is also compatible with Ecosia as well.

    I am concerned about the amount of trees they are actually planting, and I think we should demand an audit or some transparency.

  10. Luke October 16, 2018 at 09:14 - Reply

    Wanna make an even bigger difference? Combine Ecosia with Adnauseam (adnauseam.io) which clicks all the ads for you, making Ecosia more money, and you’ll never have to look at a single ad!

    • Nick Hastreiter October 19, 2018 at 01:04 - Reply

      Hmm Luke I don’t think that’s such a good idea — doing that is borderline (or over the line) ad fraud which is not something to play around with.

      • Gaelle Poncelet November 14, 2018 at 15:43 - Reply

        Also they filter out automatic clicks so it wouldn’t actually help

        • Nick Hastreiter November 16, 2018 at 03:12 - Reply

          Good point — it’s slightly more likely than impossible that a free tool will pass Google’s click fraud tests.

  11. Malcolm Wright October 20, 2018 at 00:49 - Reply

    Great article. I’d already started using Ecosia when I found your article but appreciated the info all the same. I liked the reflection on compromises we have to make for the environment: a message that doesn’t get enunciated often enough, even though it is so important to understand and accept. Ecosia is an example of a compromise we all should be able to make for 90 percent of our searches. The only time I turn to google these days is for the ‘translate’ functionality.

    • Nick Hastreiter October 20, 2018 at 23:59 - Reply

      Thanks Malcom glad you liked the article. It’s definitely all about compromise — which is a virtue society needs to learn regarding a lot of issues going into the future.

      Living in Colombia/learning Spanish at the moment I definitely feel your pain on translate, but I’ve just started keeping the Google Translate specific web page open (and have the app on my phone). Don’t really have to go to google.com to use it.

  12. Adele October 24, 2018 at 00:17 - Reply

    good review taking consideration how do you earn income when travelling round the world

  13. James Presland November 3, 2018 at 22:51 - Reply

    At the foot of an ecosia search (in the UK) it reads “Results by Microsoft”
    Side by side, the results seem pretty much the same as Bing.
    Maps offers a choice of Bing or Google
    So the underlying search capabilities are as good (or bad) as Bing, but a bit goes to tree planting, instead of all to Microsoft.
    It is right to observe the adverts are not as aggressive as for Google .
    I will carry on giving it a go.

    • Nick Hastreiter November 16, 2018 at 03:06 - Reply

      Thanks for mentioning this. It does seem to be the conclusion that Ecosia is piggybacking off Bing in some way or another.

  14. Sketis November 7, 2018 at 20:29 - Reply

    Nothing in you’re writing of this article sounded “unbiased”. You sounded more in awe at it in a crazed fan kinda way. The way you say that there isn’t possible to see if something is true, but then add “but why shouldn’t it”. Right thee your just one of the fanboys.

    • Nick Hastreiter November 16, 2018 at 03:04 - Reply

      Hey Sketis,

      I have a feeling you’re a spammer because of your email address (not going to share it publicly), but if not, I’d be curious to have you elaborate on why you found the article to be so biased.

      I searched the article for the example you mentioned so I could understand your perspective, but the only use of “but why” on the page is in the spot you’re “quoting me” in your comment.

      Could you please share some more examples with a reference to specific points in the article?

  15. Nathan November 10, 2018 at 06:00 - Reply

    A couple of years ago Google started aggressively directing people to what it considers reliable sources on controversial topics. I can agree there is a lot of fake news, but I don’t want Google and Google-approved corporations deciding for me what is real and what isn’t. After all it is at least possible for the unconventional to be true. As far as I can tell Google doesn’t provide a way to turn off this pre-chewing of my news food. So far, Ecosia seems old-fashioned on this point, and I appreciate being able to see various POVs on the front few pages.

    • Nick Hastreiter November 16, 2018 at 03:09 - Reply

      Hey Nathan,

      This is another thing I really, really don’t like about Google — or any search engine to be honest. I remember back in the day using Google it felt like I could really discover new random specialized resources around the web, now I see the same sites over and over and over again.

      I think society might be too concerned with “digital privacy” at the moment and not concerned enough about the flow & control of information being concentrated within such few hands.

  16. Jeevan Birk November 10, 2018 at 15:37 - Reply

    Fantastic article! Beautifully, yet simply articulated and great job at (fully) considering both sides of the argument! I’ve been using the search engine for a short while now and I’ve had my underlying doubts but this really does clear things up! I also intend on presenting the search engine on a larger scale (in a college of 2000 students) and I will be using your article for some evidence/clarity, so thank you!

    • Nick Hastreiter November 16, 2018 at 03:11 - Reply

      Jeevan,

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m honored you’ll use the article with your students. Let me know if they have any interesting thoughts about it, I can add some things in.

  17. Victoria November 16, 2018 at 16:46 - Reply

    Thank you for the review! I’ve switched over to Ecosia and hopefully they will continue in the way they advertise. I’ve got high hopes!

    • Nick Hastreiter November 18, 2018 at 11:38 - Reply

      Nice! Keep planting those trees.

  18. Simon November 16, 2018 at 23:40 - Reply

    Ecosia is a “Bing Custom Search” and was definitely not developed by Ecosia. It has the exact same layout as bing and gives the exact same search results. Also calculating 10 inches to CM definitely not works, since the bing doesn’t have that kind of feature as shown above. It also doesnt work when I type your exact line into the Ecosia search engine, which tells me that your pic is probably fake. Also when you search with Ecosia, below it says “Results by Microsoft”, which already makes everything pretty obvious. Ecosia accesses the Microsoft Servers, which means they dont have their own search servers, powered by renewable energy, but instead are just accessing the servers of another big corrupted company. Their website in general is confusing and seems unclear.

    • Nick Hastreiter November 18, 2018 at 11:41 - Reply

      Yeah that’s a valid point, however, you can also imagine that if they were to launch their own search engine it would be 10 years and $100B or more in R&D behind Google & Bing.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re working on something in parallel, making some profit off of this plugin and developing a real product in the meantime.

      Good point!

  19. Jash November 18, 2018 at 07:52 - Reply

    Hi Nick! Thanks for giving out such a clear and good review. I can now think about using Ecosia. I didn’t know if it was good or not but your review shed some light on Ecosia! Keep up the good work!

    • Nick Hastreiter November 18, 2018 at 11:39 - Reply

      Thanks Jash, I hope you end up trying it out for at least a couple weeks to see if you can build a habit around it.

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