The Innovation 50: Ecosia, the search engine that plants a tree for every single search

The Innovation 50: Ecosia, the search engine that plants a tree for every single search

Anyone hoping to reduce their carbon footprint can do so by cutting their food waste, cycling instead of taking the car and adopting a plant-based diet. But none of these options are as effortless as switching your search engine to Ecosia.

The first certified B Corporation in Germany, Ecosia is the largest search engine based in Europe – and with a tiny share of the search market at around one percent. But it attracts users with a unique proposition: Every single search helps reforestation efforts around the world. And that is one of the reasons why it has a reported 15 million users worldwide and why Pamela Brown, Chief Marketing Officer, Vodafone Smart Tech, nominated it as an Innovation 50 company.

“This brand uses 80% of its ad revenue to plant trees in countries like Burkina Faso and Peru, making its proposition simple but innovative: a search engine for the eco-warrior,” says Pamela.

In terms of marketing and accelerating growth, the brand started with Facebook and YouTube ads as well as Out-of-Home advertising at one point.

It also generated some useful awareness-building PR when it tried to buy some ancient forest from a coal company in Germany with the clear message that coal should stay in the ground.

This innovative idea grew user numbers, but as Pamela says, “They’re not trying to compete with the likes of Google and instead focus on a niche audience who want to take an environmentally friendly approach to everything they do.”

And these early marketing efforts have also built trust in its brand.

Origins of the innovator

Christian Kroll, the founder and CEO of Ecosia, launched the company in 2009 after a trip round the world.

He was already a tech entrepreneur, having launched a successful price comparison site previously. His love of technology was married to a realisation that climate change was real and serious while travelling in Nepal, India and South America at the age of 18, where he saw widespread deforestation.

Christian Kroll
Christian Kroll

The idea for combining them was born with the launch of ecosia.org.

Awareness of ecosia was generated in its first two years when it won several awards for its fast growth and unique, ingenious concept – every click generates revenue that plants a tree in a severely deforested region.

B Corp certification followed in 2014 and by June 2019, the company was celebrating its 60 millionth tree planted and the launch of its own solar energy plant to power every search.

Since then, it has planted 130 million trees, launched hotels search engine Ecosia Travel that plants trees based on a user’s booking value.

In fact, if there were ever a company ahead of its time, it has actually gone carbon negative – it removes carbon from the atmosphere by running its servers on 200% renewable energy.

Burkina
Tree planting is incredibly important in places Like Burkina Faso - a focus for Ecosia's efforts

And as a not-for-profit, 80 percent of its revenue goes into planting trees.

Kroll, unlike other tech entrepreneurs, eschews personal wealth in favour of planting trees – the company has been structured in a way that makes it impossible to take out profits or sell out to a Google, Facebook or other large conglomerate.

In light of the climate crisis, ecosia joins The Innovation 50 as a beacon for other companies to follow.