Eco search engine sees surge in down­loads as Ama­zon burns

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE - By Mae An­der­son

NEW YORK — Can you save the rain­for­est from your desk? A spike in down­loads for a search engine that’s con­tribut­ing prof­its to plant­ing trees shows peo­ple are look­ing for ways to help as fires rage across the Brazil­ian Ama­zon.

But ex­perts say that while such ef­forts won’t hurt, there are bet­ter ways to con­trib­ute.

Ecosia, a search engine founded in 2009, works with about 20 tree-plant­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world in hopes of plant­ing a bil­lion trees by 2020. The Berlin-based com­pany has pledged to plant an ad­di­tional 2 mil­lion trees in Brazil in re­sponse to the fires.

Ecosia uses Mi­crosoft Bing’s search engine tech­nol­ogy and sells ads just like many other tech com­pa­nies. But in­stead of rewarding mostly share­hold­ers, the com­pany said it is con­tribut­ing 80% of its prof­its to tree-plant­ing ef­forts and keep­ing just a small amount for it­self. The com­pany es­ti­mates it can plant one tree for every 45 searches that peo­ple do.

Other com­pa­nies and even celebri­ties are tak­ing ac­tion over the fires as well. Ap­ple has pledged aid, though it has not given many specifics. Leonardo DiCaprio’s foun­da­tion has pledged $5 mil­lion.

But can a per­son help the rain­for­est by chang­ing search en­gines or sup­port­ing cer­tain com­pa­nies?

Larry Chi­agouris, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Pace Univer­sity, said switch­ing to Ecosia re­quires lit­tle ef­fort and “might make a dif­fer­ence,” but the best way to re­spond is to give di­rectly to a char­ity that spe­cial­izes in a cause and spends do­na­tions wisely.

A non­profit called B Lab has cer­ti­fied Ecosia as a for-profit com­pany with a so­cial mis­sion. Ecosia’s big­ger goal is to com­bat cli­mate change. It works with such non­profit groups as The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy and the Eden Re­for­esta­tion Projects.

Al­though it’s pos­si­ble to use Ecosia from a stan­dard web browser, peo­ple can down­load an “ex­ten­sion” tool to make it the de­fault search engine on tra­di­tional per­sonal com­put­ers. Ecosia also has an app for iPhones, iPads and An­droid de­vices.

Since the fires be­gan, Ecosia has seen down­loads of the apps and ex­ten­sions spike 10-fold, to about 250,000 a day, much for it from the U.S., Brazil, Latin Amer­ica, Canada and Europe. Ecosia has also got­ten 100 mil­lion searches a week, which the com­pany says is a “huge increase,” though it isn’t say­ing by how much. The com­pany said the spike has come through word-of­mouth via so­cial me­dia and me­dia re­ports.

“We’re very sad about what’s hap­pen­ing, but at the same time we’re re­ally over­whelmed by all of the pos­i­tive en­ergy from peo­ple com­ing our way who want to do some­thing,” Ecosia founder Chris­tian Kroll said.

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