Does Ecosia really have "impeccable ecological credentials"?

Does Ecosia really have "impeccable ecological credentials"?

UPDATE: Ecosia deserve huge respect for this:

Ecosia is now taking concrete steps to facilitate climate activism. Going forward, all Ecosia employees can engage in climate activism during weekdays – they don’t need to take time off or call in sick. If they incur legal problems, Ecosia will support them and cover any related fees. If reasonable, nonviolent civil disobedience should lead any Ecosia employee to be incarcerated, their time behind bars will be counted as work time.

Note: this article was written in January 2011 and so most of the information below is now out of date. For a more complete and fuller picture please read through all the comments and/ or do your own research. But in short, Ecosia are trying to a good thing, and are planting lots of tree – which is great! So, of course, if you want to use them as your search engine, go right ahead.

I just wrote a long e-mail response to my friend and teacher Patrick Whitefield (I did, and highly recommend his brilliant Sustainable Land Use course) about “Ecosia – the green search”;

On 1 January 2011 09:23, Patrick Whitefield wrote:
Ah, I see. I was using the wrong search engine, Ecosia. It has impeccable ecological credentials but isn’t always quite as effective.

Does Ecosia really have “impeccable ecological credentials”?

Its basically just Bing (Microsoft’s search engine).  Well, its a partnership with Bing whereby Ecosia get a very vague “very high percentage” of ad revenue generated, the rest going to Bing (i.e. Microsoft).

All the money going to good causes come 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 (all good, aside from the issues I have with very large NGOs and the inside knowledge I have about how WWF’s corporate-style management and how their concerns about protecting their intellectual property 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 – these are just filted out and not counted)

Can I support Ecosia by conducting many searches and clicking on ads often?
We ask that you only use Ecosia when you actually want to search for something and only click on the ads that you are truly interested in. Artificial searches use unnecessary energy and harm not only the environment, but also Ecosia and our partners. Ecosia filters out all artificial ad clicks and reserves the right to block the IP addresses of these users.

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. I do too (as does the German based company that host the United Diversity website).

However, most of the energy is still used by the Bing servers powering the search and we can’t tell how much energy these use because Microsoft don’t 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 centres 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 I 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 simply not true. It is just not possible to “cancel out” CO2 already emitted by offsetting.

I’ve ranted about this before:

And anyway, Google has been a “carbon neutral” (not actually possible IMHO, but still) company since late 2007. They’ve also invested over $100 million in renewable energy. That is a fair bit more €125k that Ecosia has raised in its first year (although that has no doubt helped a bit to protect forests, a laudable aim).

Personally I’d 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 IMHO open source/ free software is the foundation upon which we can build the community money and media systems that will make debt-slavery and corporate propaganda obsolete)