Employees may need some time to get used to the light green home page of Ecosia, which replaced that of Google on their computers at the end of last month. In the search bar, it says ‘Search the web to plant trees’, with drawings of colourful trees underneath.
Unlike Google, Ecosia is carbon negative, which means that the search engine compensates more carbon dioxide than it emits when people use it. This is thanks to Ecosia’s revenue model, says Jaap Cornelese, policy adviser at Erasmus Digitalisation and Information Services (EDIS). “Ecosia is a non-profit organisation that spends at least 80 per cent of its advertising revenue on planting trees”, he says. Ecosia has already planted over 173 million trees.
Search engines use incredible amount of energy
Cornelese explains that search engines use up an incredible amount of energy. “A single search query may not seem like much, but all of the search queries taken together require vast data centres to operate continuously.” However, Ecosia gets most of its energy from its own solar panels. “Besides, Ecosia compensates by planting trees.”
According to a report by the BBC, Internet use accounts for around 3.7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is about the same as the global emissions from the aviation sector.
Search and plant trees
EDIS initially recommend against switching to the green search engine, Cornelese says. “Ecosia uses Bing’s search index. In the world of IT, the Bing search engine is generally considered inferior to Google.” Even so, the Executive Board decided to opt for the sustainable alternative, just like thirty other universities in the Netherlands and abroad. Cornelese: “You can either enter search queries and plant trees or enter search queries without planting trees. The former option is definitely more environmentally friendly.”
The exact reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that the university will achieve by switching search engines is unknown. “EDIS knows everything there is to know about IT, but sustainability is a new field for us”, says Cornelese. “We’re still trying to find a way to calculate the impact of IT on the environment.”
Due to technical considerations, not all employees will have Ecosia as their new start page. The search engine has mainly replaced Google on the computers of new employees. That being said, employees can still switch to their preferred search engine. Cornelese: “We’re not trying to force this choice on anyone.”
This is unbelievable.
It is more important for the standard search engine used at an academic institution to be ecological friendly than to be accurate and comprehensive, even though the exact positive environmental results are unknown but they will undoubtedly be vast.