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'Green Google Alternative' Ecosia: Founder Christian Kroll on the Green Search Engine that Could

First Posted: Nov 29, 2013 09:39 AM EST
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Ecosia Founder Christian Kroll

Photo : Christian Kroll/Ecosia

A lot can happen in a minute -- and according to the "Green Google alternative," Ecosia, the world can actually breathe a little easier. With the click of a mouse, a tree is planted every 60 seconds, thanks to the German search engine.

On the cusp of its four-year anniversary, Ecosia.org, which donates 80 percent of its advertising revenue to a tree planting program in Brazil, has planted more than 100,000 trees in the past 10 weeks.

Powered by Bing and Yahoo, Ecosia generates revenue from two different sources, clicks on advertisements as well as clicks on ecolinks, which are "special links" that Ecosia highlights within its search results," Ecosia Founder Christian Kroll told the Latin Post. 

A driving issue behind the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland, tropical deforestation accounts for up to 17 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions, making it one of the most important factors in climate change, according to Ecosia. Early 2013 also saw a spike in deforestation of the world's largest rain forest in Brazil.

"We have 2.5 million users worldwide," Kroll said. "If Ecosia had as many users as Google, we could have the chance to end deforestation once and for all."

"A social business with the mission of making the world a more sustainable place," the search engine is very cognizant of its carbon footprint. It's "100-percent CO2 neutral, publishing both its neutralization certificates and donation receipts online."

At the rate of one tree per minute, Ecosia is on its way to meeting its goal of one million trees planted in the next year. An official partner of The Nature Conservancy, Ecosia has already generated more than $1.7 million for the environment.

The Latin Post recently spoke to Kroll in Berlin, Germany to further discuss the impact of this eco-friendly technology as well as how he came to discover the ecological power of a green search engine.

Drawn to technology as a child, Kroll didn't anticipate that his love of computers would evolve into such a powerful project -- and at the time, many didn't realize the power of the internet or its capability to help change the -environment.

Like many of us, Kroll rolled with the motions; he attended school and prepared himself for the corporate world. While he didn't start out being environmentally conscious, Kroll recognized that there was a void that needed to be filled. He wanted to contribute to the greater good - and the corporate world wasn't fostering his spirit. So he decided to take a year and a half to travel. He embarked on a journey that ultimately led to self-discovery, an innovative idea and a "bigger connection" to the world.

"Pretty soon it became clear that I didn't want to work in a big company doing marketing for something that nobody really needs," he told the Latin Post. "That's how this whole idea grew...that I wanted to do something to help. In the beginning it was not so much about the environment, but just the world in general, I wanted to help to make the world a better place."

Armed with a business administration degree and a dream, Kroll traveled to Nepal, where attempted to start a business. He loved the country and valued the motivation if its workforce, but starting a business there was very challenging. "It's not the best place for internet startups, especially considering that some days you only get four hours of electricity," he added.

So Kroll continued his journey and traveled to South America, where he had a love affair with Argentina.

"I love the whole culture, especially being in Argentina. I really love the way the people are there, I think there a lot of things that they do better than we do. They enjoy life, more than we do," he explained. Though there have been studies that say Europeans enjoy life more (definitely more than Americans), Kroll was onto something bigger.

"I traveled around Latin America a lot (including a visit to the south of Brazil) and I was really amazed by the beauty of the continent. At the same time, I saw horrible things happening to environmental systems that were completely destroyed by one company who has just pursued just one financial interest," Kroll explained. "That's happening a lot where individuals in government are making deals with oil companies and these deals lead to destruction of complete biospheres."

Kroll stressed that the focus needs to shift more towards developing countries, such as Africa, Asia and Latin America to get their environmental protection started. 

During his time in Argentina, Kroll read many books, including New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution-And How It Can Renew America." Inspired by the book's concept, which proposed "the solution to global warming and the best method to regain the United States' economic and political stature in the world is to embrace the clean energy and green technology industries." While some criticize Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," as being "a bit superficial," for Kroll it was "an eye-opener in many directions."

"One fact that I was very interested in reading was that deforestation currently causes 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. That is actually the most stupid thing that we are doing at the moment because we could easily prevent it. At the same time, it's such an important contributor to climate change, but it could be avoided really easily...

"Counting in dollars invested, this would be the easiest way to reduce CO2 emissions, but at the same time no one is really fighting for the rain forest at least at a global level, he explained. "So, I thought, 'ok, if we, as mankind want to survive this - the next few hundred years, then we should try and save the rain forest a bit more.'" 

The "eye-opener" led him to eventually return to his native Germany and begin learning more about web programming and development and how it can be utilized as a tool to better the environment. While he says he didn't essentially have an "epiphany or anything," instead he asked himself, 'why not do a search engine that helps the rain forest?'"

Within a few weeks Kroll came up with Ecosia's predessor, Forestle, a more simplified version of Ecosia. Ironically, the "Green Google Alternative," initially worked with Google.

"When I started this whole thing, I started working with Google, but then they came up with the guideline that said they didn't want to with partner with charitable search engines, which was a bit unfortunate because we were counted as a charitable search engine," he explained. "Their reasoning is that people could click on advertisements because they want to support the cause - and this would lead to additional spending for the advertisers. So for them, they said that it's really hard to distinguish between clicks that were real clicks, and clicks that were done to just support the rain forest.

"I don't 100 percent agree with that because Google has a lot of good ways to measure things and to analyze data. We've been doing our own analytics and there's no real difference in clicking activity, and even if there was a big difference, than Google could still adjust it on their end, so they could charge less per click."

Despite this technological bump in the road, Kroll says that while Ecosia tries to contend with Google it's "still in talks with Google and we want to work with them."

Kroll points out that Google has received a lot of criticism for "not being environmental friendly," but there are also a lot of other companies that deserve criticism much more than they do. 

"I think there is still a lot more that Google can do. But the problem is that they are a publicy traded company, so they have investors, they have shareholders, and they have a certain pressure of optimizing their income because otherwise every quarter they would get into huge trouble.

"Google set out to create a better world as well, and that's our mission in a way, but the good thing about Ecosia is that we don't have investors or shareholders that would force us to go for revenue optimization. The whole setting we have in our organization is completly different. Our main mission is to help the environment, it's not just something to do on the side; it's the foundation that the whole company is built on," Kroll said.

"The good thing about Ecosia is that you can change and make Ecosia your default search engine with just one click - and then you automatically help the environment.  It's one of these very simple things that you can do in your life to help support the environment...Of course, it's not solving all the problems of our world, but it's just one really easy thing you can do."

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