How to Use Search Engines to Help People and the Planet

We have heard of life hacks. How about a hack to make a difference? Make a little adjustment to something you do every day – by searching the internet – and you can help protect the earth’s ecosystems and help those in need. All you have to do is use another search engine.

Surprised? You are in good company. Most of us don’t think about our search engines – or quite understand the difference between a search engine and a web browser. We probably didn’t even choose the search engine we use the most.

How does changing my search engine help?

Search engines make money by hosting ads. Every time users click on an ad, the search engine earns money. Those we share with you are committed to devoting a significant portion (sometimes all) of their profits to environmental or social causes.

These alternative search engines don’t get a lot of attention. Let’s remedy that by introducing you to a few of them now.

Ekoru Works to keep the oceans clean and green

Ekoru fulfills a dual environmental function as a search engine.

First, they partner with organizations that work directly on climate change mitigation strategies. Great blue ocean clean-up remove plastic and nets from the ocean. They also organize beach cleanups around the world. Operation Posidonia replants herbaria to “reforest” the ocean. According to their website, “algae absorb CO2 40 times faster than trees in the rainforest.”

Second, Ekoru uses hydropower and convection cooling in its operations, thereby reducing its own carbon emissions. They also configured their search pages to use less CO2 per search (0.27 grams versus 4.67 grams for Google).

Ekoru Lists surfer and Lonely whale as two of their affiliates Ocean Warrior – organizations that work to preserve marine environments. They also have a short list of for-profit affiliates who use recycled ocean plastics, make ocean-friendly products, or support ocean conservation, including Love beauty and the planet.

Ekoru maintains a running total of kilograms of CO2 emissions saved by users collectively. They also track your stats for plastic bottles removed and seagrass sprigs planted.

Ecosia Plants Trees & Protect Biodiversity

Ecosia’s search engine was created in 2009. They address deforestation issues around the world and focus their efforts on particularly vulnerable areas. Ecosia pays particular attention to biodiversity and works in cooperation with local communities.

As of this writing, they have planted over 140 million trees. When you search using Ecosia, you’ll see a nifty little tracker that lets you know how many trees you’ve planted.

Their Android app says they “run on 200% renewable energy.” They publish monthly financial reports and show receipts for the trees they have planted.

Bonus for privacy-conscious people: they don’t have third-party trackers and don’t sell your data.

Ecosia is the first German company to achieve Certified B Corporation status.

give water Help provide clean water and sanitation

Michael Feeley founded give water after hearing about Scott Hamilton’s nonprofit, water of charity. Both organizations exist to meet the urgent need for clean and accessible water in many corners of the world. The Search Engine is a for-profit LLC that donates all of its profits to charities: water and other organizations that provide clean water and sanitation to people living in places lacking this infrastructure.

GiveWater’s website is fairly straightforward compared to other good social search engines. He does not share the progress on their goals. It also lacks the engaging content that might get more people to use their search engine.

Young girls get fresh water from community hand water pump in rural Africa

Heroes of the ocean Collect ocean plastic and build recycling infrastructure

Heroes of the ocean knows how to motivate users to make a difference. Their website is full of information. It starts with a video explaining their “why”. They even have a five-part encyclopedia for those who want to learn more about marine animals. When you install their browser extension, you will periodically see pop-up quizzes on marine ecosystems and plastic pollution.

Ocean Hero partners with Plastic bank establish and improve recycling infrastructure globally. In countries like Indonesia, Haiti and the Philippines, plastic is becoming a valuable commodity to be traded for money. Ocean Hero has collected the plastic equivalent of over 23 million bottles from the ocean.

Tips for using a new search engine

We are creatures of habit. It takes time for us to adjust to even minor changes. A few things to know when using a new search engine:

  • Be prepared for a different visual experience. If you are used to Google, another search engine will strike you as strange.
  • Search results may be different from what you expect. Give yourself some time to get used to browsing the search results.

Finally, and this is a big problem… don’t try to play with the system to support the cause. Random or excessive clicks on ads will trigger alerts that will penalize the organizations you want to support.

Rosemary S. Bishop