We all know that it’s not possible to change the world overnight — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start working to create big change today.

Essentially, you can’t plant a forest all at once — you have to do it tree by tree.

This is the opportunity Ecosia offers us: the chance to make small changes that add up to huge impact.

By simply switching which search engine we use, each of us has the ability to fill the world with more trees… and, over time, entire forests. 

Ecosia's homepage, with the words "A better planet with every search"

Sure, Ecosia might sound too good to be true. That’s why this article breaks down how Ecosia works, whether or not it’s legit, if using it actually plants trees, and what you can use instead if you’re so inclined. And because we’re all about good news, we couldn’t help but sprinkle some positive news stories in as well.

Let’s start from the top — what’s Ecosia?

What is Ecosia?

Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees every time you search. As a competitor to Google Search, Ecosia offers a way to make a difference by simply changing where you do your online searches.

The company makes its money from ads — the same way that Google and other search engines do — but instead of keeping the profits inside the company, Ecosia donates to organizations planting trees around the world.

Ecosia Page: We plant in 35+ countries with local organizations: Brazil, Burkina Faso, Indonesia

Even Jane Goodall is a fan, saying: “Planting trees with Ecosia makes the world a better place — for local communities, chimpanzees, and for us all.”

The company was founded by German entrepreneur Christian Kroll in 2009. In the years prior to 2009, Kroll was traveling South America when he saw the devastating impact of deforestation. He knew he wanted to do something about it — and then sought out a business model that had limitless potential for generating revenue for tree planting initiatives. He mulled several options over, but ultimately decided to build a search engine.

Christian Kroll, CEO of Ecosia / Photo courtesy of Ecosia

Fast forward to 2022 — the search engine has reached 20 million monthly active users. 

Most importantly, the Ecosia community has planted more than 150,000,000 trees since its founding — at the rate of nearly 1 tree per second

How do you use Ecosia?

Ecosia is incredibly easy to use. In just a few seconds, you can easily switch your default search engine from Google to Ecosia and get started planting trees right away.

The text "How do you use Ecosia" typed into the Ecosia search bar

Here’s a breakdown of the many ways you can ensure that every search you make has a positive impact on the environment:

Change your search engine settings. 

Inside of whatever browser you use for desktop and mobile, you can go into the settings and change your default browser settings.

For example, if you use Safari on your iPhone, simply go into your phone’s Settings app > then tap Safari > then tap Search Engine > and then select Ecosia. 

One screenshot showing Safari's 'Settings' page on iPhone, the next screenshot showing how to change the Search Engine from Google to Ecosia

Similarly, if you use Google Chrome on your desktop, simply click the [...] in the upper right corner of your window > then click Settings > then click Search Engine > and then switch to Ecosia.

Search Engine setting in Google Chrome, showing the option to change from google to Ecosia

You can explore more walkthroughs of other browsers on the Ecosia Blog. 

Install the browser extension.

Ecosia Browser Extension for Google Chrome, with the text "The search engine that plants trees"

Similarly, you can install the Ecosia browser extension for Google Chrome or Firefox. It will change your default search engine in 2 clicks and, depending on your browser’s limitations, will set your New Tab page to also be Ecosia. 

Download the mobile app. 

Ecosia app in the iPhone App Store and the Ecosia app opened up to the search engine page

Ecosia also has a mobile app available for Android and iOS. Add the app to your home screen so you always reach for it when you go to search something. It can serve as your default browser, it can hold all your bookmarks, and it even has a built-in ad blocker (for the ads on webpages — but not searches). 

Try freetree.

Install the freetree Extension. Freetree is a browser extension that adds a free tree planting option to your browser. While shipping online, you can plant trees — for free.

Ecosia has even branched out (pun intended) to allow you to plant trees when you shop — beyond just when you search. The new ‘freetree’ browser extension will, essentially, earn a commission on your everyday online purchases — and then Ecosia uses that commission to plant trees. Freetree works in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany

Get the Treecard debit card. 

You buy veggie burgers, we plant trees. The wooden Mastercard that reforests the planet as you spend. 80% of profits go to reforestation and climate investments. No greenwashing.

In 2020, Ecosia also launched a free debit card called ‘Treecard’. Uniquely, the card is made of sustainably-sourced cherry wood — and every purchase will go towards planting a tree. 

All debit cards make a tiny amount of money from every transaction (because of transaction fees paid by sellers) and Ecosia will divert 80% of that money towards tree-planting efforts

On average, spending $60 = one tree planted. This also diverts money away from traditional financial companies, which often invest their money in fossil fuels and other environmental hazards.

Ask your company to partner.

If you want to take things to the next level, ask your company to partner with Ecosia to plant trees. In 2021, Ecosia launched a holistic tree planting service for businesses of all types. And Ecosia has already brought on companies like Dr. Bronner on board. Learn more via the Ecosia Blog. 

Is Ecosia legit — or fake?

Yes, Ecosia is legit. While most search engines are only in it for profit, Ecosia puts purpose at the forefront of its work. You can trust Ecosia because it donates 80% of its profits, is certified as a B Corp, and releases transparent monthly reports.

While many tree planting initiatives are being critiqued (validly so) for harming local ecosystems — Ecosia has been praised for its thoughtful approach to planting trees. 

A green forest in Kenya
A growing forest in Kenya / Photo courtesy of Ecosia

Rather than planting imported or invasive trees, Ecosia always plants native trees. The B Corp doesn’t plant trees simply for the sake of planting trees; it works to ensure the trees it plants can operate as a part of a functional, biodiverse, thriving ecosystem

Ecosia experts take into account how the trees and local communities will interact, and even consider whether planting new trees is the right approach for a particular region (and sometimes use alternative methods, like sowing or natural regeneration). 

You can trust Ecosia because the company is held accountable to a number of third parties and makes all of its numbers publicly available.

Screenshot showing Ecosia's B Corp profile on the B Labs website.

Ecosia was the first German company to become a certified B Corp. B Lab (the organization that certifies B Corps) evaluates mission-driven companies' governance and their impact on workers, communities, the environment, and customers.

Ecosia has consistently achieved high scores and was named “Best for the World” in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021.  

Screenshot of Ecosia's "Money" page, showing how much money was raised in May 2022, and how many trees it planted

The company is also transparent about all of its numbers — publishing its financial reports and tree planting receipts every month. Ecosia’s stated goal is that the public would hold them accountable. 

Ethical Consumer gave Ecosia an Ethiscore of 11 — double its score for Google.

Lastly, Ecosia is legally and permanently set up as a “steward-owned company” — which means that, according to Ecosia, “Shares can’t be sold at a profit or owned by people outside of the company” and “no profits can be taken out of the company.” 

All of this ensures that Ecosia will forever be bound to its mission to use 100% of its profits for the planet — and be thoughtful about everything else company leadership does in the process.

Somebody bending down to plant a small tree
Planting a small tree in Brazil / Photo courtesy of Ecosia

There have been some rumors going around the internet that Ecosia isn’t safe to use — or that it may even be a virus. These are false. Not only is Ecosia safe — Ecosia may be safer than Google. The company is also privacy-focused, refusing to collect and sell your data — ensuring it never goes anywhere. And no, Ecosia is not a virus

Does Ecosia actually plant trees?

Yes, Ecosia actually keeps its promise of planting trees. While its Germany-based team isn’t traveling to 35+ countries to plant trees themselves — wouldn’t that be fun, though? — Ecosia provides funding to vetted, trustworthy planting partners who specialize in a particular community.

Screenshot of a web page that says "Restoring forests in the Philippines" and includes a map of the tree plantings in the country

Take, for example, Ecosia’s efforts in the Philippines. Ecosia has a page on its website that walks you through everything you need to know about how trees are planted in this country. 

The page shows that Ecosia partners with two organizations, Kennemer Foods and NTFP-EP, to plant trees via nurseries and rainforestation. They plant between March and May each year, and protect several species in the process, including the Visayan warty pig, Visayan spotted deer, Varanus mabitang, Visayan tarictic hornbill, and Writhed-billed hornbill.

The main threats to trees in the Philippines are logging, slash-and-burn, and invasive grasses — and the primary challenge is deforestation. The page even outlines the top tree species planted in the Philippines.

Ecosia has a page just like this for every country it works in.

Screenshot of an Ecosia page that says "Regenerating diverse landscapes"

How many trees has Ecosia planted? 

As of July 2022, Ecosia users have helped plant more than 153,382,000 trees in more than 35 countries. During the first half of 2022, Ecosia searches funded an average of 2,964,259 trees per month.

Join 20 million people growing the right trees in the right places

Good news about Ecosia

Because Good Good Good is all about good news — we’d be remiss not to share a few good news stories about Ecosia in this piece:

  • Ecosia allows all of its employees to engage in activism without using vacation days or sick time. And if an employee gets into legal trouble during their peaceful protests, the company is committed to supporting them. It has even gone so far as to say ​​that “if reasonable, nonviolent civil disobedience should lead any Ecosia employee to be incarcerated, their time behind bars will be counted as work time.”
  • Ecosia turned the large conference room in its Berlin office into a classroom for refugees who had fled Ukraine — even going as far as to hire teachers.
A tech office's conference room converted into a classroom for refugees
Ecosia's conference room-turned-classroom / Photo courtesy of Ecosia

Let’s talk about the differences between Ecosia vs. Google…

We all make dozens of internet searches a day — so the choice to switch from one to another isn’t something to be taken lightly. At the same time, it’s a small change that can have a profound positive impact on the world. 

We’ve broken down some pros and cons of Google and Ecosia.

It’s worth sharing that Ecosia also has its own blog post dedicated to how it stacks up with Google.

Search Quality:

Google is the number one search engine in the world — for good reason. It has invested substantially into making search results incredibly relevant and helpful. Very rarely do any of us need to click Page 2 on a search results page — Google is just excellent about making sure that it shows you what you’re looking for on Page 1.

With that being said, the number two search engine in the world is Microsoft’s Bing. Bing has invested heavily into its search engine capabilities, and it’s pretty solid. Many users even prefer its results to Google.

Ecosia actually uses Bing for its search engine technology. Ecosia makes a few tweaks to style and results, but for the most part, you’re getting Bing search results — which, again, are pretty solid. 

Sustainability:

Beyond planting trees (which we’ve covered thoroughly in this article), Ecosia goes above and beyond when it comes to sustainability.

Ecosia has heavily reduced its own carbon footprint and takes accountability for its supply chain as well. The green search engine produces enough renewable energy to account for all of its services — and then some. 

In fact, according to Ecosia, “in 2020, Ecosia ran on 335% renewable energy and planted over 30,000,000 trees.” On average, each Ecosia search removes 1kg of CO2 from the air.

You can read all about this in the Ecosia annual Regeneration Report

Carbon negative is the new carbon neutral, Ecosia
Carbon negative is the new carbon neutral / Graphic courtesy of Ecosia

Google has made similar efforts that shouldn’t be discounted. The search giant has offset all of its carbon emissions since 2007, purchasing offsets to achieve carbon neutrality. 

Still, there are criticisms of whether or not offsets are actually effective — or if Google is doing enough

Ecosia found that “if Google invested an equivalent amount [as Ecosia] into renewables, enough renewable energy would be created to replace all EU coal power in two years and fossil gas power in an additional three years.”

On top of that, Google is not actually reducing its emissions, has run into hiccups, and only recently stopped creating AI technology that supports the oil and gas industry — for which more than 1,000 Google employees have protested. 

We’re glad Google is making efforts to reduce its harm on the environment (and that it continues to help consumers think about their impact) but it’s clear that Ecosia takes the cake here.

Privacy:

Google’s primary business is, essentially, the collection and sale of user data. It has long been critiqued as one of the worst privacy offenders in big tech — and while it’s cleaned up its act a little bit recently, it’s still no privacy darling.

Ecosia says that privacy is central to its mission. You can significantly reduce the amount of data collected about you by switching from Google to Ecosia.

Ecosia Privacy: We don’t store your searches permanently We don’t create personal profiles of you based on your search history. We actually anonymize all searches within one week. We don’t sell your data to advertisers Many web services collect user data in order to sell it without asking your permission. We don’t sell your data or your searches to advertising companies. Your searches are encrypted We protect your searches from potential eavesdroppers with a securely encrypted connection. This way we make sure that nobody between you and us can see your searches.

Ecosia does have to serve ads that are relevant to users, though — which means it has to pass along some information to advertisers. But Ecosia is able to make sure that information is anonymized, and related to searches, not user profiles.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Ecosia founder Christian Kroll said, “[Serving relevant ads is] the only way we make money. We’ve taken a privacy-centric approach to serving adverts to users — we don’t store searches permanently, and all searches are anonymized within a week. Many web services collect user data in order to sell it without asking your permission — we’ll never do this, and we don’t use external tracking tools either.”

According to VentureBeat, due to Ecosia’s partnership with Bing, the search engine must share the following data: IP addresses, what kind of browser you use, what version of the browser you’re using, what operating system you use, your country, and your language. 

While this is way less data than Google shares, if you’re not comfortable with this information being used, then consider DuckDuckGo, which we outline at the end of this article.

Ads:

While you’ll see ads when you search with both Ecosia and Google, you’ll feel better about the ads you see on Ecosia, as you know you’ll be planting trees. 

The ad quality between the two search engines is roughly equivalent. Though it’s possible for advertisers to specifically target Ecosia users (via Bing’s ad-buying tech) — which means that it might attract more ethical and sustainable companies who want to reach ethical and sustainable potential customers. Getting ads for brands that are aligned with your values is always preferable to ads from brands you hate.

Uniquely, Ecosia’s mobile app includes an ad blocker that hides ads on other websites — something that Google would probably never do.

Is Ecosia owned by Google or Bing?

Ecosia is not owned by Google. In fact, Ecosia partners with Google’s biggest search engine competitor: Bing. Bing manages all of the advertising that displays on Ecosia (which pays for trees to be planted). Bing does not own Ecosia, though — and Ecosia will never be sold. 

What are some Ecosia alternatives?

Tab for a Cause

Tab for a Cause is a free browser extension that helps you raise funds for charity every time you open a new tab.

Just like Ecosia, Tab for a Cause generates money from advertisements (2-3 ads are displayed every time you open a new tab) and you can select from a list of nonprofits you’d like that money to go to.

You can learn more about Tab for a Cause in our ultimate review.

You can use Tab for a Cause and Ecosia. No need to pick just one or the other.

DuckDuckGo

If your primary concern is privacy (and not necessarily tree planting) — you might prefer DuckDuckGo. This search engine does not sell (or even collect) your data. Ecosia is solid on privacy — but DuckDuckGo takes it to the next level. Plus, it’s completely carbon-negative as a company, so your searches can remain sustainable. 

OceanHero

While OceanHero seems to have fewer users than Ecosia, Tab for a Cause, and DuckDuckGo, its model is great and it seems it’s gaining momentum. The tl;dr is — for every 10 searches you make using the OceanHero search engine, the company will remove one piece of plastic from the ocean. (Similar to #TeamSeas!) If the ocean is your cause of choice, definitely check out OceanHero

Amazon Smile

While we’re not the biggest fans of Amazon (see our guide to Amazon alternatives) — if you’re going to shop with the e-commerce giant, you might as well donate to a charity you care about. When you sign up for Amazon Smile, it will divert a percentage of the money you spend at smile.amazon.com towards a nonprofit organization of your choice.

Yep

While Yep isn’t available to the general public yet, the new search engine from Ahrefs has a lot of people talking. It’s poised to be a huge competitor to Google Search — but instead of keeping the profits for itself, it plans to give 90% away to online content creators. (This creates a whole new opportunity for impact-driven brands like ours — as well as sustainability blogs, nonprofits, and more to make money.) We’ll be keeping an eye on this new platform.

Notable Mentions: 

We wanted to add a few more notes that came up in our research for this article. Of course, if you have any other thoughts, we welcome your opinion.

A small, newly planted tree
A newly planted tree in Senegal / Photo courtesy of Ecosia
  • Ecosia has a “shop” that allows you to give the gift of planting trees. Plant trees for anywhere between $10-$60 and you’ll receive a certificate of your giving — which you can give as a gift. You can even get specific, by donating trees that support urban equity, trees that empower women, or trees that help wildlife.
  • One important note: Ecosia doesn’t simply plant trees because you used its service. The company makes money from users actually clicking on PPC (pay-per-click) ads. So if you see an ad that’s relevant to you, don’t be afraid to click it — but don’t randomly click ads, because Bing’s tech will detect it.
  • According to a 2020 study, it takes roughly 45 searches to bring in enough revenue to plant one tree. All the more reason to set Ecosia as your default so you can slowly make progress.
  • Planting trees isn’t just about the environment — it’s a justice issue. You can learn more about intersectional environmentalism in our guide.