Like many, I spend large swaths of time on the internet. Among the 4 billion people who use it, an estimated 63,000 web searches are preformed every second. For years, we’ve contributed online to our favorite non-profits, supported work through memberships, and made charitable contributions. Now, with climate crisis concerns, there are search engines powered by renewable energies, leading the internet toward becoming a green platform. (A search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo is like a map and compass directing you to particular places or websites that closely meet your search term results.) Currently, our global technology systems produce between 2 percent to 3.7 percent of global carbon emissions — roughly equal to the aviation industry’s carbon fuel emissions according to a Nature 2018 article.
To be 100 percent green, every search engine’s entire operation, including all their supply chains, needs to be operating from renewable energy sources or at least be meeting a net zero target (defined as the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emitted equaling the amount removed from the atmosphere). I ran several search engines through The Green Web Foundation’s web checker tool and found that even my favorite green search engine, Ecosia.org has only a midlevel green score. This is understandable because we are still evolving toward a climate friendly internet.
If your web browser is Chrome (a web browser like Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari is analogous to the car that gets you everywhere you want to go on the internet highway) you can download the “Green Web Browser Extension,” which shows you the green status of every website you visit. To access it, go to The Green Web Foundation website. Open the Tools menu across the top of the page. In the dropdown menu, click on Browser App and open that page. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where there is a green bar labeled Get Chrome Browser Extension. Click on the green bar and follow the prompts. This tool works behind the scenes with your search engine to indicate with a faint green dotted line, if a website is employing one or more green technologies. Happy searching!
Given that greening the internet will take time, I decided to look back at how internet charitable work has recently expanded. Several search engine companies are addressing major climate problems in other ways. Their missions vary but they are partnering with organizations and contributing a large percentage of their profits to climate-based projects. Efforts include cleaning up oceans, replanting forests, reducing health risks, and more.
Ecosia.org uses 80 percent of its advertising revenue to address global deforestation. They partner with vetted tree planting organizations across 9,000 sites. With 15 million users, they’ve reported planting over 140 million trees. When using Ecosia, you’ll see your own tree planting tracker that doesn’t disappear, even if you don’t use the search engine for a while. Advertising revenue is generated by ad clicks. Ecosia also builds solar energy grids to power their operations. Your searches are encrypted and what little data is collected is never sold. They feature tracking to improve their services, but you can turn off all tracking at your desire. The search engine runs on the Bing host-server, meaning the search results you see are provided by Microsoft, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines that operate in a similar way. In other words, you’re getting the same optimal searches you’re used to but in addition, you’re helping to address the climate crisis and supporting renewable energy all at the same time.
GiveWater.com is a self-described social impact search engine which aims to have a positive impact on the world by empowering users to solve poor water quality and ineffective sanitation across the developing world. It was founded after the company’s CEO met the founder of Charity-Water, Scott Harrison and was inspired to make a difference through his own work.
At OceanHero.Today, the mantra is “save the ocean by surfing the web.” Its mission is to remove ocean plastic. Their partnership with Plastic Bank has helped to recover over 13 million plastic bottles, which would have otherwise ended up in the ocean. It’s not clear how much of their advertising revenue goes towards fighting pollution, however they do claim that every five searches helps them recover one ocean-bound plastic bottle.
Rapusia.org donates their ad revenue to fund dozens of global social and environmental projects you can support from animal rights to conservation. Plus, Rapusia does not track users, does not share any user information with advertisers, and publishes their monthly financial reports to foster transparency and accountability.
YouCare.world originated in France as a search engine using ad revenue for good deeds. Once you enter the website, you can choose what good deed your searches will be supporting. They range from combating deforestation to planting new coral reefs. YouCare is also committed to carbon compensation, and therefore finances tree planting through a partnership with the Eden Reforestation Project.
One day the Internet will run entirely on renewable energy but until then, making an effort to use more sustainable tools is up to each of us. Choose a search engine described above or find another one you prefer. Choose one that matches your values. Many are committed to funneling significant portions of their profits into environmental or social justice causes. If you’re used to Google, Bing, or Yahoo, changing to another search tool may initially feel strange. Give yourself a little time to get used to the new look. You’ll get the same search results, while making the world a better place.
The marketplace for socially conscious search engines is thriving, which means that you won’t struggle to find one that supports a project you care about. One of the best parts about the internet is there is a world of information at our fingertips. Who knew you could be part of a massive global effort from your home or office? There are a number of eco-friendly search engines you can use to help nudge forward the fight to mitigate climate change, reduce your internet footprint, and sometimes, as an added benefit, avoid those ad tracking pop-ups.