Clicks for the Future: Alternative Search Engines Help Students Surf the Web Sustainably

By Janne Wilsdorf and Milica Stanojic

Cred­it: Mable Amber

Look­ing out for fea­si­ble, effec­tive, and easy ways to stop cli­mate change has become an impor­tant goal in our dai­ly lives. As one of the least con­tem­plat­ed mea­sures – believe it or not – surf­ing on the inter­net could con­tribute great­ly to a more sus­tain­able environment.

The idea of sus­tain­able inter­net use was immense­ly influ­enced by self-pro­claimed eco-friend­ly search engine start-ups. A recent and ide­al exam­ple is a Ger­man com­pa­ny called Ecosia. Ecosia’s cor­po­rate pur­pose is to plant trees when­ev­er some­one uses their inter­net brows­er. Its home­page ticks off in real-time the num­ber of trees plant­ed by Ecosia users (at last count: 139,824,089). The com­pa­ny claims to donate at least 80% of its prof­its to fund tree-plant­i­ng programs.

Despite these good inten­tions, crit­ics remain sus­pi­cious. If you dig deep­er into the top­ic, you will find that the tree-plant­i­ng pol­i­cy is only acti­vat­ed if a user actu­al­ly clicks on ads – and not by sim­ply brows­ing with Ecosia. And more and more skep­tics are ask­ing whether plant­i­ng trees real­ly is the best mea­sure to stop cli­mate change. In the end, most peo­ple just stick with Google.

How­ev­er, the Helene Lange Gym­na­si­um, a Unesco-project pub­lic high school locat­ed in Ham­burg, tried to work with Ecosia. Stu­dent gov­ern­ment intro­duced the search engine and was able to plant 51 trees. Char­lotte Heuser, an 11th grad­er, says this moti­vat­ed her to use Ecosia for exten­sive research, but she also admits that she doesn’t use the alter­na­tive search engine more than Google. “Come to think of it, though,” she says, “I should, since I can’t think of much that speaks against it.” One slight­ly irri­tat­ing aspect is that some­times the order of results is dif­fer­ent on Ecosia since Google has more infor­ma­tion or pages. Yet, “when you hear that you have con­tributed to plant­i­ng a cer­tain num­ber of trees, I think you feel like you’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence,” Heuser says. Johan­na Eich­ler, anoth­er stu­dent from this cli­mate-con­scious school, likes the over­all idea but still is not per­suad­ed. “I per­son­al­ly don’t use it yet. But I do think it could be an easy way to make a change for the envi­ron­ment because chang­ing all these small habits to envi­ron­ment-friend­ly alter­na­tives can real­ly add up.”

For­tu­nate­ly, Google is quite aware of its eco­log­i­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty and has claimed to be car­bon neu­tral since 2007. There’s some­thing omi­nous about Google’s state­ment, though. The com­pa­ny has been invest­ing in renew­able ener­gies and more eco­log­i­cal tech­nolo­gies and was thus able to report its car­bon neu­tral­i­ty ear­ly on. Nev­er­the­less, Google has not com­plete­ly over­hauled their busi­ness prac­tices. Instead, their suc­cess can be attrib­uted to Google’s phil­an­thropies, such as fund­ing of upgrad­ed agri­cul­tur­al facil­i­ties that decrease methane emis­sions from live­stock farm­ing, accord­ing to Ger­man news ser­vice Win­Fu­ture. All in all, Google and oth­er search engine com­pa­nies need to direct­ly make their own con­tri­bu­tion to cli­mate pro­tec­tion. It’s not enough to sim­ply pay mon­ey for oth­ers to do so in Google’s name.

You may be won­der­ing by now: “Are sus­tain­able web search engines tru­ly rec­om­mend­able?” The sim­ple answer is: Yes. Whether plant­i­ng trees is the best mea­sure to stop cli­mate change remains ques­tion­able, but using alter­na­tive search engines is a sim­ple first step toward the uni­ver­sal aim of pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment and sav­ing our plan­et. With this men­tal­i­ty, it should be easy to switch from the all-too-famil­iar Google to Ecosia or any oth­er sus­tain­able search engine – as long as you’re aware of the actu­al back­ground and ‘envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly’ strate­gies. The future of our plan­et is price­less, and the next gen­er­a­tions will be keen­ly grate­ful for your com­mit­ment. Now, it’s our time to make a difference.

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Janne Wils­dorf, 17, is a high school senior in Ham­burg. She is strong­ly inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics and inter­na­tion­al rela­tions, enjoys read­ing and sports, and has a pas­sion for music and animals.

Mil­i­ca Stano­jic, 17, is a high school senior in Ham­burg. She enjoys learn­ing new lan­guages and is pas­sion­ate about writ­ing about and for peo­ple all around the world.