Helping to tackle climate change, one click at a time
From an interview on DIGIT Leadership
When German entrepreneur Christian Kroll returned from travelling, he knew there was an opportunity to use tech for good.
Having witnessed the devastating impact of deforestation and monoculture plantations in South America, the reality was clear; big business is contributing massively to climate change, but it can also play a role in remedying the damage inflicted on the planet.
“I returned to Berlin knowing I wanted to start a business that would put its profits into ecological conservation,” he says. Today, this business takes the form of Ecosia, the purpose-driven search engine at which Christian serves as CEO.
Ecosia isn’t like most businesses. First and foremost, the revenue generated by the firm is used to pay out its operational costs. From the remaining profits, 100% is dedicated to climate action, with at least 80% of that spent on planting trees. The rest, he says, goes towards various green initiatives and investments like agroforestry projects or solar power plants.
Reforestation is a key focus for Ecosia and one of the several reasons it continues to attract new users. Since the company’s launch in 2009, it has planted more than 120 million trees in 26 countries globally – an effort that has benefited hundreds of communities.
“We partner with local organisations and work closely with local communities to plant and monitor the trees,” Christian explains. “Our trees don’t just sequester carbon, they also regulate extreme weather systems, provide habitats for animals, combat hunger and poverty, and support local communities by providing products that improve livelihoods and bring in additional income.”
Ecosia isn’t Christian ’s first venture. He has started a website that compared different online stock market brokers, also an online games website and prior to travelling in South America, Christian also spent time in Nepal, where he launched a search engine which aimed to finance global development projects. Although the venture failed to gain significant traction, it was here that the initial ideas for building a social business were born.
More than a decade later, Ecosia boasts more than 15 million active users and is a carbon-negative company. Ecosia’s servers run on 200% renewable energy, and with every search request up to one kilogram of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, meaning users are actively helping the environment when using the service.
Ecosia’s evolution as a company has coincided with a growing awareness of climate change. This environmental awareness – combined with increasingly socially conscious attitudes toward business and consumer culture – has helped fuel the rise of values-led, purpose-driven business. And this has helped fuel the search engine’s growth so far, Christian says, with many young users coming to Ecosia due to these shared values.
“I do think there is a push from consumers, especially young people, towards holding companies to account. The next generation wants to see a change in the world and they are questioning companies’ motives and seeking out the truth behind brands,” Christian adds.
Each month the search engine publishes publicly available financial reports so users can see how it spends its money and where trees are being planted.
“Our competitors are some of the most powerful companies in the world, but we will continue to speak out against anti-competitive behaviour in the search engine market and keep pushing for change and more ethical tech that centres on the user, not providers’ pockets,” he says. “It’s clear they’re not doing enough. Amazon and Google have promised to become carbon neutral, but why stop there? We believe in constantly improving our model and pushing beyond the limits.”
Leading by example in regard to climate awareness, he suggests, is what has set the search engine apart in recent years and helped solidify its relationship with users. The values of the company and the consumer align, they resonate, and that’s a potent catalyst for positive change.
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From an interview on DIGIT Leadership, 15/06/2021