Ecosia, which bills itself as 'the search engine that plants trees', relies almost entirely on Microsoft Bing technology.
When you search Ecosia you’re actually searching Microsoft Bing. Ecosia doesn’t generate its own web results - instead it has a partnership with Bing, meaning that Bing provides both the results and advertisements that you see.
As Ecosia doesn’t develop its own webpage results index, technologically speaking it’s not really a competitor in the world of search engines.
This approach to search is quite common - Yahoo and DuckDuckGo also have a ‘syndication agreement’ with Bing, meaning they pay for the right to use Bing’s technology.
Unless it develops its own matrix to produce its own search results - an astonishingly enormous undertaking - then it will only ever constitute limited fringe competition to big players like Google and Bing. In fact, at the end of 2020, Ecosia was said to have a 0.28% share of the search engine market in the UK. Globally this drops to 0.12%.
Ad revenues from Bing
Ecosia’s revenue largely comes from Bing’s advertisements. The adverts are generated by Bing, and when you click on one Ecosia receives a share of the revenue generated by the click (and the rest of the revenue generated from the click goes to Bing).
The only way that Ecosia raises money is through clicks on advertisements. Therefore if you use the search engine but don’t click on ads, Ecosia won’t make any money and therefore won't be planting any additional trees. It is the ad revenue that enables them to plant trees.
Does Ecosia really plant trees when you search?
Ecosia’s website says “Plant trees while you search the web”. At the time of writing, the company claims to have planted 120,323,000 trees!
Ecosia says 80% of its advertising profits are used to plant trees. The total money spent on this is listed every month on its website. Ecosia pays partners across the globe to plant trees and bring forests back to life, through activities like firefighting and regeneration. Partner names are made public, as is the amount of funding sent to them.
It’s estimated to take about 45 searches for Ecosia to generate the revenue for a tree to be planted. As mentioned before though, if you don’t click on ads you’re not making Ecosia money, so you’re not helping to plant trees. (And random ad clicking doesn’t work, according to the Ecosia website!)