Forests cover almost a third of Earth’s land mass, but they have faced the threat of deforestation for decades. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, every year the Earth loses 46 – 58 thousand square miles of forest (approximately an area the size of 36 football fields every minute). Deforestation occurs for myriad reasons including accidentally and intentionally set fires, clearing for agricultural development, as well as logging and degradation. The rapid depletion of the planet’s forest reserves are concerning because of the critical role that trees play in mitigating climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and provide direct livelihood opportunities for approximately 1.6 billion people across the world.

Ecosia, a German-based internet search engine launched in 2009, is aiding in efforts to curb deforestation through its innovative business model and partnership with WeForest, a non-profit organisation from Belgium, that plants trees all over the world. Each time a user searches the Internet using the Ecosia search engine, both search results and ads will be generated through Ecosia’s partnership with Microsoft Bing. These ads generate income for Ecosia, which donates 80% of all income generated to WeForest to support tree planting efforts in Burkina Faso. So far, Ecosia has donated over $5 million to support the environment and reforestation efforts. Fatima González-Torres, Head of Community Outreach says, “Ultimately Ecosia is a tool that allows you to do good without spending a single penny. An abstract everyday task, such as searching the Web, can lead to something as tangible as a new tree. Most importantly, an overwhelming and abstract problem such as climate change becomes less scary for the individual—all he/she needs to do is search the web to actually contribute to mitigating climate change. It’s for free, effortless, and it has a great impact.”Community Driven Reforestation in Burkina Faso

Ecosia’s achievements to date have been significant: they recently celebrated the 3 million trees milestone. However, they believe their work is not yet complete, and still have ambitious objectives. Through the Ecosia-WeForest partnership, over 617 hectares of land have been restored in the Soum and Oudalan provinces on the Sahel region in the northern part of Burkina Faso. While one new tree is planted approximately every second, by 2020, Ecosia wants to help plant 1 billion trees around the world. Their aim is to transform deserts back into forests and help create a world that is socially, economically, and politically stable.

While both Ecosia and WeForest recognise that tree planting helps curb climate change, they also recognise the support of local communities is essential to the success of the project. Communities sign legal contracts to agree to the planting of trees on their land, and all members—including women—share the profits of the program. Both men and women from communities near tree planting sites receive training on the sustainable management of forests, and habitat misuse and exploitation. The communities assist in sowing, maintenance, and protection of the planting sites.

On achieving such a high degree of community buy-in Gonzalez notes: “It is the most important impact of our tree-planting program—the positive impact on the communities surrounded by our tree-planting sites. It’s all about reviving drought-ridden areas and on the way empowering, nurturing, and educating people, slowing down the spread of diseases or even reducing the likelihood of violent conflicts in the area.”

Although Ecosia’s goal is ambitious, the nature of their business model ensures that they have the potential to achieve their targets. The search engine presently has approximately 2.5 million users per month who perform around 720,000 internet searches per day. As the platform can handle almost infinite growth, marketing and promotion are the key to future development. When internet users are aware of Ecosia and understand the company’s model, they can help contribute to sustainability and reforestation just by searching the Internet.

Photo Credit: Beeldkas http://www.beeldkas.be and OZG http://www.ozg.be/