Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ecosia – the search engine that plants trees (ecosia.org)
235 points by kawera 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

I was investigating massive reforestation as a means of reducing greenhouse gases a few days ago. I stumbled upon this hyper-dense technique called the Miyawaki method [1]. Sounds like it's resource-intensive upfront but might be self-sustaining after that. The guy mentioned in [1] has open-sourced the methodology here [2].

[1]: https://fellowsblog.ted.com/how-to-grow-a-forest-really-real...

[2]: https://www.afforestt.com/methodology

> To make soil analysis easy for remote clients, we are also developing a small, GPS-enabled soil probe that will test soil and upload the data onto our server. When the probe is integrated with our database, at the push of a button you’ll know the soil constituents and what nutrients it needs, and we’ll be able to immediately send a complete species list and a detailed procedure.

This is pretty interesting, though I can't find any more information on the website.

I work at Stenon [0], we make a portable soil analysis probe for agriculture - the demand for these devices is huge.

(we are hiring)

[0] - https://stenon.io/en/

I'll say! Thanks so much for the link and for your hard work. I've been looking for a way to do continuous, multi-variable soil monitoring across my olive grove, and the Stenon probe looks like it could be perfect.

Do you have any information on pricing and availability?

P.S. I'm curious how you're able to accurately measure nitrate and carbon levels. Can you point me to any papers on the techniques you're using?

Availability is short, we are looking at general sales first quarter 2020 and I can't share pricing info at this time. However we have presold a bunch of devices already :)

As for accuracy we have patent pending ML models that provide nutrient predictions that are >= laboratory accuracy. If you are interested please sign up to the waitlist and someone will be in touch!

Reducing the amount of land we use is one of the best ways to restore our ecosystems and combat climate change. As we engineer better crops with higher yields we should use less land, and as we develop vertical farming we should use even less. I would like to see government buyback programs for farms and reforestation on those properties in the future. In the US states like Ohio, Indiana, and other midwestern states were heavily deforested for agriculture in the past.

The best way to reduce the amount of land we use, is to stick to a plant based diet. Facts, see http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts

I first read this article when it was linked on Hacker News. I had always hoped the method would go viral for local environmentalists, hippies, rich landscapers, and Earth/Arbor day organizers.

We need first to address the problem with organized crime that can burn decades of work in an afternoon with a low risk of being caught. There is also problems with overgrazing and stolen water. Planting trees is only the first step to have a forest.

Planted my first trees a few weeks ago. 2 more acres to go (more if I can buy more land...)

Feel free to ask if you encounter a problem. Now is the best month to plant a tree in the northern hemisphere.

Also, what can I plant to hopefully enjoy a nice small forest to walk in in about 8-12 years? What fruit trees would work? (I already have some apple trees). Can I get away with planting seeds or do I need saplings? Will trees effectively stop large undergrowth to the point where I can walk around?

I'm already in my mid-30's, will I be able to enjoy this for any reasonable portion of my life?

> what can I plant

What type of soil and climate? coastal area?

If you have apples you can have also plums and pears. Buy fruit trees grafted, from well and from a good source. Don't seed it. Reserve an area near your home to put it and also some open areas without trees.

> Will trees effectively stop large undergrowth to the point where I can walk around?

Some can do it (after some years), other can't. It depends on the trees, how they are packed, and the area. Beech definitely will kill anything under their canopy at long term and is a really beautiful tree, and many big conifers also, so must be placed carefully (and used sparsely).

What's the best way to source hundreds or thousands of saplings for native irish trees on a budget? How much growth per year can I expect? How can I provide symbiosis with the nearby protected raised bog and its birds?

> What's the best way to source hundreds or thousands of saplings for native irish trees on a budget?

Just pick up your own seeds, either plant it or let the nature do gladly the hard work for you.


There will be always much more seeds than the ones that will survive at the end. You can rescue seedlings growing in unsuitable areas (next a road for example) that would not survive the lawnmower.

> How much growth per year can I expect?

It depends a lot on the tree and the area, the water available etc. Fast growth is tender and not always desirable. Oaks and other long living trees will put their best efforts to grow under the surface. Don't expect a lot to see the first years but after this phase they will suddenly accelerate. You need first to know what trees are good for your area

If you want fast results, a common technique is to use fast growing / short lived trees and shrubs first (birch or rowan for example). Then seed or wait for other species to reach the area and slowly unfurl.

> How can I provide symbiosis with the nearby protected raised bog and its birds?

Plant fruit shrubs, let dead wood decay in place, use holly and blackthorn to encourage nests...

Avoid spreading invasive Rhododendron in any case.

If you have a bog near your home, the soil could be very poor and acid. This will determine what you can plant and what not. Not all trees can stand a high phreatic level. Willows can, and are easily grown from free cuttings. Rowan are excelent also in acid soils. Most trees will avoid the bog.

Wow, this is one of the better attempts to monetize an environmentalists' identity. This could literally be a wrapper around bing/google, very little investment. Build out the tree-planting department as you scale income, without having to solve the hard technical problems at all.

Kudos to them! This should be an inspirational example whenever people talk about starting a tech company on minimal code.

(Their commitment to transparency is also pretty neat -- way to understand your customers' values, and identify a niche defined by said values. A fantastic differentiator in a market that's generally commoditized these days!)

This is litterally a wrapper around bing.

The problem is that the ads are also from Bing — Ecosia doesn't track its users, Bing does.

It wraps bing. This is the 2nd time I've come across Ecosia, today I added the add-on to Firefox. Here's to hoping they actually plant the trees!

Not sure my word is going to mean much, but yes, we do indeed plant these trees :) We also publish regular tree updates to make the impact more visible (latest one is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeBhY5m9npE&) and just now some of my colleagues are in Indonesia: https://www.facebook.com/ecosia/videos/1056643057857650/

We also use a ODK-backed system for monitoring, where our partners on the ground fill in surveys about the trees they planted.

I've seen Pornhub doing similar initiatives. Haven't read any updates whether they did plant all trees that they promised to. No one keeping tab.

Seems they are a certified B-corp (just looked it up, seems legit).

Here is another reference: https://info.ecosia.org/about they have a pretty sizable team. Pretty cool!

I was working at Ecosia in 2014, the position on my CV that makes me the most proud.

Super happy that they showed up here (again). And 50M+ trees now, just amazing.

I only started at Ecosia in 2016, but I feel you.

Not sure if this is appreciated on HN (I only saw a guideline about posts, not comments), but if this piqued someone's interest, we have a bunch of open positions at the moment: https://ecosia.workable.com/

Are there any resources to find companies that give back their profits to society, especially to environment?

I think that's totally fine to link here. It's certainly something that may be of interest to folks who are in this comment section.

I think this is a great idea.

However, when I see forestry companies planting trees, they tend to only plant trees that are economically valuable to them. What results are forests with very low biodiversity because these companies have only planted a single type of tree.

How do you ensure that the trees you plant contribute to the health and biodiversity of the forests they are planted in?

So they get paid by users clicking on ads. But I don't click on ads. Am I costing them money, or just failing to earn them money? What's the deal with Microsoft, is a cut of profits, or pay per 1000 searches?

I don't recommend Ecosia for this reason. You have to expose yourself to ads and click on them for Ecosia to make money. An environmental project that encourages and depends on consumerism isn't something that I want to be part of.

This is a very shortsighted and unrealistic way of thinking. Consumerism is core to how our society functions and isn't going away - why should social good and environmentalism fly in contrast to it?

This is the same backwards line of thinking that insists non-profit compensation be lower, leading to our best and brightest wasting away spying on people at Facebook instead of optimizing drug delivery out of Dakar.

Until we get over the fact that there isn't anything inherently wrong with capitalism/consumerism, we won't be able to start making it work for our people and planet. Luckily initiatives like the B-corp are beginning to change this mentality.

> Consumerism is core to how our society functions and isn't going away - why should social good and environmentalism fly in contrast to it?

Because it's a major contributing factor to the situation we're in. It's a perfectly rational response for environmentalists to choose not to support projects like Ecosia that promote consumerism.

Ecosia isn't "promoting consumerism". It's simply accepting the reality of it and helping mitigate/counterbalance the damage. There's a key difference there.

You can ra-ra all you want about it, but consumerism isn't going anywhere - so either you work around it, or you accomplish nothing.

It's a search engine that makes money from advertising. That's essentially its core business model. I browse with uBlock Origin enabled so I don't see ads. A search on Ecosia shows me a large banner saying:

"Ads plant trees! We’ve detected that you are using an ad blocker. We plant trees thanks to income earned from ads. Please disable your ad blocker for Ecosia so that we can keep on planting."

Beneath it is a large button: "DISABLE AD BLOCKER".

To me, a site that wants me to view ads I have no interest in, is promoting consumerism. I realise this applies to a lot of sites, but it's less excusable for a project that touts itself as focusing on the environment. If you don't see a link between advertising and consumerism and the state of our environment, then I guess we look at the world differently.

For my part, I try to encourage friends to install ad blockers, and will not encourage them to visit sites that tell them to disable their ad blockers. I even worked on a page to make detecting and installing an ad blocker as easy as possible: http://blockads.fivefilters.org

Advertising has shown itself to be a vehicle for malware. Promoting it as something genuine and useful is unethical and short-sighted. Not to mention it doesn't consider the victim here at all.

>Until we get over the fact that there isn't anything inherently wrong with capitalism/consumerism

There's loads wrong with it though. We only make it work because we patch it up with numerous environmental laws, social safety nets etc

Exactly. Unrestrained consumerism is exactly the cause of deforestation and many other ills.

As they provide a wrapper for Bing and are not running their own search engine infrastructure you're probably not making big costs. I think Microsoft is in this because it's "against Google".

So you're saying Microsoft is supplying results completely for free?

That sounds unlikely to me, its undercutting their own business.

Microsoft ain't doing it for free, and they are the ones providing the ads. So whenever Ecosia plants trees, that's because Microsoft made money as well.

It says "Powered by Microsoft" on the bottom of a search results page. Is this just a wrapper around bing?

Pretty much every search box you see on the Internet is a wrapper around Google or bing, with Yandex as a distant 3rd and a few country-specific engines in China, Russia, Korea, etc.

There's also yacy which is the distributed search effort. Tiny by size, but worth mentioning.

I really like YaCy (I run a node), but a big problem with it that will prevent it from ever competing with Google/Bing is the lack of a verifiable link graph for ranking results. Right now it basically just uses full text search and a local link graph which is problematic.

>> the lack of a verifiable link graph

I hadn't heard about YaCy even though I'm in their game. I too run a search engine that doesn't use a link graph for scoring relevance. My bet is on semantic relevance over PageRank, because I think our understanding of language models have become so sophisticated we can start relying on them solely.

Also, it's harder I think to game a language model when compared to a page rank model.

What do you think is lacking from non-link graph search engines?

EDIT: maybe I misunderstood b/c it says here YaCy _has_ a link graph: https://yacy.net/en/API.html

> maybe I misunderstood b/c it says here YaCy _has_ a link graph: https://yacy.net/en/API.html

That link graph being referenced is the local nodes one, not a global one. So it only yields links that have been discovered by the node you are sending the request to.

You could send a request to each node individually and aggregate the results, however, you have no way to verify the nodes are being honest without actually crawling those pages yourself.

If I may ask, what is the project that you are working on?

Ic. Thx!

I'm working on a project similar to the YaCy one. The main difference is that I do not want or even require that each node trust each other. I let the user decide who they trust.


>> it only yields links that have been discovered by the node you are sending the request to

Wait! YaCy is a little bit hard to understand. I don't mean that in any way other than in an extremely encouraging way.

What do you mean exactly? A YaCy node will interrogate the "swarm" of data and that interrogation might yield more links compared to if you interrogate another node?

What's that all about?

What is your search engine?

How much more than "a wrapper around Bing" would you say DuckDuckGo is?

They claim to be merging 'traditional' search results from multiple providers, explicitly calling out Oath (Yahoo) as well as Bing. So, hopefully, substantially. Realistically, somewhat.

[0] https://duck.co/help/results/sources

According to Wikipedia, Yahoo is also a Bing wrapper so I'm not sure what the point in using both is.


Yes, Yahoo's independent search index was phased out over a decade ago.

Point taken. But privacy-wise, does anybody have any qualms about Ecosia?

You might want to change the defaults a bit: https://www.ecosia.org/settings

Esp, the disable personalized results.

In their privacy section they do admit to storing identifiable information for at least 7 days (possibly more) to fight spam and improve search results. They also send user identifiable information to bing, as well, who then store it for at least 4 days. Apart from that, they use third party tools in their non-search parts which might be subject to different privacy rules than their main website.

From their app, they send information to Facebook. They use the Amazon, Google, and Microsoft as advertisment providers, if I'm not mistaken.

I encourage you to read the fine print here: https://info.ecosia.org/privacy

I have none. It's Bing and the ad money goes to Ecosia.

Besides that everything I would expect from a search engine probably applies (Microsoft might get to know what I search for etc.).

But taking a little piece of cake away from Google isn't bad either.

About Ecosia, none. The ads are from Bing though, and they get user data.

Yahoo search is bing plus indexing of its own internal products (yahooo Sports/Finance/etc)

Givero also gives back to various good causes


Who owns the land you're planting on?. How can you guarantee it won't be used in the future? Companies that cause pollution should also pay a tax to repair it. This should be enforced at a government level. Maybe by UN? seeing as the environment is something countries share despite their political ideologies. It's sad we can't hold governments more accountable for false promises. I remember all the g8 summits 10+ years ago politicians back slapping and saying we'd fix this and that by 2020. Everything seems worse no? Also internet searches cost energy? Is this just offsetting? Good to hear it may be working, 51mil trees is quite a claim. I laughed this off last time I saw it as there's always someone making money of charities. It sounds like a false economy to me which you can't accurately measure results. But any effort is better than none I guess.

I linked this a different comment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ld0EDDQZg4& This is our tree planting officer explaining (among other things) how he tries to make sure we plant in the right places (and that includes land ownership questions and how to make sure the tress will still be around in a few years). As for energy consumption, we do offset the CO2 emissions that are associated with searching on Ecosia by running our own solar power plant. Here is some more information on this on our blog: https://blog.ecosia.org/co2-neutral-seach-engine-ecosia-sola...

Thanks for sharing. I’m curious to know how we would align our company to a social initiative such as this and would be curious to know if other things are sacrificed to have a decent amount of profit to pay for tree-planting?

Option A : see ads in your search every day, help plant one tree every 2 years.

Option B : block ads, be less tempted to buy crap you don't need. Save at least 7€ a month this way.

Option C : give 7€ a month to a charity you support

I choose B and C.

I don't understand why smart people think it's great to invest so much effort into redirecting such a tiny portion of ads commissions into planting trees. Just prove your point then ask for money. Please tell me what I'm missing here

I actually do the same, it is much faster to simply give money to Ecosia partners. You can go as low as 0.10$ a tree with some of them.

Still, they do a great job at finding good and trustworthy planting charities https://ecosia.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115002296049-Do... , so their work is really valuable for that.

Not sure how sustainable their business model is and I'm not a fan of Bing, but they are a decent bunch of people who have hired devs with unusual backgrounds (like me) and support the tech community over here by hosting a lot of meetups. I started using their search engine after going to some of these events :)

Appears to censor searches even with "Safe Search" set to "Off". I admittedly searched for some very offensive (though not illegal) things, but that was the whole point.

No thanks. I'll keep using DDG. Planting trees is laudable but free speech is as important to our future as anything.

Ecosia claims to respect the Do Not Track header. Even for users who don't use DNT, Ecosia offers a stronger privacy policy than Bing (which supplies the search results).

> If you want to opt out of tracking, you can activate “Do Not Track” in your browser’s settings.

> We don’t create personal profiles of you based on your search history. We actually anonymize all searches within one week.

> We don’t sell your data or your searches to advertising companies.



I quite like the idea of allowing advertisers to create profiles, but only with one week of data. I would support that as a regulatory constraint. You might get the same basic results analytically, but it feels less invasive to know that if I don’t want something to be known, it’ll be gone in a week.

It seems that they started trying a partnership with google but it was unsuccessful.


I understand Google stance but I think they should have made a bit more effort.

The problem here is that you are not allowed "incentives to click artificially on sponsored links". And the implied message of "click a link, plant a tree" is clearly and artificial incentive, even though there is a disclaimer no one reads. It makes these clicks less valuable (lower conversion rates), advertisers still pay full price, are unhappy, and because advertisers are the true Google customers they make sure it doesn't happen.

But the question would be: why not make "charity clicks", which advertisers can opt in or out of. The best, if a little evil part: good PR for everyone involved. The "plant a tree" search engine gets to grab people. Advertisers can say they support charity by allowing such lower value clicks to go through and Google can do the same. i.e. for one good action, 3 parties can claim responsibility.

This is the best way to monetize my searches. And it's so good for whole planet!

Lovely project. Incredibly smart idea on how to monetize a search engine.

@OP Wanted to know whose search result you use. I mean whose search data it is. I dont think you guys might have built a whole search engine for this? (Just curious)

Nice project by the way.

Both search and ads are from Bing.

Trees good. Ads bad.

I love it.

But, the first thing I clicked was the transparency report.

> We publish ... with a delay of 6 weeks ...

But the last report is from October 2018.

Otherwise great stuff, truly inspirational.

One of the Devs at Ecosia here. The more up-to-date reports are at our blog: https://blog.ecosia.org/tag/financial-reports/

For whatever reason the last two transparency reports were only published in their blog. This is the most recent one: https://blog.ecosia.org/december-ecosia-financial-report/

I should not have expected it to be with all the other financial reports. Totally my bad. Thank you!

Looks like a wrapper around Bing? Microsoft has an API to do that or this is a custom business relationship between them?

One of my search engines ideas is one which eliminates all sites with login/paywalls. Just one which only presents sites which are a joy to browse. Not sure where to get the initial index. (I am bootstrapped, so can't even use common crawl).

I hope that you pay to people who plant trees.

The big question here is "what trees?"

If Ecosia are planting Acacia in Spain, as seen in their map, this is wrong. Wattle is invasive in southern Europe. Some are even in the catalogue of forbidden by law species. They displace native species and are a big problem in Portugal after fire forests for example. Some species are also poisonous to cattle and wild animals

Please, left conservation efforts to professionals. They study and train for decades for something. Volunteers can do a lot of harm with the best intentions.

We work very closely with experts from experienced tree-planting organizations to make sure the best possible methods are applied. Our tree-planting officer (yep, that is his actual title) has years of experience and is our link to these partners on the ground. Here is a video of him sharing some more insights of how we pick trees and planting sites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ld0EDDQZg4&

If you scroll down a screen you will see a slideshow with information about the actual projects, not just a map with a logo indicating where the projects take place.

The project in Spain does not plant Acacia trees.

Pinus, Juniperus, Quercus and Rhamnus,... okay, that's much better.


They're behind efforts to preserve existing forest as well "Hambach forest from coal mining"


Also, I'm not sure it's fair to lump them in with well-meaning but ignorant weekend arborist.

Thanks. That's amazing.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact