Ecosia is the alternative to Google - CEO, Christian Kroll

As you might have heard, all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl. From my experience, I have seen that this also applies to Jack. In the last couple of weeks, my daily routine has pretty much been the same; wake up, prepare for work, work, get back home and repeat! So when I saw the event organised by Etienne and Lauren at Mindspace, I pretty much took it as a getaway ticket. Again, It afforded me the chance to physically link up and interact with friends.

This was the second event I was attending at Mindspace. This particular event was aimed at creating a dialogue about adding value as a growing business. The first speaker was Christian Kroll, the CEO of Ecosia. As I came to find out, like Google search, Ecosia was a search engine. Christian boldly asserted, "Ecosia is the alternative to Google that lets you save the world!" He went further, “You search the web, we plant trees! Searching with Ecosia is like searching with any other search engine, with one major difference. We use the profit we make from your searches to plant trees where they are needed most”.

Within the first few minutes of listening to Christian speak, I whispered to Lauren who was sitting beside me in the hall, "I want to have an interview with him". It was either she was going to help me make it happen, or I was going to find a way to get him at all cost. Luckily, after he finished his presentation and was about leaving, I tracked him down. The outcome of our interaction is what am serving you today. So as usual, enjoy!

Would you mind sharing your background and how you came up with Ecosia?

Christian: I studied Business Administration, so I guess you can say that was not the typical background for what I am doing now. By education, I am not an environmentalist, but looking back to my university days, I knew that just becoming rich was not what I wanted for myself. Nevertheless, I still didn't know what I wanted to do, so I started travelling for some time. I lived in Nepal for about half a year and in South America for about one year. The experience of living abroad opened my eyes to the problems we have on our planet, and I felt like I needed to do something. After that experience, I decided I was going to dedicate my life to trying to solve some of these problems. So that's how I started Ecosia. 

When did you start Ecosia?

Ecosia started in 2009. But in the early years, it was really just me with an idea and asking a few friends and free freelancers if they could help me here and there. In the beginning, I even started writing some of the code myself (which were quite horrible codes), but somehow we needed to start getting Ecosia off the ground. It did take a long time for Ecosia to become what it is today. It was only about three to four years ago that we could really hire people and pay them decent salaries. Before that, it was always just us trying to pull things somehow together. But now we have a lot of people finding out about Ecosia, so we are growing a lot, and that makes a lot of things much more relaxed.

Looking at where you started from, how would you evaluate the success you have achieved so far?

When I started Ecosia, my dream was to be able to plant one million trees eventually. And we achieved that about six years after we started. Then I thought to myself, wow, we have done a great job. But afterwards, I looked into how many trees are being cut down every year, and then I knew that there is still a lot more that needs to be done. In reality, about 15 billion trees are cut down every year. So if we keep thinking small, then it's not going to change the path the world is taking. Hence, in forcing ourselves to think big, we decided we were going to plant one billion trees instead of one million. After we attain this goal, we will aim for one trillion trees which is what is needed to solve climate change and many of the problems in the developing world.

For example, there is a lot of poverty, droughts and several other challenges that many people in developing countries are dealing with. Many of these problems are closely related to trees being cut down. So if we manage to reach our goal, we will also be able to solve some of these problems, because they are interconnected. In my opinion, tree planting is one of the best things we can do to address many of these problems because tree planting can solve even challenges like lack of access to drinking water. If the trees can hold the water, then the groundwater shield can go up again. Also, if the trees can keep the water, that means the rivers wouldn't dry up during the year. Our vision is to make the world a better and greener place. I think this is achievable as long as we keep getting more people to use Ecosia.

After the trees are planted, How do you monitor the growth process to ensure they are not cut down again?

This is an aspect that is also quite important to us. I mean, if you plant trees and they get cut down again, you have achieved nothing, but only just wasted money. So what we try to do in all our project is first to make sure that people understand the benefit of the trees that we are planting, and also make them know that the trees are giving them more benefits when they are standing than when they are cut down. And if we are not convinced that we have such knowledge and understanding in place, then we pretty much will not embark on a project. So we require full buy-in from the communities, that they agree that they want these trees and want these trees standing because they understand that because of the trees they will have better grazing for their animals, better access to water or as part of the trees better access to firewood. We believe if people understand that they can be able to use the forest sustainably, then everything is fine. It is ofcourse sometimes very tricky because often people are in stressful situations, and it is tough to resist the temptation of wanting to cut a tree down if you desperately need firewood. So we try to be aware of these challenges and take all necessary local factors into account before embarking on a project while making sure the people understand the benefit.

What are some of the biggest setback you have had to cope with on the Ecosia project?

Well, I think it was just difficult in the beginning because we didn't know how to build up a search engine, how to get many people to use the site, and personally, I didn't have so much experience on how to build up an organisation like Ecosia. Also, Initially when I started Ecosia, we had a partnership with Google. It worked well in the beginning, and we attracted a lot of interest. But after about a week or so, Google ended the partnership saying they didn't want to work with us anymore. That meant our whole website had to go down and we lost all our users. This was a difficult moment for me, but I still believed in the idea, and I convinced myself to go on and keep trying till I found another solution.

My take: I think you should check Ecosia out and see what it is like compared to the Google experience, especially if you want to live in a greener world - Just a suggestion 😊