Young man using tablet computer at home

We’ve heard of life hacks. How about a hack for making a difference? Make one small tweak to something you do every day — searching the internet — and you can help protect the earth’s ecosystems and provide assistance to those in need. All you have to do is use a different search engine.

Surprised? You’re in good company. Most of us don’t give our search engines a second thought — or quite understand the difference between a search engine and a web browser. We probably didn’t even choose the search engine we use most.

How Does Changing My Search Engine Help?

Search engines make money by hosting ads. Whenever users click on an ad, the search engine makes money. The ones we’re sharing with you have committed to funneling significant portions (sometimes all) of their profits to environmental or social good causes.

These alternative search engines don’t get a lot of attention. Let’s remedy that by introducing a few of them to you now.

Ekoru Works to Keep Oceans Clean & Green

Ekoru serves double environmental duty as a search engine:

  • It partners with organizations that work directly on climate mitigation strategies. Big Blue Ocean Cleanup removes plastic and netting from the ocean. The organization also hosts worldwide beach cleanups. Operation Posidonia replants seagrass to “reforest” the ocean. According to its website, “seagrass absorb CO2 40 times faster than rainforest trees.”

Ekoru lists Surfrider and Lonely Whale as two of its Ocean Warrior Affiliates — organizations that work to preserve marine environments. It also has a short list of for-profit affiliates that use recycled ocean plastics, produce ocean-friendly products, or support ocean conservation, including Love Beauty and Planet.

Ekoru keeps a running total of kilograms of CO2 emissions saved by users collectively. It also tracks your stats for plastic bottles removed and blades of seagrass planted.

underwater view of seagrass and school of fish in clean ocean

Ecosia Plants Trees & Protects Biodiversity

Ecosia’s search engine was created in 2009. The organization addresses issues of deforestation across the globe and focuses its efforts on especially vulnerable areas. Ecosia pays particular attention to biodiversity and working in cooperation with local communities.

As of this writing, Ecosia has planted over 162.7 million trees. When you search using Ecosia, you’ll see a nifty little tracker that lets you know how many trees you have planted.

Its Android app states that it runs on “200% renewable energy.”  Ecosia publishes monthly financial reports and show receipts for trees it has planted. Bonus for the privacy-conscious: Ecosia has no third-party trackers and doesn’t sell your data.

Ecosia is the first German company to achieve Certified B Corporation status.

giveWater Helps Provide Clean Water and Sanitation

Michael Feeley founded giveWater after learning of Scott Hamilton’s nonprofit, charity:water. Both organizations exist to address the pressing need for clean, accessible water in many corners of the world. The search engine is a for-profit LLC that donates all its profits to charity:water and other organizations that bring clean water and sanitation to people living in places without that infrastructure.

giveWater’s website is pretty bare-bones compared to other social good search engines. It doesn’t share progress on the organization’s goals. It also lacks the engaging content that could get more people excited about using its search engine.

Young girls getting fresh water in the community hand water pump in rural Africa

Ocean Hero Recovers Ocean-Bound Plastic & Builds Recycling Infrastructure

Ocean Hero knows how to get users excited about making a difference. Its website is chock full of information. It starts with a video explaining its “why.” The organization even has a five-part encyclopedia for those who want to learn more about marine animals. When you install its browser extension, you’ll periodically see pop-up quizzes about marine ecosystems and plastic pollution.

Ocean Hero partners with Plastic Bank to establish and improve recycling infrastructures globally. In countries such as Indonesia, Haiti, and the Philippines, plastic becomes a valued commodity to be traded in for cash. As of this writing, Ocean Hero has recovered the plastic equivalent of over 36.5 million plastic bottles from the ocean.

Tips for Using a New Search Engine

We’re creatures of habit. It takes time for us to adjust to changes, even minor ones. A few things to know when using a new search engine:

  • Be prepared for a different visual experience. If you’re used to Google, another search engine will look strange.
  • Search results may be different from what you’ve come to expect. Give yourself a little time to get used to navigating search results.
  • Finally, and this is a big one … don’t try to game the system in order to support the cause. Random or excessive clicks on ads will trigger alerts that penalize the organizations you want to support.

Originally published on January 5, 2022, this article was updated in November 2022.

By Mary McDonald

Mary McDonald is a freelance writer based in Central Massachusetts. After working as a teacher for many years, she now writes about mental health, wellness, and the environment. You can find her on LinkedIn.