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.

One, they partner with organizations that work directly on climate mitigation strategies. Big Blue Ocean Clean Up removes plastic and netting from the ocean. They also host worldwide beach cleanups. Operation Posidonia replants seagrass to “reforest” the ocean. According to their website, “seagrass absorb CO2 40 times faster than rainforest trees.”

Two, Ekoru uses hydropower and convection cooling in their operations, cutting down on their own carbon emissions. They have also configured their search pages to use less CO2 per search (.27 grams to Google’s 4.67 grams).

Ekoru lists Surfrider and Lonely Whale as two of their Ocean Warrior Affiliates — organizations that work to preserve marine environments. They also have 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. They also track 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. They address issues of deforestation across the globe and focus their efforts on especially vulnerable areas. Ecosia pays particular attention to biodiversity and working in cooperation with local communities.

As of this writing, they have planted over 140 million trees. When you search using Ecosia, you’ll see a nifty little tracker that lets you know how many trees you have planted.

Their Android app states that they “run on 200% renewable energy.”  They publish monthly financial reports and show receipts for trees they have planted.

Bonus for the privacy-conscious: They have no third-party trackers and don’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 their goals. It also lacks the engaging content that could get more people excited about using their 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. Their website is chock full of information. It starts with a video explaining their “why.”  They even have a five-part encyclopedia for those who want to learn more about marine animals. When you install their 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. Ocean Hero has recovered the plastic equivalent of over 23 million 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 couple of 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.

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.