Should You Switch Search Engine To Reduce Your Environmental Impact?

Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

‘One sec, I’ll just Google it’ — a sentence that we hear on the regular in the internet-driven world of today.

In fact, on average each of us makes 3–4 internet searches every single day, with Google being by far the most commonly used search engine.

Google receives over 40,000 searches every single second, adding to up to a total of 3.5 billion searches every day worldwide. And these searches are something most of us do mindlessly, without considering or realising the environmental impact which search engines may have.

Any time we use the internet it has environmental implications. The internet relies on servers which are located in data centres across the world, connected by cables, switches, and routers. All of this requires a lot of energy to run.

As the number of people reliant on the internet continues to grow, the energy used to keep it running grows too. Research suggests that by 2025 data centres could consume one fifth of all electricity globally.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This is somewhat inevitable. And as it stands, much of the energy used to power these data centres comes from burning fossil fuels, meaning that it can be very carbon intensive. A 2015 study, for instance, found that internet use results in as much CO2 emissions as the aviation industry.

Google itself conducted a piece of research in 2009 that determined that one Google search is equivalent of 0.2 grams of carbon emissions. So, those 3–4 daily searches we each do represents 0.6–0.8g of carbon emissions.

As an organisation, Google do appear to be working on their carbon footprint. They claim that they are now carbon neutral, though this is only due to their carbon offsetting programme. They’re also working to make their data centres run more efficiently so that they use less energy.

But, are there alternatives to Google which would reduce your carbon footprint from internet searches? It seems so.

Eco-friendly alternatives to Google

Of course, the most eco-friendly alternative is to reduce your internet usage entirely, only searching when necessary. But for those times when it is necessary, there are now several alternatives to Google which may be more environmentally friendly. Here are two.

Ecosia.org

Ecosia is a certified Bcorp, using the ad revenue generated by users of the search engine to plant trees which remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. In the organisation’s lifetime, they’ve planted over 132 million trees at over 9,000 sites across the world. Ecosia claim that each search made using their site actually removes 1kg of carbon emissions from the environment through their tree planting — though this is hard to verify, with carbon removal depending on the type of tree, its age, how long it lives etc.

At the same time, Ecosia are also supporting renewable energy. They have invested in their own solar plant, supplying enough renewable energy to the grid to directly offset the energy used through internet searches on their site.

Oceanhero.today

Ocean hero have a similar model to Ecosia, using the ad revenue generated through the site to do environmental good. Their focus is on ocean conservation, and they partner with Plastic Bank to remove post-consumer plastic waste from the oceans. They estimate that 17 tabs opened on Ocean Hero equates to one plastic bottle being removed from the ocean.

Ocean Hero also focus on education, so they use ocean photography throughout their site, and have messages and pop ups for users aiming to educate around oceans and their preservation.

So should you switch up your search engine?

Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, changing your search engine alone isn’t going to do much to save the planet from the climate crisis.

That’s because there are a few much bigger factors which dominate our individual carbon footprints: the transport methods we use regularly, how we eat, and the energy we use to power our houses.

So, if you’re serious about wanting to reduce your environmental impact, start with these factors. If you’re cycling and walking when possible, reducing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet, and using a renewable energy provider, then you’re already doing a great job at reducing your environmental impact.

If you want to keep making positive steps towards cutting your individual carbon footprint, though, then switching to a search engine which is actively using its profit to do environmental good is a great option. It’s quick and easy, and won’t make a negative impact on your quality of life. Plus, making these small changes can be a great place to start making your own actions more sustainable.

If you liked this post, you might also like my posts on other common decisions which influence your environmental impact:

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