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Sustainability-in-Tech : Tree-Planting Gen-AI Search/Chatbot Released

Berlin-based green search engine company Ecosia has released a chatbot with a “green answers” option and ploughs all its advertising profits into tree-planting.

Ecosia AI Chat  

The not-for-profit company, which has been developing its “green search” since 2019 to help users make climate-active decisions about what/who they click on has announced the introduction of its Ecosia AI Chat feature. Ecosia says the “green filter” AI chatbot, currently in beta and available in select countries, means “technology could be harnessed for good.” Ecosia Chat, which is powered by a large language model AI (from OpenAI), is a chatbot designed to help users be more climate-active daily and gives sustainability-focused responses.

Uses The Green Persona 

The new chatbot, incorporated into its search offers users a “green answers” option which triggers a layered green persona that can provide users with more sustainable results and answers. For example, Ecosia says “You can ask it to plan a climate action weekend or write a Shakespeare sonnet about trees – the possibilities are virtually unlimited.” 

Independent 

Ecosia is one of the first independent search engines to roll out its own generative AI chatbot and is keen to emphasise the chatbot’s low carbon footprint, and how this aligns with the company’s environmental commitment.

Tree-Planting 

One of the key elements of Ecosia’s environmental focus is using all the profits from the advertising on its search engine to fund tree-planting around the world, which it gives regular updates about on its website. For example, this month, its update features news from its tree-planting partner Symagine Solutions in West Bengal, South-East India that more than one million trees from 23 species have been planted by Ecosia community over the past two years.

In addition to tree-planting, Ecosia also says that it puts profits into producing enough solar energy to power all its searches twice over.

Other Green Features 

Other green features that Ecosia includes in its search engine results to enable users to make more conscious decisions include:

– Placing a green leaf icon alongside the websites of planet-friendly organisations.

– Placing a fossil fuel icon next to “some of the most destructive actors” such as banks who are financing fossil fuels.

COP28 In Dubai 

The announcement of Ecosia’s latest green search features came just before the beginning of COP28 in Dubai, the latest Climate Change Conference, which Ecosia has criticised saying “we got together with climate activists to hold COP28 accountable.” 

Hallucinations 

Despite Ecosia AI Chat’s green features, like many other new AI chatbots, it’s been reported that it suffers sometimes giving out incorrect information, i.e. AI hallucinations.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Considering that the UN recently reported that the world was on track for a 3°C rise in temperatures within this century, despite the COP21 (2015) Paris Agreement establishing measures to keep the global rise in temperatures well below 2°C, it’s not surprising that Ecosia’s been critical of COP28 being held in Dubai. For example, as Ecosia points out, COP28’s president, Sultan Al Jaber, is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company ADNOC.  That aside, Ecosia is non-profit, putting its money where its mouth is with a green-matters-first approach (putting profits into tree planting), and with Ecosia being powered by solar energy (in addition to its green search filtering) it has some clear differentiating factors in the AI chatbot market that may be valued by many users. The fact that it’s one of the rare independents (not openly linked to the big players) may also help its credentials and traction.

Clearly, Ecosia’s boss, Christian Kroll, believes that AI has opened up the market more for smaller independents and believes his very different offering will enable him (and perhaps others) to target a global increase within search engine market share that they wouldn’t have been able to before AI chatbots came along. The choice offered to users by rule-changes brought about by the EU Digital Markets Act from March 2024 may also favour companies like Ecosia as consumers will be able to choose which browsers, search engines, and virtual assistants they install, perhaps to align with their environmental concerns.

That said, Ecosia faces some tough competition from more established generative AI chatbots and new ones which are being introduced thick and fast. Also, Ecosia would probably admit that being powered by an OpenAI LLM means that it doesn’t have full control over just how ‘green’ its chatbot is, and that it doesn’t have the answer to solving the bigger issue of how much energy and water generative AI chatbots use. Specifically, they create huge energy and cooling demands at the data-centre level. Also, it could be argued that planting trees (although beneficial) is not stopping all the carbon from being produced in the first place (a criticism of offsetting). However, Ecosia’s very different green offering is likely to be attractive to many people going forward and could put the organisation in a good position to take advantage of law changes that could favour it next year.