The search engine Ecosia, which enjoys a strong following among students, has passed the latest milestone on its way to a target of using advertising revenue to plant a billion trees by 2020.

According to the counter on its website, the ten-million mark was reached Thursday 29 June.

I would be lying if I claimed not to have been sitting outside with an (ethically sourced) alcoholic beverage toasting the news…

Ecosia is a search engine with a difference. It is fast gaining traction, with an aim of harnessing the power of internet searching to create positive change. Based in a modest Berlin office, it has reached more than 5.5m active users and invested over 4m Euros into tree planting so far.

Founder Christian Kroll set up Ecosia in 2009 after his post-university travels took him to South America, and into the rainforest.

He reflected: “I visited reforestation projects and read a couple of books about climate change and globalisation, and the importance of planting trees. When I came home, I was convinced that we should all do more to save these forests, and so the idea of a search engine that plants trees was born.”

In the interests of transparency, Ecosia publish monthly financial reports which make for interesting reading. The company promises to channel a minimum of 80 percent of its profits into tree planting, and claims to pay for a tree every two seconds. Each tree costs roughly 28 euro-cents, and each search averages 0.5 cents revenue, meaning that a tree is planted on average every 56 searches.

Ecosia’s monthly turnover is on the rise; up to almost €650,000 by April this year. Of this income, roughly 13 percent was put into reserves, with eleven percent used for advertising. Around a quarter was spent on operating costs (things like salaries, tax bills, servers and the upkeep of its office) and over half – 330,000 euros – was invested directly into tree planting.

So how does Ecosia make money? Using a Microsoft Bing-based search engine and unique algorithms, the company earns from advertisers when traditional sponsored links are clicked on after searches. Profits are then passed on to tree planting projects. However, steps are in place to detect and ignore ‘fake clicks’, so there’s no point in procrastinating an afternoon away by repeatedly clicking on a sponsored link and refreshing the page.

Part of Ecosia’s PR effort includes publicising information about the tree planting projects it funds across the world. They have focused on funding reforestation efforts as far afield as Peru, Madagascar and Indonesia. Ecosia has recently embarked on a project in Tanzania with the aim of planting three million trees by early 2018, but its best known initiative is in Burkina Faso where trees are being planted to curb the expansion of the baron Sahara Desert.

Of course, the environmental importance of trees can hardly be overstated, not least for biodiversity, resources and air quality as the lungs of our planet.

Kroll admitted that his stated goal of planting a billion trees is “highly ambitious” but explained: “Trees are really awesome! As a tree grows, it absorbs a lot of CO2, which is one of the most effective ways to counter climate change. [Trees also] improve the conditions of the soil and create microclimates that improve the local agriculture. They just make so many good things happen around them.”

While it has a long way to go to reach its ambitious billion-tree target or scratch the surface of Google’s market dominance, which has come under increased scrutiny in recent days, Ecosia may just be the search engine of the future.