By Katrien Potgieter and Rayhaan Joseph
“The mandates of a few political leaders have outweighed the concerns of millions, leaving people and the natural world we depend on at risk. Catastrophe is a strong word but it is not strong enough for a future with four degrees of warming.” These are strong words from Samantha Smith, leader of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)'s global climate and energy initiative. Not enough? Consider those of Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International executive director, in the wake of COP17
: "The grim news is that the blockers led by the US have succeeded in inserting a vital get-out clause that could easily prevent the next big climate deal being legally binding. If that loophole is exploited, it could be a disaster. Right now the global climate regime amounts to nothing more than a voluntary deal that's put off for a decade.”
Green role players could not find a better time to join the fight against global warming. It’s something we’ve taken to heart at our head offices – Newsclip Media Monitoring’s newly built solar farm provides up to 40% of the building’s energy. It’s an initiative that drew the eye of David Hounson, the sales and marketing director for Ads4Trees
, a carbon-free search engine that plants trees and food gardens in response to search queries.Ads4Trees
, both search engine and pay-per-click ad market, went live on 1 October 2011, but is the "product of four years of product development, having started life as a simple online business directory and then being subject to numerous revisions and improvements until it evolved into the service you see today. The original concept was created by Charles Ash, ex-Marketingweb
editor," says Hounson.
One of Ads4Trees
’ main aims is to have planted 50-million trees in five years. This may seem a lofty goal to the average climate change cynic, but Hounson’s response is confident. “So far we've only planted about 600 trees, but we have no doubt that this will be increasing by at least a factor of 10 within the next three months, once all systems are online and we are properly in the market. Depending on the advertiser's package, they will be provided with GPS coordinates to where their trees have been planted. In addition, we provide a filming service for bigger advertisers who want to plant 1 000 or more trees, so the advertiser has a fun, documentary-style record of their contribution to the environment and of course, they can use this for their own PR and CSI purposes.”
Advertisers will also be able to track the growth progress of their own trees, and be actively involved in the expansion of the green ideology. The scope of Ads4Trees
’ vision in terms of viral social uptake is not limited to the local. In the vein of snowballing social activism movements, he sees this initiative as having the potential to spread globally. “Besides planting opportunities in South Africa, we also have some global reforestation partners where trees are planted in developing countries such as Malawi, Honduras and Ecuador. It's important for people to understand that global warming (as the name implies) is a global phenomenon and although Ads4Trees
is a South African, home-grown business, we cannot afford to focus exclusively on South Africa with regards to reforestation. By choosing to plant through our international reforestation partners, we are able to provide far more trees per rand, so it does help us plant more trees in a global sense.”
“Like Yahoo, Google, Bing
has a fully-featured pay-per-click ad engine running, [allowing] advertisers to register, purchase advertising and create their own text ads," says Hounson. "These ads are then published alongside our search results and are also published through our publisher network.” Through MobiPreneurz.com
, people can register from their phone and earn money by referring various products and services from their phone. Hounson explains that a MobiPreneurz.com
user can earn 10% of that advertiser's spend for as long as that advertiser keeps advertising with them.
search engine is 'green', as Hounson explains: “Our data centre is run exclusively on green energy (hydro-electric power). Hydro-electricity has no emissions, is plentiful, clean and can provide base load electricity to power many developing economies. Our data centre is located in Germany.”
But how viable is an initiative like Ads4Trees
, and what will it take for more advertisers/companies to come to the party in joining the fight against global climate change? “I think many companies have already started taking some strident steps in helping fight climate change. The COP17
conference held recently in Durban definitely helped many South Africans realise the severity of climate change and how we need to either adapt or die," he says, adding that statistics show that consumers are prepared to spend more money with companies that have an explicitly green or environmentally friendly stance. “Ads4Trees
is striving to be that missing link between consumers and the new business imperative of going green. Just by using our search engine on a daily basis, consumers will know that they are contributing to reforestation (remember, we plant one tree for every 500 searches which you do on our search engine). In addition, our service is run on green energy and we have generous revenue-sharing opportunities coming online [in 2012].”
Since its launch, the Ads4Trees
search engine has shown growth, which Hounson describes as being on track with the company’s projections, while recognising that Ads4Trees
is not breaking any web traffic records (yet). “We're comfortably growing while running the service in beta and ironing out all back-end issues as they arise. We've deliberately gone for a staggered launch approach and by early 2012, most of our supporting systems and services will be brought online to help grow Ads4Trees
in a unique and radical way,” he adds.
is using data from Google
to power its own search results. However, the company will be getting its own indexing and spidering capacity online in its data centre by mid-2012, thus moving towards being more self-reliant as a search provider. That said, establishing itself as competition to these online giants is not on Ads4Trees
’ to-do list. “All we are is a small South African female-empowered start-up with big dreams and intentions to make a difference.”
"With things moving so fast online, it's difficult to predict what the future might look like - plus, with the growth of movements like Occupy Wall Street, the future of search might very well be corporation-free, open-source and peer-to-peer. For now though, Ads4Trees
provides consumers with more choice, good search results, a revenue opportunity and an opportunity to help save the environment.” The road to making a difference in terms of global warming, according to Hounson, can start with a simple click.
But what then of advertising, and particularly advertising revenue, a key element to the survival and continued growth of an internet venture of this kind? Hounson says that thus far, a few advertisers have come on board, adding that in online advertising, a 'chicken and egg' scenario most often exists. "This means that advertisers will only advertise once you've got stellar traffic, but it's often that you only get stellar traffic once you've got the funds to achieve it (there are a few rare exceptions)."
The unique nature of the Ads4Trees
search engine has been a benefit in this respect and Hounson says that the product is so compelling that “most times, by the end of our meeting with various marketing and CSI departments, they're just as excited as we are and can't wait to get involved or be associated with Ads4Trees”. The company has so far focused on strategic partnerships and the corporate market, most of which were finalised by the end of January when the search engine’s supporting systems went online, but has big things planned for 2012. Hounson says that from this position, it will be difficult for advertisers to ignore the company’s 'value proposition'.
Bearing in mind that Ads4Trees
is such an out-of-the-box initiative and still in its infancy, gauging the industry response has shown its potential for growth. Hounson says the search engine has so far been featured on “a few forward-thinking sites”, with the idea also garnering attention from luminaries like World Wide Worx managing director, Arthur Goldstuck who, Hounson says, suggested that with the right support, the service could become a credible alternative to the mainstream players. “We firmly believe that once all our systems are online and working in unison, it will be tough to ignore Ads4Trees
, as we bring new meaning to ‘green advertising’.”
As to whether the initiative has received any criticism, Hounson says that not much has risen to the surface as yet - "other than people thinking we're insane to even think of starting a new search and online advertising service”.
is not trying to be the next Google
(although that would be lovely), we're just trying to provide a quality, worthwhile service that has significant benefits for advertisers and for the environment because ultimately, if we cannot get advertisers and consumers to realise the value of going green, we've doomed ourselves and the environment. The green economy MUST work. Ads4Trees
is a way for us to demonstrate, catalyse and help achieve a state where advertisers are able to measurably tap into the public's pro-green sentiment. To this end, we welcome any and all criticism that can help us improve and better our service.”