Book Reviews

Review of Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

More and more of us are doing what we can to support a sustainable lifestyle. We recycle, bring our own shopping bags, buy local and organic as much as possible, you know the drill. But if you’ve ever felt a little overwhelmed when you go shopping, especially for things like cell phones or clothes or dish soap, not sure which product is really a sustainable choice, you are absolutely right. You don’t really know because that sort of information hasn’t been available until recently.

In his latest book, Ecological Intelligence: how knowing the hidden impacts of what we buy can change everything, Daniel Goleman shares his exploration of what it means to be ecologically conscious in today’s world. What he finds is:

1.    Being “green” is much more complicated than we realize. Because many labels are designed to make us think a product is environmentally friendly, we don’t really know for sure which ones are and which ones aren’t. They often sound the same, intentionally. This strategy has a name: “greenwashing”.

2.    We don’t have the information we need in order to make truly green choices. Goleman offers an expanded definition of green: not just a product’s environmental impact, but its biological and social impacts as well (for example, if it contains ingredients that might cause cancer, or whether it was made with child labor).

3.    There are people out there working to bring us this information. Goleman predicts that his key idea, “radical transparency” in the marketplace, will be the next big wave of information for society to absorb and respond to. Companies like GoodGuide and Earthster are gathering data on a variety of products and analyzing their total impact, from how they are made to how they are used and disposed of. Consumers can look up products on GoodGuide (www.goodguide.com) to see what they rate on health, the environment, and society. Businesses can use Earthster (www.earthster.org) to map their supply chain, see which areas are least socially and environmentally friendly, and find and exchange information on greener processes and suppliers.

4.    When consumers have and use this information, they become powerful market shapers. They have the ability to vote with their money, to make purchasing decisions that support their values. Social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter give consumers even more power to influence the market by allowing them to voice their concerns about a product quickly to a large number of people. Thoughtful consumers can significantly influence companies to change the way they make things.

5.    When businesses have this information, they can improve their products. Businesses need to make a profit in order to survive, but they don’t necessarily have to sacrifice profit to make their products more sustainably. With Earthster, they will have the resources they need to respond to consumer demands, or to make changes of their own accord.

Ecological Intelligence is full of inspiring interviews, case studies, and a ton of useful information—a little hard to follow sometimes, but definitely worth reading. For more information and updates, you can also visit the author’s website at http://www.danielgoleman.com.

Even if you don’t pick up the book, be sure to check out GoodGuide (www.goodguide.com) and Earthster (www.earthster.org), use them, and tell everyone you know about them. Our choices matter, and we CAN make a difference!

Merry Dankanich is a local writer and avid reader whose interests include sustainability, agriculture, and health.

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