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Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy

Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy

The bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership now brings us Ecological Intelligence—revealing the hidden environmental consequences of what we make and buy, and how with that knowledge we can drive the essential changes we all must make to save our planet and ourselves.

We buy “herbal” shampoos that contain industrial chemicals that can threaten our health or contaminate the environment. We dive down to see coral reefs, not realizing that an ingredient in our sunscreen feeds a virus that kills the reef. We wear organic cotton t-shirts, but don’t know that its dyes may put factory workers at risk for leukemia. In Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reveals why so many of the products that are labeled green are a “mirage,” and illuminates our wild inconsistencies in response to the ecological crisis.

Drawing on cutting-edge research, Goleman explains why we as shoppers are in the dark over the hidden impacts of the goods and services we make and consume, victims of a blackout of information about the detrimental effects of producing, shipping, packaging, distributing, and discarding the goods we buy.

But the balance of power is about to shift from seller to buyer, as a new generation of technologies informs us of the ecological facts about products at the point of purchase. This “radical transparency” will enable consumers to make smarter purchasing decisions, and will drive companies to rethink and reform their businesses, ushering in, Goleman claims, a new age of competitive advantage.

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Customer Reviews

42 of 45 people found the following review helpful 5.0 out of 5 stars
Transforming the world from the inside out, April 29, 2009 By  Mark D. Bello (Lafayette, CO) – See all my reviews
It’s the ultimate detective work: examining the processes (including energy, chemicals, social impacts) involved with creating, transporting, storing and ultimately consuming and disposing of “stuff.” Author Goleman digs deep into “life cycle analysis” (LCA) of a wide range of products, looking at the environmental and social ramifications that are usually “out of sight, out of mind,” guided by expert Gregory Norris. The insights are illuminating and go far beyond the usual (casual) carbon calculation. The process of recycling glass alone– and the energy and chemistry involved– is a real eye-opener, reminding us that reducing our impact to CO2 emissions vastly oversimplifies our footprint on the planet.

In my mind, this approach of telling stories and conducting forensic investigations into “stuff” should be embedded throughout education, because it is inherently interdisciplinary, combining math and science, but also social studies, history, psychology, business, sociology. It’s also timely and would contribute to “eco-school” and 100% green school goals that are currently being developed.

For business people, this book is a must. While the “greening” of business is nothing new and is all too often manifest as “green-washing,” there are signs that business is taking “cradle to grave” analysis of products and the supply chain seriously, in part because regulation of embedded greenhouse gases will require careful accounting, in part because of increased social responsibility, and in part because, when done correctly, it can save money, reduce waste, and provide a competitive advantage over the competition.

Goleman rightly points out that we can’t consume our way of the dire situation we are in, but we can reduce our consumption and buy smartly. While a few individuals by choice or circumstances leave little environmental footprint, for most of it the challenge is to become significantly more aware of the impacts or the products and services we choose, thereby minimizing not only our carbon footprint, but our overall influence on the planet.

Both the book and the CD version (spoken by the author) are well reasoned, well presented investigations into “stuff” in all its shapes and sizes, providing fresh insights into the complexities and hard choices that must be made at all levels of society in order to turn the tide of waste and social/environmental degradation and foster the new energy economy with resilient, sustainable communities.

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful 1.0 out of 5 stars
This book is not about ecology and it lacks intelligence, January 15, 2014 By  MarkSee all my reviews
I am appreciative of Goleman’s idea of highlighting different branches or domains of intelligence, which is why I purchased this book. However, ecological intelligence is the wrong title for this book because neither of these subject areas are covered. I am a practicing ecologist and I am working on a second masters degree in ecoliteracy education. I am also the primary author for the Wikipedia ecology page. Hence, this book seemed like a good place to turn for my research. This book is about changing market decisions that are considered to be more ‘ecologically’ ethical in Goleman’s mind, but the problem is that the connections between the market choices and their ecological impacts are not clear at all.

This book needs an introduction to ecology. For example, Goleman could have introduced some of the work by Howard Odum, a classical ecologist who ushered in a new era of understanding in the ecological sciences and wrote about the unification of ecology, economics and energy. Perhaps a historical account of the ecological sciences going back to Linnaeus or even Haeckel who first coined the word ecology. This would give some perspective on what ecology really means. Goleman needs to introduce and then build upon actual ecological literature to make the correct linkages. There was lots of opportunity to visit some of the ideas of natural capitalism and ecosystem services as they relate to critically to ecological intelligence. He mentions these, but so briefly that the reader cannot leave with an understanding of what these subjects are really about. There is no mention of the research in environmental education looking at the psychological or affectual relations between learning and ecological immersion, which would have been a good place to start.

This book is nothing more than a consumers guide to green shopping behavior. It is questionable if the green guides advocated by the author have any real ecological benefits because Goleman is clearly out of his area of expertise. Biodiversity is mentioned briefly on page 36 and 63, which is shocking given that ecology and biodiversity go hand in hand. On page 63, for example, he talks about biodiversity in life cycle assessment, one of the few places where he reaches a bit beyond the margins and into the realm of ecology, yet he makes a terrible mistake: "Loss of biodiversity refers to the degree of species extinction caused by a given process or substance." This is false. Biodiversity is more than species, it includes the functional side to ecosystems such as migration plus the nested hierarchy of life including genes, organisms, species and all the way up to the biosphere. Goleman briefly mentions a few key ecological concepts, but he does not explain them properly or by trying to make the text simple to read the deeper meaning of the concepts is lost in translation.

If I buy a book on ecology and intelligence, it needs to be intelligently written and I want to learn something about ecosystems. If the title of a book is about ecology and intelligence these two subject areas need to be clearly defined and addressed. This book fails on all of these accounts.This book presents a mainstream view on what ecology might mean. The unfortunate side to this is that Goleman is a popular author. Many people will read this book and will leave with little understanding of ecology, they will spread further myths about ‘ecology’ and what it means, and the same holds for the meaning of intelligence as it relates to this important topic. It is as though Goleman is thinking too narrowly about human ecology, but even if he is geared solely on the human dimension he misses the holistic side to the debate. This is surprising because ecology is a holistic scientific discipline, whereas Goleman reduces it down to consumer behavior and how this might change things on the periphery. I have no idea where he is going with this and it certainly isn’t ecological. Goleman needs to read up on the ecological sciences if he is going to write about this subject. I hope that Goleman writes another version of this book, because he can do much better than this and needs to fix his mistakes.

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful 3.0 out of 5 stars
Transparency, May 27, 2009 By  Stephen T. Hopkins (Oak Park, Illinois) – See all my reviews
I thought about viral marketing after I finished reading Daniel Goleman’s latest book, Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. In the same way that companies can use organized word of mouth campaigns to push products, consumers have an increasing number of ways to let their views be known and shared to influence products. Goleman proposes or anticipates the development of what he calls radical transparency by which all the contents and hidden costs of all products are visible to consumers. With that knowledge, sustainability becomes more likely, dangerous ingredients are eliminated, and we are more likely to have product choices that are green and safe. While I found Goleman’s presentation to be pedantic at times, and preachy at others, the bulk of his book presents some clear thinking about one area in which consumers can take action: the decision of what to buy and what to avoid. Anyone making products will find Ecological Intelligence a useful book to read and compare organizational readiness for consumers that will be more activist in their expectations and actions.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

Last modified on Thursday, 22 September 2016 12:10

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