Ecological Intelligence : How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 4/21/2009
  • Publisher: Crown Business

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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.

Author Biography

DANIEL GOLEMAN is the author of the international bestsellers Emotional Intelligence (more than 5 million copies sold worldwide), Working with Emotional Intelligence, and Social Intelligence, and the co-author of the acclaimed business bestseller, Primal Leadership. He was a science reporter for The New York Times, was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and received the American Psychological Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in the Berkshires.


The Hidden Price of What We Buy

A while ago I made an impulse buy: a small, bright yellow wooden racing car, with a green ball for the driver's head and four black discs pasted on its sides for wheels. The toy cost just 99 cents. I bought it for my eighteen-month-old grandson, who I thought would love it.
After I came home with that little wooden racer, I happened to read that because lead in paint makes colors (particularly yellow and red) look brighter and last longer--and costs less than alternatives--cheaper toys are more likely to contain it. Then I came across a news item reporting that a test of twelve hundred toys taken from the shelves of stores--including the chain where I bought that car--revealed a large percentage contained various levels of lead.
I have no idea if the sparkling yellow paint on this toy car harbors lead or not--but I am dead certain that once it was in the hands of my grandson his mouth would be the first place it would go. Now, months later, that toy car still sits atop my desk; I never gave it to my grandson.
Our world of material abundance comes with a hidden price tag. We cannot see the extent to which the things we buy and use daily have other kinds of costs--their toll on the planet, on consumer health, and on the people whose labor provides us our comforts and necessities. We go through our daily life awash in a sea of things we buy, use, and throw away, waste, or save. Each of those things has its own history and its own future, backstories and endings largely hidden from our eyes, a web of impacts left along the way from the initial extraction or concoction of its ingredients, during its manufacture and transport, through the subtle consequences of its use in our homes and workplaces, to the day we dispose of it. And yet these unseen impacts of all that stuff may be their most important aspect.
Our manufacturing technologies and the chemistry they deploy were largely chosen in a more innocent time, one when shoppers and industrial engineers alike had the luxury of paying little or no attention to the adverse impacts of what was made. Instead they were understandably pleased by the benefits: electricity generated by burning coal, with enough to last for centuries; cheap and malleable plastics made from a seemingly endless sea of petroleum; a treasure chest of synthetic chemical compounds; cheap lead powder to add luster and life to paints. They were oblivious to the costs of these well-meaning choices to our planet and its people.
Though the composition and impacts of things we buy and use daily are for the most part the outcome of decisions made long ago, they still determine daily practice in manufacturing design and industrial chemistry--and end up in our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces. The material legacy left to us by the once wonder-inducing inventions of the industrial age that ran through the twentieth century has made life immeasurably more convenient than the life our great-grandparents knew. Ingenious combinations of molecules, never before seen in nature, concoct a stream of everyday miracles. As utilized in yesterday's business environment, today's industrial chemicals and processes made utter sense, but all too many make little sense going forward. Consumers and businesses alike can no longer afford to leave invisible decisions about those chemicals and processes--and their ecological consequences--unexamined.
In my past work I've explored what it means to be intelligent about our emotions and, more recently, about our social lives. Here I look into the sense in which we can, together, become more intelligent about the ecological impacts of how we live--and how ecological intelligence, combined with marketplace transparency, can create a mechanism for positive change.
In the interest of full disclosure, when it comes to ecological intelligence I am as clueless as most of us. But in researching and writing this book I've been for

Excerpted from Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything by Daniel Goleman
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