Goleman's Ecological Intelligence Book Review

Goleman's Ecological Intelligence Book Review

Friday, June 26, 2009 - 8:00am


Welcome to a running review of Daniel Goleman's newest book, Ecological Intelligence: How knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We buy Can Change Everything.

What's a "running review"? I'm going to post impressions as I read the book. Not chapter-by-chapter necessarily, but a series nonetheless, a serialized book review. You can discover it with me.

In service of full disclosure, I'm starting with a positive bias toward the book. I always hear good things about Goleman's most famous books -- the Emotional Intelligence series, but I've not read any. More influential on creating my favorable bias is the almost shockingly parallel themes seemingly presented in Ecological Intelligence to those around which we conceived and designed ElegantRoots.com, or ElegRoo as we affectionately call it.

Here goes -- chapter 1. Goleman begins with "Our world of material abundance comes with a price tag, a toll on the planet, on consumer health, on the people whose labor provides our necessities and comforts. Every thing we buy and use has a history and a future, largely hidden from us. Like a shadow attached to everything we buy, there is a web of impacts from extraction and/or concoction to manufacture, transport, use and disposal.

This premise is undeniable. When it comes to our purchases, we are ignorant of the consequences of our choices. If we recycled our aluminum soda cans and our plastic water bottles, as we should, we have recognized a need to mitigate the consequences of our purchases, but still, we don't really know the consequences of either our purchase or our recycling efforts. The reason for our ignorance isn't nefarious.

"Ingenious combinations of molecules, never before seen in nature, concoct a stream of everyday miracles." But the processes of extraction, production, transport, disposal, etc, were largely created in an innocent time when we could afford to be blissfully ignorant of the adverse impacts of these processes. This leaves us with a material legacy inherited by the decisions and inventions of a now past industrial age. Yesterday these processes might have made utter sense, but no more.

We can no longer afford to leave the chemicals and processes unexamined.

Here's an example:  Melamine, the hazardous chemical that poisoned our pets in the US and poisoned babies in China, makes its way into baby formula in North America. Tests of the formula packaging and containers come back negative. So, how could melamine move from farm fields to formula? Officials are uncertain, but suggest "that milk from cattle exposed to cyromazine (an insecticide) may contain melamine." That theory still does not explain how melamine wound up in samples of soy milk that Health Canada also tested. Last year, Stephen Sundlof of the U.S. Food and Drug Association assured the public that low levels of melamine, such as those found in the Canadian formula, are “safe” for infants. Reported by Julie Karceski. http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4709

Can we afford any longer to leave unexamined the processes we've created to bring infant formula or soy milk to the shelves of our supermarkets?

In Ecological Intelligence, Goleman looks at "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."

This is what ElegRoo is all about. We're concerned with ecological impacts as well as social impacts. We provide transparency as fully as we can through our esigner Profiles and "our four Ws". We want to lead a commercial revolution that teaches consumers to ask Who, What, Where, Why and then vote with their purchasing dollars to better "align our decisions with our values."

Goleman introduces a transparency more clinical and scientific than ElegRoo is presently capable of offering. He calls it calls "radical transparency." The science of Industrial Ecology combines chemistry, physics, and engineering "to quantify the impacts on nature of man-made things."

This next wave of information "will reshape the marketing environment" creating massive shifts to greener, cleaner technologies and products.

But is Goleman engaging in prediction, argument, wishful thinking, or naivete? Or a bit of each? There's always a lot of resistance to change. Lots of resistance to taking responsibility (see, global warming "debate"). Even many who accept the need for change are hooked on the convenience that blissful ignorance seems to allow. On the plus side, there seems to be more movement all the time toward green concerns. Let's hope it's not another example of main stream big business coopting green concerns into just another trend to be discarded in its turn with all the other fashions.

Goleman hits another concept that deeply tracks what Elegroo is all about. "The business rule of thumb in the last century -- cheaper is better -- is being supplemented by a new mantra for success: sustainable is better, healthier is better, and humane is better, too."

This fits perfectly with ElegRoo's theme that people should "Buy less, but buy better."

"Cheaper is better" leads to two conscequences: we buy too much because we can; and "cheap-as-possible" things are ultimately unsatisfying -- like a bag of chips, you eat too much because you never get satisfied. "Buy less, Buy Better" would have people buying things that have meaning because they had meaning to the people who designed, created, crafted, and delivered them. Take a handmade Zulu basket or a lavender spa set made by the family who grew the organic lavender. Meaning lasts. At Elegant Roots, we strive to offer gift choices that are as meaningful to recipient and creator as the sentiment of the giver.

Enough about Chapter 1 (all of 11 pages long).