May 17, 2009

Saving the Enviroment Thru Ecological Intelligence

This week Bill Moyers talked with Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, about his new book, Ecological Intelligence.

Bill Moyers introduced the segment by describing the brilliant piece, The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard that describes the impact on the environment from the stuff we buy from cradle to grave. One of the biggest problems we have today is understanding our own impact on the earth and the impact of products we use on our long term health. Once when people lived much closer to their environments, they could see the consequences of what they took from the earth and what happened to it when they were done. But today we buy stuff like computers with parts mined and manufactured thousands of miles away brought to us via cargo ships and rail or road with uncounted costs in greenhouse gases, and when it is obsolete, it is once more shipped across the world and stripped down to its most basic and toxic elements by people who pay for this with their lives and the health of their descendants and their environment. Would we choose to be more earth-friendly if we could understand the "externalities" of our purchases?

Daniel Goleman says yes and he describes the idea in his latest book. The science of industrial ecology is starting to assemble data that help track way products are made and their effect throughout our lives. This is a transformative and powerful concept. In fact, even before his book was published, it was touted by Time as one of the 10 ideas that are changing the world right now.

BILL MOYERS: When I finished your book, I wrote down what I took to be your message. Here it is. The things we buy and use come usually with a hidden price tag. And if we don't read that hidden price tag our children and grandchildren face a disaster. Fair enough?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: I think that's well put. The sad fact is that what we see in the store, what we put in our homes, what we use every day, all those objects, all those friendly products that we're so used to, has a hidden legacy which has to do with their impacts on the environment, on our health, on ecosystems, on the people that made them, that starts from the moment that they start to extract the ingredients. Manufacture through transport, through use, disposal. At every stage in that progression, over the life cycle of a product, there's a new methodology. It's called life cycle assessment.

Life cycle assessment is being used by companies to change the way they do business. But even more important, the data is now available to us via websites like GoodGuide which help you correlate data from different studies to pick safe, healthy and green products by providing insight into the Ecological Impact of products.

Goleman says that by making this information accessible to everyone, a climate of Radical Transparency becomes possible and this means consumers will finally have the ability to make corporations and governments sensitive and responsive to people without people having to become experts or knowing who to trust or just because they feel it is morally the right thing to do. This technique makes it easy to do the right thing for ourselves and our planet. Plus it provides a powerful incentive to companies to improve their products and their processes. This technology makes it possible for anyone to make a difference just by understanding their choice and communicating that choice.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: [I]f you use GoodGuide you can do two things that are spectacular. One is you can, in a single click, tell the company why you're not buying their brand anymore, or why you are now buying their brand.

This is very powerful information. You can also inform all of your friends as to why you've just done that. As this information spreads virally what's going to happen, and companies see this coming, is that this kind of ecological goodness is going to matter for market share.

With everyone doing their part, understanding which products are the best for them (and the world) and letting the companies and, most importantly, their friends know that, the world will get better. Moyers called it the power of the hive mind.

It sounds like a fabulous book and a fantastic idea.

Posted by Mary at May 17, 2009 03:16 PM | Environment | Technorati links |