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Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything Hardcover – April 21, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Two years ago, British fashion designer Anna Hindmarch produced the must-have accessory of the season: a bleached, organic cotton tote manufactured in fair-wage factories, subsidized with carbon offsets and emblazoned with the slogan, I'm NOT a plastic bag. But according to Goleman (Emotional Intelligence), the people who bought the bag were advertising their ecological ignorance, not their consciousness. In this thorough examination of the inconsistencies and delusions at the core of the going green effort, the author argues that consumers are collective victims of a sleight of hand, helplessly unaware of the true provenance and impact of the products they purchase: they reassure themselves by buying environmentally friendly tote bags that, upon ecological assessment, reveal some uncomfortable facts, e.g., 10,000 liters of water were required to grow the cotton for one bag, and cotton crops alone account for the use of about 10% of the world's pesticides. Goleman's critiques are scathing, but his conclusion is heartening: a new generation of industrial ecologists is mapping the exact impact of every production process, which could challenge consumers to change their behavior in substance rather than just show. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Goleman, best-selling author of such groundbreaking works as Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Primal Leadership (2002), brings his invaluable behavioral insights to our most urgent dilemma: how to halt environmental catastrophe. What’s required, Goleman believes, is ecological intelligence, which he defines as understanding the “hidden web of connections between human activity and nature’s systems, and the subtle complexities of their intersections.” More concretely, Goleman encourages readers to learn about the many invisible threats to our health and the health of the environment caused by product manufacturing. Wisely focusing on the one element we can control, what we purchase, Goleman calls for higher “green” standards and “radical transparency” regarding how products are made. An enlightening foray into industrial ecology reveals how new forms of analysis determine precisely how the manufacture of such disparate items as toys, shampoo, and paper contributes to natural resource depletion, chemical pollution, and global warming. Brimming with intriguing, useful, and galvanizing information, this is an exceptionally sharp, innovative, and realistic approach to raising the demand for environmentally safe merchandise. Given Goleman’s track record and the pressing need for smart strategies, this fascinating treatise has tremendous potential for reaching and motivating a large and diverse audience. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; First Edition first Printing edition (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527828
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,068,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have a mixed view of this book.

Firstly, on a purely literary level, as with many business oriented books these days, there is one key idea, very easily grasped in the first chapter, with which you will agree or disagree. But there is very little real need to read on after that.
Secondly, I absolutely agree with Goleman that consumers with good sustainability intentions either can't access the data they need to make an informed choice, or don't know how to assess the information they do have. In a perfect world, that information would be easily available to consumers, and they would be able to weight that information according to what matters to them - ie some might be especially concerned with the labour environment in which the product was produced, others might be more concerned with ecological impact etc.
Thirdly I agree that in an era of "big data" this information is going to be coming easier to come by and there is an opportunity to present it to consumers in a variety of convenient ways - either through apps, QR codes, rating scales etc

Where I disagree with Goleman is that ipso facto this means that consumers will make better decisions. No. Some consumers will make better decisions about some product categories some of the time. The idea that all consumers are sufficiently involved in all categories to take the trouble to make informed decisions all the time is misguided. A mother may well take the trouble to make better decisions about the products' she buys' impact on her baby's health; but will she extend that to her husband's jeans, the cat's chow and the clothes she buys for herself? Probably not in most cases.
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