Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman. Broadway Books: New York. 2009.
I’ve read Goleman’s two other “intelligence” books, Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, found them both to offer a new way of looking at an old subject, and thought I would give his latest issue in the series a read. While emotional and social intelligence would be considered inherent gifts or traits that we all possess to some degree, ecological intelligence differs from the other two in that it is an ability the author says we all need to develop in ourselves. Because it is our natural inclination to follow the path of least resistance – i.e., use the product most readily available instead of first determining which product has the smallest carbon footprint - developing ecological intelligence takes extra effort. Goleman’s book explains why the extra effort is worth it.
Because businesses and the products they make are major players in both causing and remedying global warming, Ecological Intelligence takes us to the cutting edge in evaluating their efforts at improving their products’ ecological sustainability. An invaluable tool in this evaluation is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a method that allows all parties concerned to measure a product’s impact on the natural world by deconstructing all the discreet actions and component parts that go into making the product. Costs vs. benefits can then be placed in the balance, thereby allowing manufacturers to discover where in the chain of events the most cost-effective measures will reap the greatest societal rewards.
Next, it behooves all concerned to show what they do and share what they learn. This approach to changing the world, known as radical transparency, is one-third of a New Paradigm for Changing the World: Know Your Impacts. Favor Improvements. Share what you learn. This approach is starting to make waves.
I wish that Goleman had spent more time explaining the effects of the more than 100,000 synthetic chemicals that have been introduced since World War II on our natural world. While an entire book could easily be devoted to this subject alone, I think there are, even now, many who are unable to accept the fact that the companies who invented these elixirs of death caused Dad, Aunt Martha and Cousin Sue to die from cancer. The epidemic isn’t just happening. It’s happening for a reason we need to better understand and do something about.
Fortunately, the problem can be solved one company at a time. When critical mass is reached, and enough companies understand that they can be a leader in changing the way business is done, the others will soon fall in line. Wal Mart, it should be recognized, is playing an important role in getting us to that point. The inevitable is, in fact, happening, albeit at an achingly slow pace. Mr. Goleman makes the very valid point that it is we – the inhabitants of this planet – who need healing, not just the planet itself. Only G-d knows if we will do it in time. I would recommend this book to the well-educated reader, and to those who wish to affect business outcomes.