Today’s Solutions: June 04, 2023

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, says we need to work on our collective relationship with the planet. In his new book, Ecological Intelligence, he argues we can do that in part by making smarter shopping choices.

E.B. Boyd | June/July 2009 issue

What is ecological intelligence?
“Ecological intelligence extends social intelligence—which is about our relationships with each other—to our relationships with the whole world, all ecosystems. It means we become intelligent about how our own activities—particularly the things we buy and use—impact nature.”
Doesn’t that just mean buying things stamped “green”?
“Almost every time we buy something because we think it’s green, it’s not nearly as virtuous as we think. For example, I bought a T-shirt that was ‘organic,’ meaning the cotton was organic. But it’s still cotton. Cotton uses vast amounts of water. Plus almost all textile dyes are carcinogens. They’re dangerous to the people who dye the shirt. We need to think about the total picture, rather than just one thing.”

It sounds as though it might be best to stop shopping altogether.

“The best response is to take responsibility for what you buy. Software like uses life cycle assessments and other databases to give you a total evaluation of things you buy. It ranks them [with similar products] in terms of their overall ecological footprints—their impact on the environment, on health and on social measures, like whether their manufacturers have sweatshops and how they treat workers. Once you compare products, you can switch to the better ones. Then you can add power to your choice by letting your friends and family know. Twittering, putting it on your Facebook page—whatever you can do to spread the word. That way other people can benefit from what you discovered.”

What will change if we all start shopping this way?

“We are going to have a very real impact. I’ve talked to many people inside companies, and they are hyper-sensitive to this kind of consumer preference. The best companies are already trying to get more sustainable. This just supports the people within companies who are trying to do it.”

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