Daniel Goleman is a psychologist who lectures frequently to professional groups, business audiences, and on college campuses. Working as a science journalist, Goleman reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books) was on The New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half.
Goleman’s latest book is Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. The book argues that new information technologies will create “radical transparency,” allowing us to know the environmental, health, and social consequences of what we buy. As shoppers use point-of-purchase ecological comparisons to guide their purchases, market share will shift to support steady, incremental upgrades in how products are made – changing every thing for the better.
Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, was published in 2006. Social intelligence, the interpersonal part of emotional intelligence, can now be understood in terms of recent findings from neuroscience. Goleman’s book describes the many implications of this new science, including for altruism, parenting, love, health, learning and leadership.
Question: Why is a smart consumer economy better than a post-consumer economy?
Daniel Goleman: Exactly. I think that it’s naïve to think that we will get soon to a point where we don’t buy stuff. I know someone who’s a Freegan. She lives in a community in Portland or in Oregon, somewhere near Portland, where there’re a lot of other Freegans. She’s in her 20s. She doesn’t have a family. She doesn’t have a job. She, you know, dumpster dives for food. She doesn’t take a car. She will walk or ride a bike. It’s a wonderful… In terms of her personal impact on the planet is great but for the rest of us who buy stuff, who have families, we don’t have that option. So rather than a post-consumer society, it’s exactly what you said, we need a smart consumer society. And now, we have the data at our fingertips that will help us do just that.
Question: Is green an unaffordable luxury?
Daniel Goleman: Now, let me… Let me question the assumption of your question, underlying your question. What you’re assuming is that it’s more expensive for the better product. And that’s an easy assumption. Most of us would think so. And in fact, marketing has been such that we have come to expect that the premium product will be the better product including in eco… in the eco realm. Actually, if you look at Skin Deep and you look at the 10 safest shampoos and the 10 worst shampoos, the single most expensive shampoo is among the 10 worst. So it doesn’t really equate. Also, as consumers shift, drive companies to upgrade the supply chain. Businesses know how to make things cheaper, even better things cheaper. One of the biggest players in this, by the way, is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is using life cycle assessment to look at all of its house brands. It has 4,700 plus house brands, tens of thousands of suppliers. It is going to ask their… its suppliers to upgrade their ecological impacts. Once they… Once Wal-Mart gets into the game, you’re going to find huge economies of scale in this very area. So there maybe a higher price for some of this now but I don’t think it’ll be that way in the long run. I also think, by the way, in terms of the present economy, that this maybe… finding… innovating the better alternative product maybe the… one of the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities for decades now. In coming out of the slump, I think that this maybe one of the things that drives a recovery impact.
Question: How can we make smart changes?
Daniel Goleman: Well, I think the bottom line is that we can make the bottom line drive the planet in a better direction. If we each take responsibility… I mean, if we… If each of us simply went to goodguide.com, took out the 10… list of the 10 things we buy most often every week, look at them and see if they’re the best alternative or if there’s a better one we can get and did that, and then told our friends why we had done what we done, put it on the Facebook or, you know, your e-mail list, whatever, and do something else, e-mail the company… Good Guide gives you the option in a single click to inform the company whose product you have bought are not bought, why you made that decision. The more of us that do that, the stronger we will have leverage and the sooner to get companies to change how they do things. So I
think that all of us have a new kind of collective power. I’m actually quite hopeful.