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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Eco IQ

Air Date: Week of
Author Daniel Goleman.

There’s more than just one type of smarts - book smarts, street smarts, emotional smarts...and now eco smarts. Daniel Goleman, author of Ecological Intelligence, takes host Steve Curwood to a drugstore to see what brands of shampoo are ecologically intelligent.


CURWOOD: There used to be a couple of kinds of intelligence -- book smarts, and street smarts.

But longtime New York Times science writer, Dan Goleman, helped topple that limited understanding with his book, “Emotional Intelligence”.

He now joins us to talk about yet another sort of intelligence. Hello Sir.

GOLEMAN: Hi, good to be here Steve.

CURWOOD: So you’re proposing that the well-rounded person should also be “ecologically smart” … in other words how we think about the environment and what we may or may not be able to do about it.

GOLEMAN: It’s even more than that Steve, its how we operate, you and I, as active agents in the ecological world, whether we do it in an intelligent way – one that improves things – or we just stay in our usual stupor and let things drift as they are. I think what we need is a social evolution. We need an evolution in how we live on the planet, how we understand our relationship to nature, how we see ourselves as active agents – that’s what I call ecological intelligence. I think we’ve got to collectively up our level or understanding and insight into how our habits, our manufacturing systems are damaging the planet and how we each can act when we shop to favor improvements that will accelerate the innovative thinking to find better ways of doing it. In other words, make it pay for companies to do the right thing.

CURWOOD: You’re new book “Ecological Intelligence” the subtitle is “How knowing the hidden impacts of what we buy can change everything.” It’s encountering, I suspect, a bit of resistance among some ecological thinkers who are quite skeptical of our ability to buy our way out of the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in today. How do you respond to that criticism?

GOLEMAN: It’s our habits of consumption that are driving the industrial machine, which is destroying the planet. So, if you and I knew the hidden impacts of the things we buy every time we shop, and we simply favored improvements, and let other people know, we would shift market share in a way which makes it feasible, in fact, essential for companies to speed up the changes in their manufacturing platforms and their chemicals and so on, that will make the planet a better place.

CURWOOD: Now, I see towards the back of your book you sent me to some software that I can put on my iPhone, and I have to confess that in advance of this interview I did this, I downloaded it. The app is called Good Guide.

GOLEMAN: Free app.

CURWOOD: I have to ask you this question, so do you make money off this app?

GOLEMAN: I have nothing to do with it, but I actually dreamed it twenty years ago before it existed, and I wished that there were a program that would tell us when we go shopping what the actual impacts – ecological impacts – of what we’re going to buy are. Then a couple years ago, I heard there was someone at Berkeley developing just that. I got very excited. That was one of the things that occurred to me to write the book.

CURWOOD: Alright, well, let’s go shopping then with your software.

GOLEMAN: Let’s do that. Lovely Steve.


CURWOOD: Let’s see. So, grab your coat.

GOLEMAN: Okay. I’ll assume we’re coming back.

CURWOOD: And we’ll come with our producer, Ike.


GOLEMAN: Beautiful day. What were we doing inside?


CURWOOD: So, we head to a drug store a few steps away from our studio. The iPhone app is loaded with ratings of the environmental health and social impacts of 70,000 or so consumer products.


CURWOOD: Seems to me that we’re always running out of shampoo at my house. So let’s take a look here at the shampoo rack and see what we will…

GOLEMAN: Well let’s see what Good Guide recommends.

CURWOOD: Alright. It’s over here. Well these are all fairly big brands. Let’s just randomly pick one and see how well it does. Here’s VO5.

GOLEMAN: Herbal shampoo.

CURWOOD: Herbal Escapes shampoo. So let’s see. Find, I click on here. Search, little wheel is spinning. Okay. It gets an overall rating of a 3.9, that’s not so wonderful is it.

Author Daniel Goleman

GOLEMAN: That’s really close to the lowest third and the shampoo does a little better in the health. Its gets 5.0 meaning its ingredients are kind of average in terms of chemicals of concern and so on. But environmentally and socially it didn’t do as well. The reasons are that although the company has a minimum of community related controversies, you know, that might be anything from what are you doing to our local water or what toxins are you dumping in the landfills here to how they’re using land and so on. They have pretty good community relations, but what are those Xs there, those red Xs?

CURWOOD: Compared to other companies, this company is one of the lowest rated in labor and human rights. It then goes on to say this company is not transparent about its corporate practice disclosures.

GOLEMAN: I think what’s happening there is the Good Guide is trying to move companies towards transparency by penalizing those that don’t disclose.

CURWOOD: To find out more let’s look in the category to see if there might be a choice that Good Guide would prefer. So at the very top of the list we see Burt’s Bees, Nurture My Body, Suave shampoo – 8.4, Finesse shampoo – those aren’t terribly expense.

GOLEMAN: Well, you know, I once looked at the ten shampoos that are rated the complete safest. And the ten that have the most chemicals of concern in them. And by far the single most expensive shampoo of the twenty was in the ten worst batch, so you can’t equate cost with safety, with environmental impact. It’s a common assumption, but we really need to challenge our thinking here. And also the more large companies get into the game of getting better and better, the cheaper the good stuff is gonna be.


CURWOOD: Well we’re back at the Living on Earth offices. Thanks for taking me shopping Dan Goleman.

GOLEMAN: Steve, it was a real pleasure. I never had such fun in a store. [Laughing]

CURWOOD: Dan Goleman’s new book is called “Ecological Intelligence: Knowing how the hidden impacts of what we buy can change everything.”

GOLEMAN: Thanks Steve!

CURWOOD: You can try your own shopping list on Good Guide even if you don’t have an iPhone. Find out more by visiting our website, loe.org.

By the way, we spoke to the Alberto Culver company, the makers of VO5, about their poor review in the Good Guide. A company spokesman says they’re looking into it.



Click here to check how eco smart your shopping list is.

Check out Daniel Goleman’s blog


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