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Ecological Intelligence

12/03/2009 6:30 PM 4"370
Daniel Goleman, Psychologist, writer; Deborah G. Ancona, Seley Distinguished Professor of Management; Faculty Director, MIT Leadership Center; Greg Norris, '85, Founder, Sylvatica

Description: Some people believe the planet would be better off, at least ecologically, if humans had never evolved. These speakers offer grim evidence that human activities threaten to poison much of life on earth, but they also suggest some new methods for treading more lightly, and perhaps reversing some deadly trends.

"We are in deep trouble," says Daniel Goleman, and not just around climate change. Other catastrophes are underway, including acidification of the ocean, freshwater depletion, and loss of species; some ecological systems have already passed tipping points. The industrial age, with its refined networks of industry and commerce, has "disconnected the stuff we buy and use to survive" from where and how it is made, leading to vast expanses of human waste, destruction and exhaustion of natural resources.

A new discipline, industrial ecology, makes possible a minute study of the connection between the creation of things in human systems, and their impacts-- a life cycle analysis (LCA). Goleman describes what goes into the creation and disposal of a simple glass jar, from the extraction of sand, use of chemicals, melting at high temperatures, and its end in a landfill or recycling center.

This new methodology offers "a vast opportunity to rethink everything we do," says Goleman. Thanks to websites and downloadable apps that analyze all the ingredients in food, and the thousands of chemicals in daily use, "it is now possible to know the hidden impacts of what we buy when we go to the store," he says. Consumers can learn instantly whether their product contains properties toxic to health, the environment, and even to social welfare. Empowered buyers can now make choices based not just on value and quality but on their eco and health impacts, collectively swaying companies to do better. Procter and Gamble, performing LCA on their detergents, realized they could wash clothes with cold water, enabling energy savings at home, and this became a marketing point for them. Walmart, says Goleman, is running with the strategic value of sustainability, pushing all its suppliers to report impacts, and sharing this information with shoppers.

Gregory Norris is pressing to open up the sustainability efforts of vast numbers of suppliers with This website aggregates LCA performed by companies, as well as by other organizations attempting to assess impacts, and publishes the results in a way that can be freely used, so entire supply chains emerge around products. Ultimately, as transparency in reporting impacts becomes the norm, companies and their suppliers will no longer conceal such "externalities" as pollution, or even such social impacts as workers harmed by chemicals on the job. Says Goleman, the "new math for assessing impacts of products and processes" will "for the first time" push sustainable products to the forefront in the marketplace, making it truly possible "to do well by doing good."

About the Speaker(s): Daniel Goleman is an internationally known 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; with more than 5,000,000 copies in print worldwide in 30 languages, and has been a best seller in many countries. 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.

Host(s): Dean for Student Life, The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values

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