Review: Ecological Intelligence–How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything (Hardcover)

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5.0 out of 5 stars From 4 to Five for Gifted Story and Amazon Price Cut

November 29, 2009
Daniel Goleman
I chose this book over Ecological Intelligence: Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature and seeing the author’s note about this other book “by a physician, Jungian analyst, and poet” am certain I made the right choice.

The author’s “big idea” is called “Radical Transparency,” what the rest of us have been calling “Open Books for decades. I like it, and in the context of his elegant story-telling, I buy in. This book also goes to a five because it is an Information Operations (IO) books, ably focused on data, information, and information-sharing as well as collective sense-making. He author anticipates most of us becoming “active agents” for change, armed with information as Thomas Jefferson understood so well.

CORE NUGGET: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is not done for most things, but when done right, it is mainly data and it tracks impacts on human health, ecosystems, climate change, and resource draw-down, for every single component and every single process including transport, packaging, etcetera. Toward the end of the book when the author talks about how an LCA commons is emerging, and quotes Andy Ruben of normally ultra-evil Wal-Mart as saying that LCA innovation “is the largest strategic opportunity companies will see for the next fifty years,” I am seriously impressed.

EARLY INSIGHT: Drawing on Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future and other works, the author observes that the human brain is optimized by heredity for the here and now, able to sense “obvious” but not subtle changes.

EARLY INSIGHT: Everything we buy or use was designed to tackle one need without regard to social or ecological costs. It was NOT designed to be green (the author cites Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. The author states “Green is a process not a status.”

QUOTE: “Ecological Intelligence allows us to comprehend systems in all their complexity, as well as the interplay between the natural and man-made worlds.” I am reminded of Buckminster Fuller and Critical Path.

Later, when he speaks of collective shared intelligence as a partial answer, he outlines three rules:

1. Know your impacts (others would add, know true costs first)

2. Favor improvements (others would add, at every level)

3. Share what you learn (others would add: this is the core concept of Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making (M4IS2) that is the 21st Century implementation of the 20th Century concept of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)).

QUOTE: “As control of data shifts from sellers to buyers, companies would do well to prepare ahead for this information sea change.”

QUOTE: [When people mobilize you see] “the dual marketplace power of lowering the cost of information combined with information sharing. The multiplier effect meats networks of people pooling their knowledge can diminish information asymmetry.”

QUOTE: “To be trustworthy, Radical Transparency needs to be authoritative, impartial, and comprehensive.” Sounds like a World Brain with embedded EarthGame to me, see Earth Intelligence Network or Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog.

MIDDLE INSIGHT: There are huge social benefits to be had by increasing wealth of the bottom billion to bottom five billion that far outweigh the ecological costs. I smile as a read this, as it coincides with the mushroom cloud over the Climate Change Unit (CRU) in England, now outed for its fraudulent practices and possibly criminal misbehavior.

MIDDLE INSIGHT: Need to tap native wisdom and combine this with better use of sunlight and rainwater.

The author discusses three inter-locking spheres in a very easy to appreciate manner:

1. GeoSphere

2. BioSphere (with four costs: Cancer, Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY), loss of bio-diversity, and embodied toxicity.

3. SocioShere (labor and labor practices)

I have a number of fly-leaf notes, many of which will not fit within the 1,000 world limit, so here are a few:

+ “Compassionate Capitalism” is a term used, NOT in the Index (which does have “compassionate consumption” This book easily falls within the category I label “Cultural Intelligence.”

+ Industrial Ecology, Environmental Health, Neuro-Economists, Epigenetics, and “Freegan”

+ Value chain analysis ignored value subtracted

+ Recycling recycles toxins [this blew my mind, I should have known better, see among many other works Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy and High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health

+ 88 billion plastic bags in USA along, "an ecological disaster," and paper bags are NO BETTER

+ Sun Screen washed off in the ocean nurtures algae capable of killing 10% of the coral reefs

+ Greenwashing is common, virtually nothing advertised as "green" really is

+ Distance of goods shipped is NOT a good indicator of carbon footprint--NZ lamb beats UK lamb every time, and KE roses beat NL roses, when all local carbon savings are counted.

+ Tens of thousands of toxins can combine in billions of combinations--US a dumping ground for stuff Europe will no longer allow

+ 11% boost in sales achieved for products with "fair labor" tags, and as price is increased, sales increase!

+ Two thirds of shoppers WANT to make ethical decisions, but the information must be EASY to grasp

+ UN Environmental Program joins the UN High Level Panel in my good book, see A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility--Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change also available free online. The UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should probably be disbanded, they lack both integrity and a strategic analytic model.

Bottom line: consumer perception has more weight in today's information environment, and that will only grow in relation to the declining weight of the manufacturer or offerer of any good or service. We are literally on the verge of creating the virtual fulcrum to move the Earth--information with integrity, shared freely across all boundaries.

Bottom line: Activists that used to lobby governments for regulations are now recognizing that shared information delivered directly to the consumer is the Holy Grail of doing good, at the same time that corporations are starting to "get" sustainable design equals sustainable profit.

The book is a solid four on its own merits, with the gifted story-telling, the gripping details, and well-crafted "outcome" of understanding making up for a relative lack of depth. This is double-spaced journalism, not a Toffler-esque cultural research project.

Three other books within the limit:
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World
The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism

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