Tomorrow is Earth Day, which means that this entire week is now pretty much Earth Week. And while issues of conservation and sustainability may not seem germane to a blog on Business EQ, some researchers are increasingly seeing ecological awareness as a key component of emotional intelligence.
Case in point: Daniel Goleman, author of a whole series of basic books on emotional intelligence (including Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, and Working with Emotional Intelligence), most recently published Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy, which looks at the growing trend toward “life cycle assessment” of products — and why it matters.
Life cycle assessment evaluates the ecological impact of products at every stage of their existence — from the collection of raw resources used in their manufacture, to the transformation of those resources into the actual products, to the use of the products and then, finally, to their ultimate disposal.
As Goleman described in an article for Newsweek last year:
Every item we buy has a hidden price tag: a toll on the planet, on our health and on the people whose labor provides those goods. Each man-made thing has its own web of impacts left along the way from the extraction or concoction of its ingredients, during its manufacture and transport, through its use in our homes and workplaces, to the day we dispose of it. These unseen impacts are incredibly important.
This isn’t something that we humans are all that good at, by the way. According to Goleman, the human brain is pretty much primed for looking at short-term, up-close cause and effect cycles — not long-term, global, subtle processes. And that’s where life cycle assessment — also called “industrial ecology” — is really useful. When the analysis is done for us, we can begin to make more informed choices about what we buy, how we use it, and, ultimately, how we get rid of it.
The level of detail into which these assessments go is quite astounding, by the way. You can see a really good example of it in today’s New York Times, where Goleman compares the life cycle of an “e-book” (think Kindle or iPad) to the lifecycle of a traditional book to see which one is the greenest way of getting information.
(The result is pretty shocking, by the way.)
If you’re naturally inclined toward wanting to protect the planet, this idea of “ecological intelligence” will probably make intuitive and intellectual sense to you. If you’re not, as a small business owner, it’s still important. Stay tuned for more on that on Friday.