Shop Smarter

In his new book, Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reveals the surprising environmental impact of everyday purchases.
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Q. You believe we've only scratched the surface of our understanding of how products are made and the ways they can harm us and the planet. How can we change this "collective denial," as you call it?
A. When you bring your own shopping bag to the store, or use a stainless-steel water bottle instead of plastic disposable ones, you're doing something good. But we also need to think about the impact of making that reusable bag and stainless-steel bottle.

Q. How can we know what that is?
A. There's a new method used in industry to analyze the impact of a product at every stage of its life, from extraction of raw materials from the earth to manufacturing, transport, use, and disposal. That stainless-steel water bottle, for example, uses much more energy and creates more particulate emission than regular steel. It's not that we shouldn't use stainless steel; we just need to push for less harmful ways of manufacturing it.

Q. Are companies using this impact analysis now?
A. Yes, a couple of years ago one huge consumer-goods company used this method to analyze its entire product line. They found that the worst impact they had on global warming was that people had to heat water to use their detergents. So they introduced cold-water detergent. If you want to send a message that you want companies to reform their practices, then you should buy cold-water detergent. And tell your friends. Individuals can create a market force that's never existed before, which creates incentive for companies to do the right thing.

Q. How can we make smart choices?
A. There's a new cell-phone application called GoodGuide, which you can get at It gives you free access to ratings on 65,000 household products. Say you don't want toxic ingredients in the stuff you put on your kids' skin. You can text a product's UPC code or search by its name and GoodGuide will rate it against its competitors. Some cell-phone cameras even have an instant bar-code reader for this.

Q. You use the term "Eco-Mom" in your book. Is that a compliment?
A. Definitely. An Eco-Mom is an informed shopper who cares about ecological consequences. If you're an Eco-Mom you can multiply the difference you make in many ways. On you can learn which companies are most responsible, and you can create a personalized shopping list of safe and earth-friendly products. You can text or tell all your friends, and they'll tell their friends, and word will ripple out virally. Using this new information, you can become an advocate for a better world.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2009.


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