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What You Buy Matters

Posted: 10:35AM September 1st, 2011 | Comments

Daniel Goleman is one of my (living) heroes. He’s on my list of 5 people I would invite to dinner. Recently, I read his 2009 book, Ecological Intelligence. If his name doesn’t sound familiar to you, perhaps you’ve heard of his 1995 best seller, Emotional Intelligence. That book challenged us to broaden our view of intelligence and incorporate empathy, self-awareness, and altruism into a new definition.

Now Goleman’s most recent book challenges us to examine what we think of as “green.” How can we see beyond the marketing to the actual, yet often hidden, impacts of what we spend our money on? As buyers and consumers, we have a tremendous amount of power in our consumer-based culture, yet we rarely leverage this power intentionally. By educating ourselves about this complex web of hidden impacts, we gain the ability to use our power to create a more sustainable and regenerative future, rather than one in which environmental and social devastation are the norm.

Goleman argues in support of radical ecological transparency that will “introduce an openness about the consequences of the things we make, sell, buy, and discard that goes beyond the current comfort zones of most businesses.” Having such comprehensive information available to the buyer transfers power away from the seller, thereby providing buyers a way to vote with their dollars.

Wondering about the votes you might be casting? Check out the GoodGuide, an online  tool (and app) that essentially gives you the backstory of the products you’re buying (see the NYT review here).  I like to think of myself as a fairly informed shopper, and mostly I am, but I definitely learned a thing or two at the GoodGuide site (like Levi’s and H&M rate better than Ralph Lauren for environmental and societal impacts).

Since we’re on the topic of buying stuff, here’s another person I’d like to invite to my dinner, Annie Leonard. She is the creator of The Story of Stuff Project, which grew out of her über-clever film, The Story of Stuff (so clever, in fact, that she was interviewed by the cleverest of them all, Steven Colbert). She also wrote the book, The Story of Stuff. She’s worked for years towards “reclaiming and transforming our industrial and economic systems so they serve, rather than undermine, ecological sustainability and social equity.” After watching her film or interview on the Colbert Report I’m willing to bet that you’ll want to come to my dinner, as well.

Maybe you’re not ready to rethink your buying habits, and that’s okay. How about you start with getting a baseline of where you’re at? There are lots of easy ways to do this, one of the most entertaining is an online game called Consumer Consequences.  If everyone lived like you, how many Earths would be required? One? Four? Six? The game gives you continual feed back as you answer the questions based on your lifestyle and spending habits. After answering all of them, an easy to read graph shows you where you have opportunity for improvement.

I scored 3.8 Earths. Looks like I have plenty of opportunities for improvement.

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