Ecological Intelligence – how green is your business?

Daniel Goleman is well-known for popularising Emotional Intelligence but now has a new concern – saving the planet.

His new book; “Ecological Intelligence” aims to help business and consumers assess how “green” they are.

Apparently it is already making an impact having been identified by Time Magazine as one of the “Top 10 ideas changing the world right now – 2009” (although you may not take it so seriously when you realise it sits amongst other ideas on the list such as “Amortality”with references to Simon Cowell and “The New Calvinism” and the list was last year’s news).

Goleman talked about his new book in July’s People Management (PM) magazine in an article; “Gaia education” (Gaia theory was developed by James Lovelock and others in the 1970s basically to explain how systems interact to keep the earth hospitable to humans). The article doesn’t make any further references to Gaia but focusses on organisations and what they need to do to protect the environment. According to Goleman; “… being a sustainable organisation is about challenging the behaviour that ignores the impact of what we buy and use”.

So recycling at work doesn’t cut it. There is enough controversy already about climate change with some radical arguments eg that we should become vegetarian because cows produce a lot of methane. There is also disagreement about apparently simple things like plastic bags v paper bags. What is needed is “radical transparency” where an organisation’s impact on the planet is publicly available.

Industrial ecologists using a method called life-cycle assessment – think about the concept of carbon footprints – are analysing the web of connections involved in manufacturing products. These data are being used by companies like Good Guide which has a web-site which rates goods according to their environmental, medical, and social effects (a PEST analysis for the 21 century?) and you can read bar-codes with a smart phone to check the ratings so that consumers can share these via social networking channels.

Two of the companies mentioned in the PM and Time articles are Coca Cola and Wal-Mart. Coca Cola consumes 5% of the world’s total sugar crop and has committed itself to improving its water efficiency by 20% by 2012.

Wal-Mart’s CEO has said; “Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional. A company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labour, and dumps its scraps and its chemicals in our rivers … will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products – the same as cheating on its customers”. Is this the same Wal-Mart that refuses to recognise Trades Unions, would rather close down a store than unionise, and that has been the subject of numerous allegations about low wages, working conditions, and discrimination?

Goleman concedes that it is very unlikely that companies which adopt his approach will see  an immediate return on investment (RoI). “This is about long-term strategy – sustainability planning”. He sees business as Darwinian and acknowledges that Wal-Mart is only interested in staying No 1. “It’s not about RoI but survival”.

He is also developing an “ecological literacy curriculum” as he believes that schools and universities will need to provide qualifications in this field. The author of the article in PM thinks all this could have a radical effect on HR which will need to think strategically about the organisation’s responsibility to employees, customers and the environment. If only to protect the corporate reputation and brand – think BP.


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