Ecopsychology Journal Book Review Book Review • Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything

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Ecological Intelligence book cover
Ecological Intelligence book cover

In Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman draws on Howard Gardner’s (1983) theory of multiple intelligences to propose ecological intelligence (EI). In his conception of EI, Goleman combines naturalist intelligence with emotional intelligence: EI melds pattern recognition skills with empathy for all life. At times using language evocative of a holistic, ecopsychology perspective, Goleman describes EI as an “all encompassing sensibility” (p. 44) that reveals the interconnections between human actions and their impacts on the planet, human health, and social systems.

Although Goleman proposes an important, ecologically valid way to think about the construct of intelligence, Ecological Intelligence is not primarily a psychological work, in the sense of clarifying the infl uences or abilities that make one ecologically smart. The content focuses on the transformative role of information technologies in the marketplace. Goleman argues that information about product impacts from the new field of industrial ecology, readily available on websites such as and, will create “radical transparency” (p. 79) allowing shoppers to know the environmental, health, and social consequences of what they buy. He envisions a world where shoppers use point-of-purchase ecological comparisons (accessed through in-store displays or downloaded on cell phones) to guide their purchases, shifting market share to healthier and more socially and environmentally benign products. Along the way, Goleman does provide some interesting speculations on ways to understand EI, along with associated cognitive processes such as active attention and mindfulness, and the neuropsychology of emotions involved in making purchasing choices.

A psychologist and former New York Times science journalist, Daniel Goleman is perhaps best known for popularizing psychology research on emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1995). He has also written about the psychology of self-deception and meditation, and published dialogs with the Dalai Lama on healing and destructive emotions.

Ecological Intelligence spans multiple subjects and falls under the heading of what may be called popular scientific psychology (e.g., Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness), a genre Goleman’s own work helped to create. Ecological Intelligence is also at home with more recent works on neuroeconomics (e.g., Thaler & Sunstein’s Nudge), other nonfiction focusing on environment and health (Steingraber’s Having Faith), and the back story on the food system (Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation). Given that it is also written about and is appropriate to sustainability-minded entrepreneurs and advertisers, Ecological Intelligence also caters to business audiences.

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pdf June 2009Book Review: Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything | Daniel Goleman | by Thomas Joseph Doherty. Ecopsychology: 100-103[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Published by Thomas Doherty

Psychologist Thomas Doherty's work on environmental sustainability and health has been featured in publications like the New York Times and in talks worldwide. Thomas consults with individuals and organizations through his business Sustainable Self. He was the founding Director of the Ecopsychology Certificate Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School and Founding Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed academic journal Ecopsychology. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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