Daniel Goleman’s new book Ecological Intelligence
tackles the task of providing consumers with a simple but comprehensive process for understanding the environmental and social impacts of the goods we consume. He advocates ‘radical transparency’. A system whereby all the right technical boffins are harnessed to rate the environmental and social impact of a product at every stage of its life from raw materials to waste disposal. Once rated, product packaging can carry a relevant rating device communicating to the world its virtues or otherwise. In addition web sites like www.goodguide.com will play a critical role in communicating to consumers the merits of one product compared with another.
Goleman makes the assumption that once informed consumers will make purchase decisions that are in this planet and society’s best interests. Unfortunately, this where things get a little more complicated (yes even more complicated than actually rating all the products and services). Just about every category that we get to work in on in a branding sense we encounter the same feedback – consumers are interested in environmental issues, but for the majority only if it does not cost them in some way. Give me more environmentally friendly housing options, but don’t charge me more. Give me a more environmentally friendly car, but please don’t make it look daggy or reduce its performance. In consumer land best interests so often boil down to self interest. In a marketing sense it is important that brand custodians understand the environmental band width of their customers, as for many it is very very narrow. It is gradually widening but it is a slow journey.
In B2B markets there is a more urgent push. Business self interest is starting to play out with the growing focus on carbon emissions. Some of the heavy weights like Wal-Mart are also pursuing a stronger environmental pathway, stating in July this year that it wished to create environmental ratings for everything it sells. However, if they have success in introducing their own rating system we run the risk of multiple rating systems and a diluted consumer outcome in terms of understanding and buy-in.
Certainly Daniel Goleman had a best seller and a winning concept with his book on Emotional Intelligence. However, it is also a great example of ‘self interest’ at play. How does one get on in this relationship driven world….yes some degree of emotional intelligence helps. Take two tablets a day (just kidding)! But ecological intelligence that may take a little longer to have its moment in the sun, certainly from a consumer perspective.