June 14, 2017

Ecological Intelligence And The High Cost of Low Prices

Want to make buying things more ecologically and socially responsible? The answer, of course, depends who you ask. Big business would say, "No, that might affect our bottom line." I, on the other hand, am all for it, and I am sure many others are as well.

A free exchange of information would empower the consumer and allow a more mindful participation in the process of consuming. It is all about information. Aren't we supposed to be living in the Information Age?

What happened to the information?

Presently the only thing most people base their purchases on is what is about the only thing that can bet known, and that is the price. Most people will vote for the lowest price possible.

And people are voting, often for places like WalMart.

"Supporters contend that the chain's legendary low prices have democratized consumption, allowing low-income households to afford flat-screen televisions and nine-layer lasagna. 
Critics say those low prices have depressed domestic wages and exported manufacturing jobs to foreign countries, hurting Americans more than helping them." Source

What if you want to know more about things like this? Corporations withhold the information we need, creating an unfair playing field. Until legislators and consumers demand it, this information will continue to be withheld to make sure that price remains the sole bit of information we base our purchases on, to the detriment of the environment and workers.

Just buy it, and never mind the health impacts, or the social and environmental consequences. How can one consume freely otherwise?

By withholding information about the ethical performance of producers, underachievers continue to be rewarded, and those that excel in responsibility do not get the recognition and encouragement they deserve.

GoodGuide is one organization that uses extensive data to rate a variety of products on 3 categories including health, environmental and social impacts. The GoodGuide represents a growing group of people that are trying to uncork the information bottleneck so that the data consumers need flows to them.

Because we are unable to be fully mindful of the life-cycle of our purchases, we can inadvertently cause the very damage we are trying to avoid. GoodGuide recognizes this when they note:

"It is important that for many products and product categories there is a significant gap in public disclosure due to the lack of U.S regulation around many products commonly sold on U.S. store shelves. 
This lack of transparency and disclosure make it extremely difficult to perform a comprehensive health, environmental and social issues evaluation of specific products and companies. The most extreme example of this problem is household cleaning products, where there is almost no disclosure of product ingredients."

Daniel Goleman's book Ecological Intelligence shows how information about the hidden impacts of the things we buy can change our shopping habits, and instigate important Earth-friendlier changes.

"Imagine what might happen if the knowledge now sequestered among specialists like industrial ecologists were made available to the rest of us: taught to kids in school, easily accessible on the Web, boiled down into evaluations of the things we buy and do and summarized as we were about to make a purchase."

Lets kick start this so-called Information Age, and actually get information out there that really matters. Let consumers become aware of who and what they are supporting, and the effects of their purchases on people and the planet.

Surely the majority of consumers are willing to do the right thing if only they had the information to make more responsible purchasing decisions. As Earthlings, we should all want to be ecologically intelligent because if we aren't, bad things happen.

It is like having a User's Guide To The Planet.

Until such information is broadly and easily available, I suggest doing the research yourself in places like the GoodGuide. But be forewarned - all that work, and the results of your investigation, will most certainly kill your desire to purchase most of what is on offer in the modern marketplace.

Living simply could become an unintended consequence, albeit a good one.

Interested in increasing your ecological intelligence quotient? See under "Web Resources" on our sidebar for more information. I have recently added more links for the ecologically curious.


  1. Anonymous6/15/2017

    Interesting article in The Guardian
    Ethical research is the way to go. I only buy the essentials and research the few things I need. We have second hand and donated furniture. Once our sofa wears out we will have a space for meditation and exercise. As things generally stop working they will not be replaced unless where are necessary. I enjoy the free things such as running and doing pull ups on my favorite tree branch. Just going out walking is interesting, wondering the fields and looking at wildlife.
    Peace, 安静,

  2. Anonymous6/15/2017

    It's a really interesting dichotomy that many Americans have a lot of financial instability (see CNN article entitled "What Trump doesn't understand about the poor" http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/15/news/economy/donald-trump-the-financial-diaries/index.html?iid=surge-stack-dom) or being in a place financially to be secure enough to do the research and make a different choice. Financial instability, cheap products, lower pay...what a vicious cycle. And tough to see a way out of it that everyone can participate in. Thanks for the Good Guide link. I use Environmental Working Group and Leaping Bunny to review products especially for animal testing. -- Mary

  3. Anonymous6/22/2017

    It absolutely pays to educate yourself, especially when it comes to making purchases. There are so many negative consequences to our consumer habits that we simply are not told about.


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