O: Why is this kind of knowledge so important?
Goleman: It's what I call radical transparency. It brings to the neighborhood mall the same full disclosure that's in corporate financial reports. It means that shoppers know the entire life cycle of a product right at the point they consider buying it. It makes every one of us able to vote with our dollars based on sound information.
O: How will that affect manufacturers?
Goleman: Once shoppers become empowered, we will facilitate industries thinking in completely new terms; for example, making products that are totally biodegradable. The industrial processes in use today were developed at a time when no one had to consider what the environmental impact was. Who cared? But making ecological concerns matter to a company's bottom line will help it do the research and development that will reinvent everything we buy.
O: Your book was written before the economic downturn. Can we live green without paying more for it?
Goleman: Yes. You don't have to go to the most expensive organic food store. And some of the highest-priced shampoos have the worst chemicals, according to Skin Deep [CosmeticsDatabase.com], a website that evaluates ingredients in cosmetics.
O: Why will green information affect consumers any more than education about tobacco has? The surgeon general has been putting warning labels on cigarettes for more than 40 years, but 21 percent of the population still smokes.
Goleman: There will always be a group of people who just don't care, but look at the number of people who smoked in the 1950s [nearly 40 percent of the adult population in 1955] before the warning, compared with now. That's a massive improvement. And unlike the tobacco industry, which dug in its heels and fought every scientific fact about smoking, companies today are more than willing to make improvements that benefit the environment. The perception that an issue matters is important to companies because it's the perception that will change consumer behavior and, in turn, market share.
O: Who will lead the green revolution?
Goleman: I think it's going to be an army of eco-moms. In most families, it's the moms who shop, and moms care about the well-being of their families. The real leaders are not the Al Gores; they're the moms.
O: In your book, you urge us to be compassionate consumers. Do you mean compassion for the Earth?
Goleman: Making choices that improve things for all of us on the planet is an act of compassion, a simple act we can do any time we go shopping.