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How Green is 'Green?'

(Photo by Robin Holland)

In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Daniel Goleman, author of ECOLOGICAL INTELLIGENCE, about how to find truly eco-friendly goods amongst the sea of products now marketed as ‘green.’

Moyers said:

“You write in [your book] that ‘green’ is ‘a mirage,’ that much of what’s touted as ‘green,’ in reality, represents fantasy or simple hype. And here I had been working so hard to develop what THE NEW YORK TIMES calls “the green mind” and support a ‘green economy,’ and you tell me I’ve entered the land of fantasy.”

Goleman replied:

“Let me reassure you. Everything that we’ve done that’s ‘green’ is to the good. I recycle my papers and plastics, and I try to get the ‘green’ product. But once you realize, through the lens of the life cycle assessment, that every product has a thousand environmental, health, [and] social impacts, and you see that what we call ‘green’ has taken one slice and improved it, there’s still the 999 other things that we need to get better.”

What do you think?

  • How much positive impact do you think ‘green’ products have?

  • Are calls for a “green economy” based on “fantasy or simple hype,” or are they realistic? Explain.

    Click here to access, the site Goleman mentioned with more information about products.

    Click here to access Skin Deep, the site Goleman mentioned with more information on harmful chemicals in cosmetics.

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    During W's 8 years of horrible leadership, about 64 species were listed to the Endangered Species Act. During his father's 4 years, 235 were added. Even the old Bush knew better. Plus, W proposed allowing federal agencies, instead of scientists, to decide whether to protect a species. Because we certainly don't want a QUALIFIED person deciding important things like we did for 8 years!

    The Fanatical Extremist Right-Wingers are killing America. They don't care about right or wrong, good or bad, all they care about is their political party winning. For Bush to lie to start a war in Iraq and not be held accountable, furthermore then getting RE-elected after all his lies, corruption, and ever embarrassingly stupid speeches, is truly beyond comprehension and a warped sense of Patriotism. They also don't care about helping people in need, they are selfish and only want to further themselves.

    Why do Republicans hate the environment so much? Can't we put them on a space ship and send them to live on the International Space Station? Why do Republicans just hate so much? Why are they anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-tolerant, anti-environment, anti-trees, anti-polar bears, anti-government, anti-female, anti-peace, etc.? What kind of upbringing did they go through as children?

    I went to the GoodGuide website and am very skeptical of thier findings. In a comparison of "frozen foods" Boca scored higher than Amy's Kitchen which I find to be completley irrational. Boca is owned by Kraft foods, one of the LEAST "green" companies in the industry. Kraft has made Multinational Monitor's "Worst Corporation" list 5 years running, most recently ranking in at #2. On the other hand, Amy's Kitchen donates food to relief efforts, and is a CAM certified green business.

    I would suggest that concerned consumers looking to measure the social responsibility of common household products turn to The Better World Shopping Guide by Dr Ellis Jones. It includes grades from A-F of consumer goods that I believe more accurately reflect their relative "greenness".

    I can tell you,
    as a cosmetologist, the ads running for shampoos that are 100% sulfate free are a lie. The "sulfate"
    molecule may be changed an iota as to become a brother or sister chemical that allows the company to state, under current advertising regulations, the product is sulfate free.

    Imagine what else is getting by under the auspices of green.

    Marc was wondering why humane and ethical categories were included with "green" on a product review web site. If Marc will google Scientific American and look at the May 2009 issue he may begin to understand such reasoning. I'm no fan of upper middle-class blather about products I don't use and can't afford but I am concerned about the increasing number of "failed states" and how they affect our quality of life right here at home. For instance, using grains for ethanol tends to drive up global food prices and starve or further impoverish the already poorest people. Masses of deprived persons tend to riot and migrate rather than starve in place. We have reached "Peak Food" now as well as "peak oil" and so are dealing with opportunistic speculation in global markets. (Marc, notice how gas prices are on the way up?)
    As for child labor, it is pretty impossible to "go green" under such transactions. Exploitive employers prefer children first, then young women so that the labor force is easier to intimidate and shortchange. Imagine the unemployed parents! All this drives down the world wage and lessens overall quality of life while accelerating an ungreen race to the bottom.
    Marc seems to be thinking like a "consumer" with personal welfare and price foremost. Green will always be a socialistic and collective proposition and is only possible as a good where competitive capitalism is restrained. The best thing any world citizen can do now is quit eating meat. It takes about 20 times the energy to produce as plant foods and deprives starving people. Starving people have little interest in limiting population through birth control and are unable to support sustainability. Until Marc becomes more than a smart shopper he has little chance of going green, except in the "green with envy" sense.
    Even worse, as the United States collapses as an empire, Marc should be worried about his food and fuel security, and his employment, because there is little to prevent the USA from becoming a failed state too, if it cannot police for basic order, cannot produce adequate energy and must export food because of overseas debt and trade imbalance.

    I went to the site GoodGuide. I like the idea of a rating based on impact to the environment. However, they watered down the evaluation with a lot of categories that have little to do with Green. Energy use, water conservation and many others are very good. However, workplace diversity, layoffs, child labor, etc. can all be categories of goodness or badness, but don’t have a lot to do with Green.

    My suspicion is they have more to do with the political leanings of the GoodGuide organization, than with Green. If this happens, the intention of this site will be marginalized and the benefits lost. That would be a shame.

    Please stay focused on what you want to accomplish.

    I didnt get to watch the debate about going green or anything but it is a subject that I feel is ofd great importance not only to me and my family but the whole world because it is the only wolrd we have to live in, it the only one that feeds us, and houses us so to a piont we need to clean up and go green but there are huge problems in the way people in america veiw these out of their own eyes. They tell us we can go green by buying those cloth shopping bags, or buy changing our light bulbs, or buying cars with high gas mileage, and many many more ingenuise ways they have came up with to sell it to the american people. But in the reality of it all you can do everything they say to help but if you look at the big picture of the world it doesnt do as much as they say it does but just enough so they can right their reports to keep us happy with numbers. IF you take the time to look at the whole picture and nothing but the whole picture you will see a diiferent storys because if you look at the plants that make these "green" products over in china you will see that the process is still nothing but. The plant that make our products for everyday consumtion is still polluting the waters and air. They are still making people sick, helping speed up cancers rates by the toxines we inhale, they are still doing everything that is wrong to the earth that they where doing before we went green. Cause those lightbulbs that last longer and saves energy still as a process to go through to get the final product and that process is just a harmful to earth as was it before they made them. Like Wal-mart they might be one of the greenest companies in the world but dont let them fool you cause Wal-mart as it's own entity might be green cause all they really have to do is recycle all the plastic and cardboard their products come in and put them on selves for us to buy, then they might change all their lights to energy star lights. Bam you have the greenest company but look at the products they sell. The people that make the products they sell are i'm sure not by any means are green. So look in turn they are supporting some of the worste plants on earth that are destoring our plant for finacail gain once again it a big cycle of bullshit so if you really wanna go green, if you really want to feel like you do the earth some good then plant communty gardens, cook our own bread, get orders from people in the neighborhood and have a local butcher fill our orders instead of going to stores that has meat processed in some plant in some counrty that cant afford to go green cause thats their only form of income in hope to have some of that food they proceesed thats sent here for us to buy so we can have cheap food. See people if look our crazy it is you'll too start seeing the bs cycle of how we live here in this counrty its crazy. We pride our selves on changing lights bulbs and rcycling soda bottles that where made in plants that somewhere in this world posioned somebody water supply or air or crops or what every case it may be as long as we dont kill our crops here and posion our waters here we can care less about others in other parts of the world but the pride our selves for buying the lastest hybrid car.

    A good question would be, which shade of green are we talking about? Natural green or money green?

    As the director of Toxics Information Project (TIP), an organization educating on toxic chemicals in everyday life and healthier alternatives, I very much appreciate this article. People are mostly oblivious to the toxicity of products they use regularly. Moreover, they naturally assume that the government would not allow harmful prsonal care products to be sold - unfortunately, not true. There is no regulation of such - nor even a requirement for disclosure of all ingredients.

    Skin Deep & the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are great resources. Since some have had trouble accessing them, please try the links on my site at: They are working as of right now, and there is some other helpful information on that page.

    Excellent interview, very informative information!

    Going green is like loosing weight or buying a car for better fuel mileage. Ever notice as soon as these people/organizations pound there message/scare tactics into every bodies head the prices go up.Example why should we have to buy cloth recycled shopping bags that advertise the stores company name like WALMART. They should give those bags out for free why should we be a walking advertisement and have to pay to? I am all for cleaning up the earth,water&air but why should we be screwed trying to help.Do not worry people the companies that poisoned our air,water&towns will be asking for bailouts soon to clean it up. has my attention. I've looked over the products in my home,marked each one with a number, and will buy a less hazzardous product when I replace them. I feel let down by the manufacturers who make these damaging items. Knowledge is powerful!

    Green has two meanings. We are speculating in crude oil futures and gasoline again. A barrel is now in the $60+ range. ($2.50 for regular) Exploration produces a fraction of what was once discovered.You can drill, drill, drill but what do you get? (Thrills, chills and spills)

    As oil pastures get greener (with scarcity) then so does alternative sustainable energy technology. We have a race between corporate hegemony and technological implementation. (the responsible route would be a carbon tax, but Obama a player.)

    I don't think we'll ever see electric Hum-vees and Predators. Every penny gas goes up pushes Afghanistan and empire farther away.

    It ain't all good, but I'd say exercise your walking and biking legs this summer if you want to go anywhere in the fall. Investors: Keep forever blowing bubbles; pretty bubbles in the air.

    I think this country needs car-free days when people could walk and bike the streets and roads. Just a few of these days would show us that we have no freedom of movement, that it was all a gasoline delusion. Why do people commute? Why don't they live near work? You have to be pretty dumb to enjoy driving, especially when you are destroying your planet every time you do. Flying is a felony.

    And if I'm gonna live in an urban beehive I want a place next door to grow food, watch birds, play and enjoy the outdoors. We have been avoiding our true nature for a long time.

    My words sound scary only because you're afraid of the costs. But just like single-payer healthcare, simpler is better. If we are entitled to the basics they should be provided. After all, we made civilization possible with our labor. 90% of people could soon be made unnecessary, just like David Simon's underclass or Vonnegut's "player Piano." More jobs were lost from this country by automation than off-shoring during the last 30 years, but nobody says it. Now we must do what is needed more than what is lucrative. Maybe we will finally become civilized.

    I would also like to recommend Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They help make fish choices which are both healthy and environmentally responsible and their guide is by region of the country that you live in.

    How green is green?
    We need to be the caretakers of earth not the source of its destruction. Our environment is going south at a rapid rate. We have met the enemy and they are us.

    In this piece, Goleman mentions the website:
    HOWEVER, the site is SOMEHOW dow. It seems to have simply disappeared!!!

    Here's a cryptic comment about this that's floating around the net:
    mention somewhere popular has caused searches to unintentionally take down The site appears to be a directory/resource for finding out what products are included in cosmetics. Right now, a message on the landing page says "Welcome to Skin Deep. Cosmetic Safety Database by Environmental Working Group. We're experiencing unusual volume, please check back later or try again." I'd imagine they'll get their servers going again as soon as the hordes stop coming, but I guess that depends on what mention got so many people interested in checking out the site. Good luck,

    Did the cosmetics industry GET to GOOGLE and the Cosmetics Data Base?
    WHAT IS GOING ON? Bill Moyers SHOULD look into this and find out what's REALLY going on?

    Change requires asking hard questions.
    Do I need a 3000sq/ft house?
    Will I pay higher prices for locally raised and/or organic food?
    Will I reuse brown water?
    How much stuff is enough?
    Could I go vegetarian for
    Can soap be substituted for
    Are imported purchases
    And so on.

    It requires an inventory/assessment of lifestyle,finances,value system and health. Any change for the better is greatly appreciated by our
    planet,her population, and
    the future generations.

    It is not often that I am disappointed with the Journal but an eco- consumer discussion on products seemed to miss at least one of the larger points of the "green" initiative.

    Why don't you come to Florida instead and see one of the dozens of new, mega-scaled 'green' subdivisions built or soon to be built in the middle of the nowhere--but not for long. We've got lots and lots of development corridors on the state drawing board; corridors that will soon be filled with highly-courted retirees and peddlers of eco-conscious products while the wild and open spaces that were there not so very long ago vanish yet again before our very egotistical, eco-blind eyes.

    And what great communities they are. Some boast being built nearly as fast as the world was created--seven days. Now that's eco-quality, especially if the drywall slapped on the walls is contaminated.

    But isn't it good to know that the cheaper shampoo is so eco-friendly. Simply, we've got bigger "products" to worry about like junk houses and instant communities.

    I like the goodguide website, but there are some general problems with the information provided: 1) the overall rating may be high, but the health performance of the product may be low; 2) there is no rating for functional performance: how the product performs for what it is supposed to do (i.e. does a deodorant actually stops perspiration?); 3) it is not possible to print complete lists (i.e., all soaps). But this website is a step in the right direction, Thanks.

    Important segment. I'd love to see a speaker(s) take this to the next level. Such decisions are critical to our economic viability and quality of life.

    Its now clear our current economic metrics are phony capital - based on gambling with monopoly money.

    We cannot use resources at 5 times the rate earth replenishes itself and expect our economy to survive. While the metrics may not be perfect (as others have already pointed out) they are at least based upon something real. "The region / state / country / planet with the most Natural Capital wins".

    Don't get discouraged by the complexity, but look at such sites as organic and evolving. Start somewhere - now. Make mistakes, learn, evolve!

    First of all, the decision to use the expensive shampoo vs. the inexpensive shampoo (the latter being the better) raises an interesting ethical question: Which one is better for the user? The cheaper one may be better for the environment, but is it better shampoo? Second, in Mr Goleman's quest to talk about the great chain of being and the processes involved in producing the products we use on a daily basis, I don't recall him talking about the potential environmental problems associated with publishing his three books. Were toxic wastes involved? How much paper was used in the process? Inquiring people want to know.

    Great show, very informative and thought-provoking. So glad that Bill Moyers has this program! That said, I looked at GoodGuide, specifically under Hot Cereals, and found a rating that included charitable giving by the company. This is to show, what? That the company has its heart in the right place? Why would that be a basis for choosing nutritious food? That part of the rating puts organic Arrowhead steel cut oats quite a bit below Quaker instant oats and most of us realize that "instant" anything has some pre-processing involved. We also know that organic has tested substantially more nutritious than non-organically raised food. Not sure I can trust these ratings in the food area. But as Goleman indicates, nothing is simple, nothing is black and white. One must look more deeply.

    I am disappointed this blog does not have more excerpts from the show. It would also be great to find links to transcripts, at least partial.

    The bottom line is that we have to do something and starting somewhere is at least that. I was sad to know, like Bill, that my 'green' efforts aren't having a bigger impact, but I understand and I know that for each one of us that tries, there are probably two people that harm. The key to what Daniel said is that people have to see a personal impact for them to do something. Examples are MADD members or what happened in our last election. So the important thing for us 'green' hopefuls is that we have to be examples to society around us, try to reach people daily to change and to persevere. It is over due to take old innovations and update them. It kills me to know and see what man is doing and has done to nature and the innocent. We have no right.

    Very interesting show.
    Made me think of my Boy Scout days back in the 1970's. I still have my old manual -- it was "printed on 100% recycled paper" in 1972!
    I shot some home movies of our Scout troop collecting cans, glass and newspapers in 1974, recently put it up on Youtube.

    I was very happy to see the subject covered. Goleman makes some very good points. In my opinion and from what I've researched and been told, it's mostly petrochemical and coal tar derivatives in one form or another - that are damaging our health and the health of our environment.

    Take fragrance. Did you know that there are more than 4,000 chemicals used in making fragrances and that 95% of them are from petroleum. Fragrance is in almost every personal care, laundry and cleaning product that people use on a daily basis, so they are exposed to it 24/7/365. Can you imagine how many chemicals people are exposing themselves, their families, friends and the public to? Fragrances are not regulated yet they have as many harmful chemicals in them as cigarette smoke. Just buying fragrance free products will be a good place to start on being green.

    It's "Goodguide", I thought it was "goodguy too. Here's the link Good show, just the kind of information we all need, you sure can't trust the FDA (false deceptive advertising) and I'm tired of supporting bad corporate behavior. It sure would be nice to have a little help wading through the sea of BS
    out there and be able to make a reasonably informed decision on these matters.

    Thanks Bill for having the journalistic integrity that's so lacking in MSM today.

    Ecological intelligence? Well there is alot hidden that is not even discussed. Like the subject of inerts in pesticides. Sounds pretty harmless, inerts. Not so. They are virtually unregulated and pesticide companies dump the most heinous chemicals in without having to list them on the label. And "organic food" is not exempt. The Fluoride Action Network has info to show how Fluoride containing chemicals are used by the ton on organic crops. For the USDA standard simply classifies them as inert.
    Here are some web addresses to access info:

    It's "Goodguide', I thought it was "Goodguy" too, here's the link
    Good show and just the kind of information we all need because you sure can't trust the FDA (false deceptive advertising) and I'm tired of supporting bad corporate behavior and can use a little help wading through the sea of BS.

    Thank you Bill for having the kind of journalistic integrity that's seems almost nonexistent today.

    People seem to want their world to be simple. "Green" is good? "Green" is not good? There's little room for the subtle or the nuanced. I live in Vermont. Everything's green here right now, and it's good -- though a little buggy, but you take your piece of paradise where you find it.

    The web site mentioned in your show,, has a long way to go to be a fair and consumer friendly source for consumers. I checked a ginger beer product that has natural ingredients and it was given a zero rating. Then I checked a popular cola company's product and they gave it a 5. Goodguide also gave this cola company a 10, or excellant, rating for Labor Rights. How can this company be given an excellent rating for Labor Rights when it has been implicated in the murders of labor leaders in Colombia? Frontline did a show on this subject: I personally will not trust this web site to give me accurate information regarding products.

    Back in the 60's and 70's when there was a lot of environmental awareness there was at the same time a very great interest in systems theory, which seems to have been discarded along with the other. This was IMHO a great loss, because systems thinking is really needed to understand economics, as well as, ecology, and a great many other things, so I am happy to see some of it reappear in this. But Goleman is of an age and background to have been exposed to it, tho I have to say it was still surprising, because I tend to think of him as a quack. GoodGuide seems to be a very poorly designed website, the balance of which I would question, particulary in its data presentation, which seems slanted towards the sensational. Some good cheap products are downrated for reasons not at all related to their performance or safety. Some expensive products may have low ratings, but equally expensive health store or natural food store-type products are highly recommended when stuff like plain soap or baking soda would do as well. On the whole I was not at all impressed.

    Please send the Good Guys website mentioned in your discussion. Thanks

    Happy, Healthy and Successful teens: We must understand the world adults created for teens to grow up in. Then we will address the health issues teens are facing.

    Please, what were the websites Goleman mentioned?

    Please send me the info of the web page to look for good products.

    The Link to Skin Deep does not work. Cosmecticsdatabase is not working

    Please identify the "Good Guys" .

    Please send us the websites that Daniel Coleman mentioned on this program. thanks

    Neither website works. I get a Page Load Error

    Goldman gets kudos for pointing out the obvious. My wife and I are moderately wealthy, live in a 1 bedroom apartment, drive 28 MPG cars and consume minimally. How big is Goldman's carbon footprint? Yours (big, big house)? This guy is a typical self marketing PUSHY individual whose theories are speculative at best. The dinosaurs produced more pollution in their feces than we do now.

    A green economy will mean retraining for new kinds of jobs. Some industries will lose out eventually (coal and gas autos) but others will be created. We did manage to make the switch from the horse and buggy infrastructure to the auto. Now we must adapt again!

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