As with any effort to identify the most influential books in the sustainability area, we had trouble separating the books that follow from the sea of world-class authors. We created sub-sections of sustainability and had students identify the top books in each of those subsections. Each of these books in some way has left a lasting impression on a student of sustainability. Please feel free to suggest additions to the following list:
If you order a book from Amazon.com through the links on this page, a share of the purchase price will be returned to Tom Eggert’s sustainability program and students and will be donated to an organization dedicated to sustainability.
Roots of Sustainability
A Sand County Almanac written by Aldo Leopold serves as one of the cornerstones for modern conservation science, policy, and ethics. First published by Oxford University Press in 1949 – one year after Leopold’s death – it has become a classic in the field equaled in its lasting stature only by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Working over a twelve-year period, Leopold wrote, re-wrote, and re-wrote again, essays that both informed people of how the natural world worked, and inspired people to take action to ensure the future health of the land and water that sustains all life.
Systems and Sustainability
William McDonough and Michael Braungart co-wrote this design manifesto in 2002. Cradle to Cradle calls for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Through case studies of their work, McDonough and Braungart outline their design paradigm and the vision for the ‘Next Industrial Revolution.’ Cradle to Cradle design perceives the safe and productive processes of nature’s ‘biological metabolism’ as a model for developing a ‘technical metabolism’ for industrial materials.
The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, is the long-awaited sequel to Cradle to Cradle, arguably one of the few most influential sustainability books of all time. Drawing on a decade of lessons in putting Cradle to Cradle concepts into practice with businesses, governments, and people around the world, McDonough and Braungart invite us to reimagine everything from doorknobs to the Hoover Dam. In a world that uses design as a tool for positive impact, industry can do better than “do no harm”: it can actively improve everything with which it comes into contact.
The Tipping Point is a book about change. In particular, it’s a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990’s? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? It’s that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.
Simon Levin, Princeton University
Sustainability and Business Classics
“Natural capital” refers to the earth’s natural resources and the ecological systems that provide vital life-support services to society and all living things. Previous industrial revolutions made people vastly more productive when low per-capita output was limiting progress in exploiting a seemingly boundless natural world. Today we face a different pattern of scarcity: abundant people and labor-saving machines, but diminishing natural capital. A classic text, Natural Capitalism describes a future on the verge of a new industrial revolution in which business and environmental interests increasingly overlap, and one where companies can improve their bottom lines, help solve environmental problems—and feel better about what they do—all at the same time.
Business and Sustainability
Business is Beautiful by Jean-Baptiste Danet, Nick Liddell, Lynne Dobney, and Dorothy MacKenzie, examines unique and deeply inspiring cases of business success proving (yet again) the corporate world can be a force for beauty, human greatness and value much more encompassing than what can be captured by the mere measure of profit.
The New Sustainability Advantage by Bob Willard, shows how sustainability strategies can increase revenue, reduce costs, avoid impending risks and enhance brand value, resulting in profit improvements of 51-81% within three to five years for a typical company.
Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them by Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, delights with its stories of Latino entrepreneurs innovating for sustainability and changing both their own lives and the world for the better, all while building a helpful image of green-mindedness for Latino communities across the country.
The HIP Investor by Paul Herman, is a lucid and data-heavy analysis of ways smart investors can inform themselves about, and benefit from, re-routing their funds towards companies returning human impact AND profit. Herman is uniquely equipped to translate complex sustainability thought leadership into a language the finance world understands.
Layoffs. Failing companies. Collapsing economies. Tainted products. Scarce resources. These are but a few of the seemingly intractable problems that plague the world we live in today. And these problems will only get worse—unless we change how we do business. That calls for the relentless pursuit not of short-term profitability, but of long-term sustainability—and that doesn’t mean “green.” Leading business strategist Adam Werbach pushes sustainability well beyond quaint notions of saving the planet. In Strategy for Sustainability, Werbach redefines the movement to address not just environmental and economic trends, but also social and cultural ones.
Green to Gold explores and explains what every executive must know to manage the environmental challenges facing business and society. It offers cutting-edge strategies and tools to help companies find their way in a world of resource constraints and pressures from all sides. Green to Gold focuses on innovation, execution, and making environmental thinking both a core business strategy and a driver of long-term growth.
Nature and Systems
The Web of Life starts from the conceptual framework presented in The Turning Point, summarizes the mathematics of complexity, and offers a synthesis of recent nonlinear theories of living systems that have dramatically increased our understanding of the key characteristics of life. The book has been published in 14 editions in 10 languages.
The New Economy of Nature brings together Gretchen Daily, one of the world’s leading ecologists, with Katherine Ellison, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, to offer an engaging and informative look at a new “new economy” – one recognizing the economic value of natural systems and the potential profits in protecting them.
Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature – taking advantage of evolution’s 3.8 billion years of R&D since the first bacteria. Science writer and lecturer Janine Benyus names and explains this phenomenon. In her book Biomimicry she takes us into the lab and out in the field with cutting-edge researchers as they stir vats of proteins to unleash their computing power; analyze how electrons zipping around a leaf cell convert sunlight into fuel in trillionths of a second; discover miracle drugs by watching what chimps eat when they’re sick; study the hardy prairie as a model for low-maintenance agriculture; and more.
Humanism and Sustainability
Beautiful and Abundant by Bryan Welch, examines the gap in vision for the future many of us experience and witness in fellow citizens, business leaders and policy makers. To build a beautiful and abundant future, Welch argues powerfully, we have to imagine it boldly, together, first. This book is a compelling sustainability Renaissance attitude guide that will serve you well in times of uncertainty, rapid change and messy, chaotic transitions.
Cultural ecologist Gene Anderson has spent his life exploring the ways in which different groups of native peoples manage the environment. In Ecologies of the Heart he mixes anthropology with ecology and psychology, traditional myth and folklore with informed discussions of conservative efforts in industrial society, to reveal a strikingly new approach to our current environmental crisis.
An accomplished sleight-of-hand magician as well as a gifted philosopher, David Abram has lived and traded magic with indigenous sorcerers on several continents. Starting from the intimate relation between these traditional magicians and the animals, plants, and natural elements that surround them, The Spell of the Sensuous draws us into a remarkable series of investigations regarding the fluid, participatory nature of perception, and the reciprocity between our senses and the sensuous earth. The book unfolds into an exploration of language, and of the power our words have to enhance or to stifle the spontaneous life of the senses. Contrasting the spoken stories of diverse indigenous oral cultures with ways of speaking common to literate civilization, The Spell of the Sensuous reveals the profound impact that the alphabet has had upon the human experiences of time, of space, of earthly place.
Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, has turned into an instant must-have classic on storytelling, a tool vital to the success of any corporate communications campaign in an era of information overload and instant content gratification.