The best books on social sustainability

Why am I passionate about this?

I have long been interested in understanding the role of knowledge in social-ecological systems. After experiencing and surviving a series of geological disasters in childhood, I began writing nonfiction and fiction about the importance of human relations and socio-cultural dimensions of sustainability. Since completing a PhD developing a knowledge ecosystems model for research innovation, I've published widely across areas such as knowledge management, information and computer sciences, higher education, and social policy. I'm a researcher in social technology, a qualified career development practitioner, and educator. I'm currently Director and Principal Consultant at Human Constellation. I've led and partnered on projects with many organizations including Reddit, Twitter, CSIRO, the Australian National University, and Harvard University. 


I wrote...

Producing Shared Understanding for Digital and Social Innovation: Bridging Divides with Transdisciplinary Information Experience Concepts and Methods

By Faye Miller,

Book cover of Producing Shared Understanding for Digital and Social Innovation: Bridging Divides with Transdisciplinary Information Experience Concepts and Methods

What is my book about?

A key question for social sustainability research and practice is how can we unify interactions and experiences towards building healthy relationships between people, planet and technologies? The author posits that bridging these often conflicting or fractured relationships for social sustainability centers on developing mindsets and skill sets based on a creative model of producing shared understanding. 

Based on the author’s extensive research, this book introduces bridging concepts - informational waves, transdisciplinary resonance, shared understanding, and also design research methods towards activating these concepts - curating moments, navigating paradoxes, and mapping dialogues. Presented in an engaging narrative combining empirical qualitative and arts-based research, the proposed creative model in this book can make significant contributions to improving digital social innovations, quality of life, and cross-sectoral sustainable development collaborations.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

Faye Miller Why did I love this book?

The experience of reading this book is like being teleported from your everyday life ‘bubble’ into the multidimensional ways humans have changed - and are changing - every aspect of the natural world. This transformative experience leads to pondering what these human-oriented legacies might be, as “our impact is already measurable on the geological record.” For me, the value is observing the author’s talents in weaving together scientific evidence with poetic and speculative storytelling - a fascinating, challenging technique for non-fiction writers in this area to study. A book to read more than once, generating much-needed hopeful discussion and visions for the future, The Human Age always sparks my creative research imagination. It is inspiring for exploring some intriguing connections between people, planet, and technologies, including the insightful question: “Is nature “natural” anymore?”

By Diane Ackerman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Human Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With her celebrated blend of scientific insight, clarity, and curiosity, Diane Ackerman explores our human capacity both for destruction and for invention as we shape the future of the planet Earth. Ackerman takes us to the mind-expanding frontiers of science, exploring the fact that the "natural" and the "human" now inescapably depend on one another, drawing from "fields as diverse as evolutionary robotics...nanotechnology, 3-D printing and biomimicry" (New York Times Book Review), with probing intelligence, a clear eye, and an ever-hopeful heart.


Book cover of The Struggle for Social Sustainability: Moral Conflicts in Global Social Policy

Faye Miller Why did I love this book?

While future speculation inspires our research imaginations, I believe that our hopes for humanity will never be fully realized without building the critical capacity to connect research into policy processes in governments and intergovernmental organizations. This edited volume of authoritative essays is a pivotal contribution towards accelerating social progress and quality of life. The book contains useful clarification on the meaning of a relatively new term social sustainability, in light of pressing global sustainability issues, such as growing inequality, changing world population, ageing societies, and migration. Based on evidence-based pragmatic wisdom from distinguished academics with international policy experience, these essays examine social sustainability from morally conflicting perspectives - i.e. social cohesion, social justice, social wellbeing - and how they can be navigated through and implemented meaningfully by stakeholders.

By Christopher Deeming (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Struggle for Social Sustainability as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The ongoing social crises and moral conflicts evident in global social policy debates are addressed in this timely volume.
Leading interdisciplinary scholars focus on the 'social' of social policy, which is increasingly conceived in a globalised form, as new international agreements and global goals engender social struggles. They tackle pressing 'social questions', many of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19, including growing inequality, changing world population, ageing societies, migration and intersectional disadvantage.
This ground-breaking volume critically engages with contested conceptions of the social which are increasingly deployed by international institutions and policy makers. Focusing on social sustainability, social cohesion, social…


Book cover of Cultural Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Faye Miller Why did I love this book?

Cultural sustainability is the study of how people’s worldviews, cultures, and beliefs impact their positive and negative environmental behaviors. This book makes an in-depth research contribution towards defining and activating human cultural dimensions of sustainability. As a writer with an interest in transdisciplinary ecological humanities, this book deeply resonates: If we are in the Age of Humans, the future is our shared responsibility - understanding ourselves, others, and our own choices - to protect the environment and develop sustainable social technologies. This book offers a compelling case that makes us realize that current standalone green policies of energy efficiency and carbon reduction will not make as significant a difference if humans continue to ignore aspects of cultural change, shared values, and learning through creative and cultural arts, philosophy, economics, and theology. 

By Torsten Meireis (editor), Gabriele Rippl (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cultural Sustainability as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If the political and social benchmarks of sustainability and sustainable development are to be met, ignoring the role of the humanities and social, cultural and ethical values is highly problematic. People's worldviews, beliefs and principles have an immediate impact on how they act and should be studied as cultural dimensions of sustainability.

Collating contributions from internationally renowned theoreticians of culture and leading researchers working in the humanities and social sciences, this volume presents an in-depth, interdisciplinary discussion of the concept of cultural sustainability and the public visibility of such research. Beginning with a discussion of the concept of cultural sustainability,…


Book cover of Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World

Faye Miller Why did I love this book?

Earth Emotions is a landmark guide to new concepts and vocabulary to represent the complex new ‘eco-emotions’, a spectrum of positive and negative emotional responses caused by recent environmental and life changes. From a mental health perspective to social sustainability, this book is valuable for many people currently processing their eco-emotions. One lesson from my research journey is that emotion and shared empathy as forms of sustainability knowledge are underestimated in favor of more rational approaches, when affect and cognition are intrinsically linked. This book advances our understanding of holistic emotions as sustainable information. Having conducted research into knowledge ecosystems, I can relate to the proposed shift from the Human Age (anthropocene) of isolation and despair to a Symbiotic Age (symbiocene) defined by positive mutually beneficial relationships between different groups.

By Glenn A. Albrecht,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Earth Emotions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As climate change and development pressures overwhelm the environment, our emotional relationships with Earth are also in crisis. Pessimism and distress are overwhelming people the world over. In this maelstrom of emotion, solastalgia, the homesickness you have when you are still at home, has become, writes Glenn A. Albrecht, one of the defining emotions of the twenty-first century.

Earth Emotions examines our positive and negative Earth emotions. It explains the author's concept of solastalgia and other well-known eco-emotions such as biophilia and topophilia. Albrecht introduces us to the many new words needed to describe the full range of our emotional…


Book cover of Social Sustainability, Past and Future: Undoing Unintended Consequences for the Earth's Survival

Faye Miller Why did I love this book?

As a researcher exploring informational aspects of social-ecological systems, I find this comprehensive open access scholarly book on social sustainability endlessly fascinating and thought-provoking. The book’s central theme is the role played by the organization of information processing and its social evolution in complex adaptive systems throughout human history. The main strength of this work is its future perspective in the detailed context of the past, with this line capturing the shift: “for the first time in the history of our species we are faced with a major transition in that domain, from human to electronic information processing.” The author astutely observes and examines the unintended human consequences of information and communication technology advances, including the potential long-term impacts of artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

By Sander Van Der Leeuw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Social Sustainability, Past and Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book, Sander Van der Leeuw examines how the modern world has been caught in a socio-economic dynamic that has generated the conundrum of sustainability. Combining the methods of social science and complex systems science, he explores how western, developed nations have globalized their world view and how that view has led to the sustainability challenges we are now facing. Its central theme is the co-evolution of cognition, demography, social organization, technology and environmental impact. Beginning with the earliest human societies, Van der Leeuw links the distant past with the present in order to demonstrate how the information and…


You might also like...

Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

Book cover of Beautiful and Terrible Things

S. M. Stevens

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Charley Byrne isn’t really living. She hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, until quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander’s circle of diverse friends and thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the new friendships bring back-to-back betrayals that threaten the bookstore—Charley’s haven—and propel her into a dangerous depression, in a stark reminder that friendship has the power to destroy as well as save lives. Can her friends save the store? And Charley?

Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

What is this book about?

"A beautifully crafted story of friendship and self-discovery set amidst the harsh realities of today's world. Superb!" -Eileen O'Finlan, author of Erin's Children

Charley Byrne isn't really living. At age 29, she hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, afraid of a 7-year curse. Then quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander's circle of friends diverse in their heritage, race, gender and sexual orientation. She thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in sustainable development, sustainability, and environmentalism?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about sustainable development, sustainability, and environmentalism.

Sustainable Development Explore 31 books about sustainable development
Sustainability Explore 48 books about sustainability
Environmentalism Explore 190 books about environmentalism