The best sustainability books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about sustainability and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

By Elizabeth Kolbert,

Why this book?

I have to start with a confession: I buy many books on the climate and biodiversity crisis—as this is my main focus as a science journalist—but in many cases, I have to quit reading after several chapters. Even if they are of relevance—they often are simply too depressing and a mere accumulation of horrible facts.

This does not apply to the books of Elizabeth Kolbert—which is all the more amazing as her topic is hard stuff: How men alter and destroy nature, which we depend on. But nonetheless: I can´t stop reading it. Kolbert travels far and takes her readers…

From the list:

The best books that´ll help you understand the biodiversity crisis—by telling you a great story

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

The Struggle for Social Sustainability: Moral Conflicts in Global Social Policy

By Christopher Deeming (editor),

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on social sustainability

Book cover of Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love

Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love

By Mallory McDuff,

Why this book?

A meaningful and absolutely pleasurable read that supports a treasured purpose in our complex world and justly speaks to one of the genuine accountabilities of being human: caring for and interring our dead. How do we plan for our final needs after passing and retain climate and community? Mallory faced these problems after her parents died in nearly identical biking mishaps a few years apart. She has inspired me greatly with how she writes about one of my favorite subjects. And how extra enjoyable to have my work attributed a few times throughout her book.

From the list:

The best books if you literally want to go green when you die

Book cover of Sustainable Happy Profit: Products and Organizations that Thrive

Sustainable Happy Profit: Products and Organizations that Thrive

By Ines Garcia,

Why this book?

This book takes an unusual, very modern approach by combining profit with sustainability and happiness. A current controversial discussion, after all, deals with the compatibility of sustainability and profitability. This compatibility is strongly advocated by the author. She also believes that a sustainably profitable offering makes the company and the customers happy. Overall, an enrichment of the discussion about profit orientation!

From the list:

The best books on how to manage profit and survive

Book cover of Sustainable Minimalism: Embrace Zero Waste, Build Sustainability Habits That Last, and Become a Minimalist Without Sacrificing the Plane

Sustainable Minimalism: Embrace Zero Waste, Build Sustainability Habits That Last, and Become a Minimalist Without Sacrificing the Plane

By Stephanie Marie Seferian,

Why this book?

Stephanie Seferian is a good friend of mine and her Sustainable Minimalists podcast is one of my favorites! When I found out she was putting all her eco-minimalist knowledge into a book, I knew I had to get a copy. This book shares practical, well-researched advice on how you can reduce your number of possessions while also reducing your carbon footprint. Stephanie is a mother of two young girls, so her advice is applicable to busy moms who don’t have a lot of time. You’ll want to dog-ear and sticky note many of these pages!

From the list:

The best books on minimalism and simplicity for working moms

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

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

By Sander Van Der Leeuw,

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on social sustainability

Book cover of Civilization Critical: Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future

Civilization Critical: Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future

By Darrin Qualman,

Why this book?

Despite the Covid pandemic, the two biggest threats to human society are political strife and degradation of its food supply through climate change and population explosion. Darren Qualman provides an easily understood discussion of the latter. He starts with the simple closed-loop plant/animal cycle powered by the sun’s energy, which existed up until about 300 years ago. Then, explains how the discovery of coal and oil, invention of the tractor, and development of a process to convert oil into fertilizer changed all that.

As a teenager, I was taught that the population explosion would cause mass starvation in the near…

From the list:

The best books to influence human society

Book cover of 101 Rules of Thumb for Sustainable Buildings and Cities

101 Rules of Thumb for Sustainable Buildings and Cities

By Huw Heywood,

Why this book?

The book is beautifully presented as a series of annotated diagrams, one for each rule of thumb. This is a very powerful communication tool for explaining principles of sustainable design that designers can understand and then apply to their own projects. The concepts span design considerations from the scale of the room to the city to the globe - benefiting interior designers, architects, landscape architects, and urban designers alike. I would urge all designers to create a sustainability diagram of every project during the design process.

From the list:

The best books on sustainable design

Book cover of Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World

Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World

By Marcia Bjornerud,

Why this book?

Bjornerud, a geologist, goes far beyond a basic history of Earth in this philosophical little volume. She introduces the concept of timefulness, or how the world is shaped by time. By exploring topics such as the rise of mountains and the shifting of continents, she sets the stage for a deeper understanding of the changes occurring on our planet today — and how we might be better stewards of our brief moment upon the stage.

From the list:

The best books on deep time

Book cover of Woodcraft: A practical celebration of the tree

Woodcraft: A practical celebration of the tree

By John Rhyder,

Why this book?

Nature connection is not just about meditating in a woodland—it’s about reconnecting to our past and working with the resources we have in the natural world around us. This book will help readers learn all the different crafts and activities they can participate in—and even more importantly, it will teach them sustainable harvesting practices.

From the list:

The best books on nature connection

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