The most recommended sustainable development books

Who picked these books? Meet our 31 experts.

31 authors created a book list connected to sustainable development, and here are their favorite sustainable development books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of sustainable development book?


Book cover of Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet

Mark A. Maslin Author Of How To Save Our Planet: The Facts

From my list on helping you save our beautiful precious planet.

Who am I?

The world around us is an amazing and beautiful place and for me science adds another layer of appreciation. I am a Professor of Earth System Science at University College London - which means I am lucky enough to research climate change in the past, the present, and the future. I study everything from early human evolution in Africa to the future impacts of anthropogenic climate change.  I have published over 190 papers in top science journals. I have written 10 books, over 100 popular articles and I regularly appear on radio and television. My blogs on the 'Conversation' have been read over 5.5 million times and you might want to check them out!

Mark's book list on helping you save our beautiful precious planet

Mark A. Maslin Why did Mark love this book?

Let us be realistic, we all know that our economic system is broken. We cannot go on making stuff and throwing it away on a finite planet.

There are now 8 billion people on Earth all wanting to have a good life. So what is the alternative to economic growth? Well, Tim wonderfully shows us how the economy of tomorrow could protect employment, facilitate social investment, reduce inequality, and deliver both ecological and financial stability.

When this book was first published it was seen as a radical and dangerous text. Now with the rise of environmental and ecological economics it is the fundamental book that kicked off the revolution in the way we see the future.

By Tim Jackson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Prosperity without Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is more economic growth the solution? Will it deliver prosperity and well-being for a global population projected to reach nine billion? In this explosive book, Tim Jackson - a top sustainability adviser to the UK government - makes a compelling case against continued economic growth in developed nations.

No one denies that development is essential for poorer nations. But in the advanced economies there is mounting evidence that ever-increasing consumption adds little to human happiness and may even impede it. More urgently, it is now clear that the ecosystems that sustain our economies are collapsing under the impacts of rising…

Book cover of Earth, Wind and Fire: Unpacking the Political, Economic and Security Implications of Discourse on the Green Economy

Najma Mohamed Author Of Sustainability Transitions in South Africa

From my list on justice and sustainability in South Africa.

Who am I?

While my childhood in a coastal community in South Africa contributed to my deep appreciation and love for nature, I was born and grew up as a person of colour in the apartheid era when barricades divided humans, the land, and the sea. I developed a profound understanding, rooted in my lived experience, of the interlinkages between justice, equity, and sustainability. I've remained actively involved and interested in developing and profiling transformative and inclusive approaches to sustainability from community to the international level. I've maintained this focus on the nexus between climate, nature, and inequality throughout my career, where I've led transformative and inclusive approaches to nature and climate policy and practice for 20+ years. 

Najma's book list on justice and sustainability in South Africa

Najma Mohamed Why did Najma love this book?

The book deals with the challenge of growth – how the South African economy needs to find a way to grow, and adopt policy choices and pathways that can help the country transition from a fossil fuel-intensive economy to a green economy, that is resource efficient, climate resilient, and equitable.

It grapples with the social complexity of post-apartheid South Africa and why a transition to a green economy in South Africa must be just transition. 

By Lynne Krieger Mytelka (editor), Velaphi Msimang (editor), Radhika Perrot (editor) , Marie Blanche Ting , Saliem Fakir , Manisha Gulati , Simone Haysom , Lyndall Mujakachi , Edison Muzenda , T. J. Pilusa , Louise Scholtz , Ogundiran Soumonni , Fumani Mthembi

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book examines issues ranging from global and domestic climate change and sustainable energy issues to the mineral-energy complex issues that have given rise to local and sector-specific problems. Each chapter seeks to convey policy choices and recommendations, at the centre of which is a clear articulation of the need for an integrated mix of policy instruments in South Africa to mitigate emissions and promote the development of a low-carbon economy through the low-carbon and sustainable energy technologies and low-carbon innovation across various sectors of the economy. The central theme of the book is that discourse and policy action on…

Book cover of Building a Green Economy: Perspectives from Ecological Economics

Jonathan M. Harris Author Of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach

From my list on understanding ecological economics.

Who am I?

I have been teaching and writing about economics and the environment for over thirty-five years, and have been inspired by my students to work towards a new ecological economics that can underpin a sustainable planetary future. Many of the crises that I and colleagues have predicted – climate disasters, soil degradation, water shortages, biodiversity loss – are now upon us, but the situation is not hopeless. I am working for a rapid transformation away from fossil-fuel and resource-intensive forms of economic growth, and hope that the expanding field of ecological economics can help to usher in this badly needed change. 

Jonathan's book list on understanding ecological economics

Jonathan M. Harris Why did Jonathan love this book?

Robby Richardson is an old friend and colleague who has led the way in developing practical ecological economics policies.

He has been on the front lines: fired by the Trump administration from a position at EPA for defending effective environmental protection, he returned to government in the Department of the Interior in the Biden administration, and in that role has developed natural resource accounting systems to guide government policy.

In this edited volume, he brings together leading ecological economics scholars to offer a variety of perspectives on building a green economy that places human welfare above consumerism and resource-intensive growth. 

By Robert B. Richardson (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Building a Green Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first decade of the twenty-first century has been characterised by a growing global awareness of the tremendous strains that human economic activity place on natural resources and the environment. As the world's population increases, so does the demand for energy, food, and other resources, which adds to existing stresses on ecosystems, with potentially disastrous consequences. Humanity is at a crossroads in our pathway to future prosperity, and our next steps will impact our long-term sustainability immensely.

In this timely volume, leading ecological economics scholars offer a variety of perspectives on building a green economy. Grounded in a critique of…

Book cover of Economic Institutions for a Resilient Caribbean

Winston Dookeran Author Of The Caribbean on the Edge: The Political Stress of Stability, Equality, and Diplomacy

From my list on political stress of stability, equality, and diplomacy.

Who am I?

As a student, I was intrigued by Newton’s laws of motion. As I grew older, I sought to understand how these laws apply in a real-world setting of economics and politics. I spent my full professional life in this search and held several positions – Minister of Finance, Governor of the Central Bank, Minister of Foreign Affairs. I was decorated over the years with several awards. I had a good education at the London School of Economics and at Harvard University. After it all, I still did not quite comprehend how Newton’s Laws work to advance the quality of life in communities and countries. The Caribbean on The Edge is a reflection of that journey.

Winston's book list on political stress of stability, equality, and diplomacy

Winston Dookeran Why did Winston love this book?

This book is a penetrating analysis of how economic institutions can foster a resilient economy. It is path-breaking in its search for sustainable development. I find this book to be ‘a bible’ for policy making and for students of economics, and provides a sound theoretical frame for policy initiatives. Linking the theory and practice of economics has been at the center of my main arguments.

Book cover of Sustainability: A Cultural History

Ray Cunningham Author Of The Post-Growth Project: How the End of Economic Growth Could Bring a Fairer and Happier Society

From my list on our fatal addiction to economic growth.

Who am I?

In my career, I managed research into how the problems of modern industrial society are tackled in different countries. This reflected my own comparative instinct, which arose out of growing up bilingual and at home in two cultures. My journey into politics, sociology, and economics made me increasingly aware of the blindness of our social arrangements to the growing ecological crisis – and of how this blindness is perpetuated by the narrow silos of our political and academic systems. Our only hope now lies with thinkers who can escape those silos and integrate different perspectives into a holistic understanding. We don’t need more specialists, but generalists. Fewer economists, more moral philosophers. 

Ray's book list on our fatal addiction to economic growth

Ray Cunningham Why did Ray love this book?

An eminently readable account of the emergence (or re-discovery) of the concept that might just be the antidote to our growth addiction – sustainability. Grober is perhaps best described as belonging to the now neglected tradition of natural philosophy, which means his analysis often finds its starting point in nature but leads to critical insights into human society and institutions. His work ranges across an impressive and always fascinating historical, geographic, and philosophical span.

I translated this book from the original German because I thought its message was urgently needed (and Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, agreed in her endorsement). If we are to avoid the catastrophe that our fixation on economic growth is leading us into, we will need a new lodestone. Sustainability may be our best option.

By Ulrich Grober, Ray Cunningham (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A compelling analysis of the meaning of sustainability and development of the modern concept... Well researched and written... I recommend it to all environmentally-minded readers." - Paul Fitzpatrick, Green World

From diets to economic growth, everything these days has to be 'sustainable'. But the word's currency should not obscure its origins: sustainability is an age-old aspiration; a concept deeply rooted in human culture. Though in danger of abuse and overuse today, it can still be recovered from its present inflationary coinage.

In clear and thought-provoking terms, Ulrich Grober reassesses the concept of sustainability using a range of fascinating historical instances…

Book cover of Urban Centres in Asia and Latin America: Heritage and Identities in Changing Urban Landscapes

Matthias Ripp Author Of A Metamodel for Heritage-based Urban Development: Enabling Sustainable Growth Through Urban Cultural Heritage

From my list on understanding that cultural heritage can be part of the solution to climate change.

Who am I?

I started my career in tourism but soon discovered my passion for urban heritage. Working as a site manager for a world heritage site, I gathered extensive insights on various levels of heritage management and urban governance from many colleagues around the world. Today there is no single project or meeting that does not address the challenges of climate change. Obtaining my Ph.D. late in life, in Heritage-Based Urban Development, I quickly became convinced that the traditional ideas of what cultural heritage is do not reflect the situation today and hinder giving cultural heritage a role in climate change prevention and adaption, beyond the narrative that it has to be preserved. 

Matthias' book list on understanding that cultural heritage can be part of the solution to climate change

Matthias Ripp Why did Matthias love this book?

Climate change and urban transformation are global phenomena. It is, therefore, always great to broaden your horizons and learn from other regions of the world.

This book from Simone Sandholz offers great insights into the situation in Asia and Latin America, both regions with a strong dynamic of urbanization and urban centers where high density with correlating high diversity of sometimes conflicting urban functions meet urban cultural heritage. She embraces a holistic understanding of this heritage and focuses on the integration of heritage in urban planning and development.

I highly recommend this book not only for scholars and students who are working on urban issues in Asia and Latin America but also for any urban planner, urban analyst, urban geographer, or heritage scientist who wants to learn from experiences in these parts of the world.

For me, this book opened my eyes to the challenges that urban centers in Asia…

By Simone Sandholz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Urban Centres in Asia and Latin America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book presents an overview of the challenges that cities in Latin America and Asia are facing regarding the preservation of their tangible and intangible heritage. It argues that urban heritage has a value that transcends the mere object's value, constituting a crucial source of identity for urban inhabitants. The same is true for the urban intangible values and practices that are often associated with places or buildings. The empirical research is based on case studies of Kathmandu in Nepal, Yogyakarta in Indonesia and Recife in Brazil; three cities that still comprise core areas with a high percentage of historic…

Book cover of Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow

David Bergman Author Of Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide

From my list on the climate crisis that actually offer hope.

Who am I?

I’m an architect, ecodesigner, economist, environmentalist, author, and professor. I like making use of all or parts of these to break down silos between fields in order to better understand and communicate sustainability. As a professor who is hoping to entice the next generation to not repeat our environmental mistakes, I try to emphasize carrots rather than sticks. I look to the win-win-win approaches: the symbiotic overlaps between sustainability, health, happiness, and economics. I call this EcoOptimism, and it’s the focus of my blog by the same title. Though it can be harder to remain optimistic amidst the worsening climate crisis and other environmental issues, I still find it one of the most viable routes.

David's book list on the climate crisis that actually offer hope

David Bergman Why did David love this book?

Upon seeing me carrying this book around, a friend of mine looked at me curiously and asked why we wouldn’t want growth and instead want prosperity. I realized she had misinterpreted this book’s title. The author isn’t referring to personal growth (which is, of course, good) but to economic growth and the assumption that bigger economic numbers (GDP) are better. The idea may get a bit geeky, but economic growth tends to not emphasize the things that are important (the unpaid tasks of taking care of elderly parents, for instance) but count the money spent on things that we’d rather not have more of, for example, prisons and war. What we want to measure and encourage are the things that truly make us better people and better societies. Happily, those things also tend to not be as environmentally bad.

By Tim Jackson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prosperity Without Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What can prosperity possibly mean in a world of environmental and social limits?

The publication of Prosperity without Growth was a landmark in the sustainability debate. Tim Jackson's piercing challenge to conventional economics openly questioned the most highly prized goal of politicians and economists alike: the continued pursuit of exponential economic growth. Its findings provoked controversy, inspired debate and led to a new wave of research building on its arguments and conclusions.

This substantially revised and re-written edition updates those arguments and considerably expands upon them. Jackson demonstrates that building a 'post-growth' economy is a precise, definable and meaningful task.…

Book cover of Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

John Montgomery Author Of Net Zero Business Models: Winning in the Global Net Zero Economy

From my list on creating a sustainable economy for our children.

Who am I?

As a corporate lawyer, I saw first-hand that corporations lack a comprehensive social and environmental conscience. I had begun to experiment with articles and bylaws when I met one of the founders of B-Lab, the creator of the B-Corp and architect behind the benefit corporation, in 2008. I have been working to upgrade the operating principles of the economy ever since. I was the co-chair of the legal working group for California’s benefit corporation legislation and my former law firm was one of the first law firms to become a B Corp. I’m highly motivated to leave a habitable planet to our children and grandchildren.

John's book list on creating a sustainable economy for our children

John Montgomery Why did John love this book?

This is my favorite book about business. I recommend it to my executive coaching clients and have suggested it to scores of people. 

In short, it profiles the heart-based leadership required to create a sustainable economy. A heart-based leader sets the field of consciousness within his or her organization and models the values of its culture. When we work in environments in which we are loved and trusted, we’re twice as productive and twice as happy and the organization has half the normal employee turnover. 

The twelve heart-based leaders and their organizations profiled in the book provide examples of the kind of leadership required to build a sustainable economy that truly cares for people and planet. 

By Frederic Laloux,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Reinventing Organizations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The way we manage organizations seems increasingly out of date. Survey after survey shows that a majority of employees feel disengaged from their companies. The epidemic of organizational disillusionment goes way beyond Corporate America-teachers, doctors, and nurses are leaving their professions in record numbers because the way we run schools and hospitals kills their vocation. Government agencies and nonprofits have a noble purpose, but working for these entities often feels soulless and lifeless just the same. All these organizations suffer from power games played at the top and powerlessness at lower levels, from infighting and bureaucracy, from endless meetings and…

Book cover of Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability

Sara Jensen Carr Author Of The Topography of Wellness: How Health and Disease Shaped the American Landscape

From my list on creating, building, and thinking about healthier places.

Who am I?

I am a professor of architecture, urbanism, and landscape at Northeastern University in Boston, as well as a licensed architect and urban designer. I’ve always been fascinated by the ways the design of the world affects our decision-making, health, and opportunities, from the early days of my career designing hospitals to my current work researching and designing for green space equity and considering how we design in the age of pandemics and climate change. I hope these books, as well as my own writing and work, empower people to understand, ask for, and co-design healthier environments wherever they live, work, and play.

Sara's book list on creating, building, and thinking about healthier places

Sara Jensen Carr Why did Sara love this book?

This book is truly the primer for understanding all the ways in which urban planning, policy, and design effects health outcomes and collects the breadth of contemporary research on the topic in one volume. I have always assigned multiple chapters from the first book in one of my classes, which introduces students to these concepts, and will be making several updates to the syllabus now! The new second edition explores issues of health and environmental justice more in-depth, touches on COVID-19, and provides several examples of how cities and organizations have prioritized health in re-shaping their built environments.

By Nisha Botchwey (editor), Andrew L. Dannenberg (editor), Howard Frumkin (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making Healthy Places as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first edition of Making Healthy Places offered a visionary and thoroughly researched treatment of the connections between constructed environments and human health. Since its publication over 10 years ago, the field of healthy community design has evolved significantly to address major societal problems, including health disparities, obesity, and climate change. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended how we live, work, learn, play, and travel.

In Making Healthy Places, Second Edition: Designing and Building for Well-Being, Equity, and Sustainability, planning and public health experts Nisha D. Botchwey, Andrew L. Dannenberg, and Howard Frumkin bring together scholars and practitioners from…

Book cover of The New Environmental Economics: Sustainability and Justice

James K. Boyce Author Of Economics for People and the Planet: Inequality in the Era of Climate Change

From my list on the political economy of the environment.

Who am I?

When I started teaching a course on the Political Economy of the Environment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, little had been written that made the connection between environmental quality and economic inequality. Happily, this has changed over the years. The books recommended here mark the rise of a new environmentalism founded upon recognition that our impact on nature is interwoven closely with the nature of our relationships with each other.

James' book list on the political economy of the environment

James K. Boyce Why did James love this book?

Economist Eloi Laurent’s book is a long-overdue introduction to the political economy of the environment.

In contrast to standard environmental economics textbooks that disregard interpersonal conflict by analyzing aggregate costs and benefits – disembodied from those who experience them – Laurent embeds our treatment and maltreatment of nature in our treatment and maltreatment of other people.

This book puts sustainability across generations and justice within them at center stage, where they belong.

By Eloi Laurent,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Environmental Economics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Too often, economics disassociates humans from nature, the economy from the biosphere that contains it, and sustainability from fairness. When economists do engage with environmental issues, they typically reduce their analysis to a science of efficiency that leaves aside issues of distributional analysis and justice.

The aim of this lucid textbook is to provide a framework that prioritizes human well-being within the limits of the biosphere, and to rethink economic analysis and policy in the light of not just efficiency but equity. Leading economist Eloi Laurent systematically ties together sustainability and justice issues in covering a wide range of topics,…