19 Best Books on Sustainability in Business

Best Books on Sustainability in BusinessA

sustainable business is one that grows without harming the environment, society, or the economy. These days, this is more important than ever before. With climate change becoming an increasingly urgent issue for communities around the world, it’s natural that businesses are trying to find ways to be more sustainable. As a result, there have been many books published about sustainable business practices and how they work in different aspects of your company. Here are some of the best books on sustainability in business you can find today.

Best Books on Sustainability in Business: THE LIST

1. Cradle to Cradle | By William McDonough

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“Reduce, reuse, recycle” urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. But as this provocative, visionary book argues, this approach perpetuates a one-way, “cradle to grave” manufacturing model that dates to the Industrial Revolution and casts off as much as 90 percent of the materials it uses as waste, much of it toxic. Why not challenge the notion that human industry must inevitably damage the natural world?

In fact, why not take nature itself as our model? A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we do not consider its abundance wasteful but safe, beautiful, and highly effective; hence, “waste equals food” is the first principle the book sets forth. Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new-either as “biological nutrients” that safely re-enter the environment or as “technical nutrients” that circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, without being “downcycled” into low-grade uses (as most “recyclables” now are).

Elaborating their principles from experience (re)designing everything from carpeting to corporate campuses, William McDonough and Michael Braungart make an exciting and viable case for change.

2. Doughnut Economics | By Kate Raworth

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Economics is the mother tongue of public policy. It dominates our decision-making for the future, guides multi-billion-dollar investments, and shapes our responses to climate change, inequality, and other environmental and social challenges that define our times.

Pity then, or more like disaster, that its fundamental ideas are centuries out of date yet are still taught in college courses worldwide and still used to address critical issues in government and business alike.

That’s why it is time, says renegade economist Kate Raworth, to revise our economic thinking for the 21st century. In Doughnut Economics, she sets out seven key ways to fundamentally reframe our understanding of what economics is and does. Along the way, she points out how we can break our addiction to growth; redesign money, finance, and business to be in service to people; and create economies that are regenerative and distributive by design.

Named after the now-iconic “doughnut” image that Raworth first drew to depict a sweet spot of human prosperity (an image that appealed to the Occupy Movement, the United Nations, eco-activists, and business leaders alike), Doughnut Economics offers a radically new compass for guiding global development, government policy, and corporate strategy, and sets new standards for what economic success looks like.

Raworth handpicks the best emergent ideas―from ecological, behavioral, feminist, and institutional economics to complexity thinking and Earth-systems science―to address this question: How can we turn economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive, into economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow?

Simple, playful, and eloquent, Doughnut Economics offers game-changing analysis and inspiration for a new generation of economic thinkers.

3. The Responsibility Revolution | By Jeffrey Hollender

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How to create a company that not only sustains, but surpasses-that moves beyond the imperative to be “less bad” and embrace an ethos to be “all good”

From the Inspired Protagonist and Chairman of Seventh Generation, the country’s leading brand of household products and a pioneering “good company,” comes a one-of-a-kind book for leaders, entrepreneurs, and change agents everywhere. The Responsibility Revolution reveals the smartest ways for companies to build a better future-and hold themselves accountable for the results. Thousands of companies have pledged to act responsibly; very few have proven that they know how. This book will guide them. The Responsibility Revolution presents fresh ideas and actionable strategies to commit your company to a genuine socially and environmentally responsible business and culture, one that not only competes but wins on values.

  • Points the way for innovators and influencers to generate trust by becoming transparent, elicit people’s passion and creativity, turn customers into collaborators, transform critics into allies, rewrite the rules and reinvent business
  • Shows how to build a socially and environmentally responsible yet genuinely good company and an authentic brand
  • Drawing on groundbreaking interviews with real-world change leaders, Hollender and Breen present lessons and insights from the “good company”‘ parts of big companies like IBM and eBay, trailblazers like Patagonia and Timberland, and emerging dynamos like Linden Lab and Etsy

The Responsibility Revolution equips people with the tactics, models, and mind-sets they need to compete in a world where consumers now demand that companies contribute to the greater good.

4. The Ecology of Commerce | By Paul Hawken

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The Ecology of Commerce is the provocative national bestseller that addresses the necessity of merging good business practices with common sense environmental concerns. Nearly two decades after its initial publication, this controversial work by Paul Hawken has been revised and updated, arguing why business success and sustainable environmental practices need not—and, for the sake of our planet, must not—be mutually exclusive any longer. An essential work, Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce belongs on the bookshelf of every concerned citizen—alongside Capitalism at the Crossroads by Stuart Hart and Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance and An Inconvenient Truth.

5. Strategy for Sustainability | By Adam Werbach

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The definitive work on business strategy for sustainability by the most authoritative voice in the conversation.

More than ever before, consumers, employees, and investors share a common purpose and a passion for companies that do well by doing good. So any strategy without sustainability at its core is just plain irresponsible – bad for business, bad for shareholders, bad for the environment. These challenges represent unprecedented opportunities for big brands – such as Clorox, Dell, Toyota, Procter & Gamble, Nike, and Wal-Mart – that are implementing integral, rather than tangential, strategies for sustainability. What these companies are doing illuminates the book’s practical framework for change, which involves engaging employees, using transparency as a business tool, and reaping the rewards of a networked organizational structure.

Leave your quaint notions of corporate social responsibility and environmentalism behind. Werbach is starting a whole new dialogue around sustainability of enterprise and life as we know it in organizations and individuals. Sustainability is now a true competitive strategic advantage, and building it into the core of your business is the only means to ensure that your company – and your world – will survive.

6. The Upcycle | By William McDonough

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The Upcycle is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Cradle to Cradle, one of the most consequential ecological manifestoes of our time. Now, drawing on the green living lessons gained from 10 years of putting the Cradle to Cradle concept into practice with businesses, governments, and ordinary people, William McDonough and Michael Braungart envision the next step in the solution to our ecological crisis: We don’t just use or reuse and recycle resources with greater effectiveness, we actually improve the natural world as we live, create, and build.

For McDonough and Braungart, the questions of resource scarcity and sustainability are questions of design. They are practical-minded visionaries: They envision beneficial designs of products, buildings, and business practices―and they show us these ideas being put to use around the world as everyday objects like chairs, cars, and factories are being reimagined not just to sustain life on the planet but to grow it. It is an eye-opening, inspiring tour of our green future as it unfolds in front of us.

The Upcycle is as ambitious as such classics as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring―but its mission is very different. McDonough and Braungart want to turn on its head our very understanding of the human role on earth: Instead of protecting the planet from human impact, why not redesign our activity to improve the environment? We can have a beneficial, sustainable footprint. Abundance for all. The goal is within our reach.

7. Small is Beautiful | By E.F. Schumacher

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Small Is Beautiful is Oxford-trained economist E. F. Schumacher’s classic call for the end of excessive consumption. Schumacher inspired such movements as “Buy Locally” and “Fair Trade,” while voicing strong opposition to “casino capitalism” and wasteful corporate behemoths. Named one of the Times Literary Supplement’s 100 Most Influential Books Since World War II, Small Is Beautiful presents eminently logical arguments for building our economies around the needs of communities, not corporations.

8. Green to Gold | By Daniel Esty

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“Two experts from Yale tackle the business wake-up-call du jour-environmental responsibility-from every angle in this thorough, earnest guidebook: pragmatically, passionately, financially and historically. Though “no company the authors know of is on a truly long-term sustainable course,” Esty and Winston label the forward-thinking, green-friendly (or at least green-acquainted) companies WaveMakers and set out to assess honestly their path toward environmental responsibility, and its impact on a company’s bottom line, customers, suppliers and reputation. Following the evolution of business attitudes toward environmental concerns, Esty and Winston offer a series of fascinating plays by corporations such as Wal-Mart, GE and Chiquita (Banana), the bad guys who made good, and the good guys-watchdogs and industry associations, mostly-working behind the scenes. A vast number of topics huddle beneath the umbrella of threats to the earth, and many get a thorough analysis here: from global warming to electronic waste “take-back” legislation to subsidizing sustainable seafood. For the responsible business leader, this volume provides plenty of (organic) food for thought. “

9. Thinking in Systems | By Donella Meadows

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In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth―the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet―Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.

Thinking in Systems is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.

Some of the biggest problems facing the world―war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation―are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.

While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.

10. Sustainable Business | By John Blewitt

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Sustainable Business: Key Issues is the first comprehensive introductory-level textbook to address the interface between environmental challenges and business solutions to provide an overview of the basic concepts of sustainability, sustainable business, and business ethics. The book introduces students to the background and key issues of sustainability and suggests ways in which these concepts can be applied in business practice. Though the book takes a business perspective, it is interdisciplinary in its nature and draws on knowledge from socio-economic, political, and environmental studies, thereby providing a practical and critical understanding of sustainability in the changing paradigm of global business. It goes beyond the conventional theories of sustainability and addresses critical issues concerned with population, consumption, and economic growth. It discusses realistic ways forward, in particular the circular economy and Cradle to Cradle frameworks.

The book is both a theoretical and practical study guide for undergraduate and postgraduate international students of broad areas of sustainability, teaching ways to recognize opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship at the intersection of environmental, economic, ethical, and social systems. It takes a strategic approach in applying the power of business methods and policy to address issues of global importance such as climate change, poverty, ecosystem degradation, and human rights.

 

This textbook is essential reading for students of business, management, and sustainability courses. It is written in an engaging and accessible style, with each chapter including case studies, discussion questions, end of chapter summaries, and suggestions for further reading. This new edition is updated throughout, and contains an additional chapter on the circular economy.

11. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster | By Bill Gates

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Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet’s slide to certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.

He gives us a clear-eyed description of the challenges we face. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. Finally, he lays out a concrete, practical plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions—suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers, and ourselves accountable in this crucial enterprise.

As Bill Gates makes clear, achieving zero emissions will not be simple or easy to do, but if we follow the plan he sets out here, it is a goal firmly within our reach.

12. This Changes Everything | By Naomi Klein

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In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option.

In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism.

Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift—a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now.

Can we pull off these changes in time? Nothing is certain. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

13. Can Business Save the Earth? | By Michael Ienox

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Increasingly, business leaders are tasked with developing new products, services, and business models that minimize environmental impact while driving economic growth. It’s a tall order―and a call that is only getting louder.

In Can Business Save the Earth?, Michael Lenox and Aaron Chatterji explain just how the private sector can help. Many believe that markets will inevitably demand sustainable practices and force them to emerge. But Lenox and Chatterji see it differently. Based on more than a decade of research and work with companies, they argue that a bright green future is only possible with dramatic innovation across multiple sectors at the same time.

To achieve this, a broader ecosystem of players―including inventors, executives, customers, investors, activists, and governments―all must play a role. The book outlines how and the extent to which each group can serve as a driver of green growth. Then, Lenox and Chatterji identify where economic incentives currently exist, or could exist with institutional change, and ultimately address the larger question of how far well-coordinated efforts can take us in addressing the current environmental crisis.

14. The Big Pivot | By Andrew Winston

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The evidence is all around us. Extreme weather, driven by climate change, is shattering records all over the planet. Our natural resources are in greater demand than ever before as a billion more people enter the global middle class, wanting more of everything. Radical transparency is opening up company operations and supply chains to public scrutiny.

This is not some futuristic scenario or model to debate, but today’s reality. We’ve passed an economic tipping point. A weakening of the foundations of our planetary infrastructure is costing businesses dearly and putting our society at risk. The mega challenges of climate change, scarcity, and radical transparency threaten our ability to run an expanding global economy and are profoundly changing “business as usual.” But they also offer unprecedented opportunities: multi-trillion-dollar markets are in play, and the winners of this new game will profit mightily.

According to Andrew Winston, bestselling author (Green to Gold) and globally recognized business strategist, the way companies currently operate will not allow them to keep up with the current—and future—rate of change. They need to make the Big Pivot.

In this indispensable new book, Winston provides ten crucial strategies for leaders and companies ready to move boldly forward and win in this new reality. With concrete advice and tactics, and new stories from companies like British Telecom, Diageo, Dow, Ford, Nike, Unilever, Walmart, and many others, The Big Pivot will help you, and all of us, create more resilient businesses and a more prosperous world. This book is the blueprint to get you started.

15. Natural Capitalism | By Amory Lovins

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On its first publication 10 years ago, Natural Capitalism rocked the world of business with its innovative new approach – an approach that fused ecological integrity with business acumen using the radical concept of natural capitalism. This 10th-anniversary edition features a new Introduction by Amory B. Lovins and Paul Hawken which updates the story to include the successes of the last decade. It clearly sets out the path that we must now take to ensure the future prosperity of our civilisation and our planet.

16. Nature's Best Hope | By Douglas Tallamy

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Douglas W. Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, awakened thousands of readers to an urgent situation: wildlife populations are in decline because the native plants they depend on are fast disappearing. His solution? Plant more natives. In this new book, Tallamy takes the next step and outlines his vision for a grassroots approach to conservation. Nature’s Best Hope shows how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Because this approach relies on the initiatives of private individuals, it is immune from the whims of government policy. Even more important, it’s practical, effective, and easy—you will walk away with specific suggestions you can incorporate into your own yard.

If you’re concerned about doing something good for the environment, Nature’s Best Hope is the blueprint you need. By acting now, you can help preserve our precious wildlife—and the planet—for future generations.

17. Strategy and Sustainability | By Mike Rosenberg

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More than ever before, consumers, employees, and investors share a common purpose and a passion for companies that do well by doing good. So any strategy without sustainability at its core is just plain irresponsible – bad for business, bad for shareholders, bad for the environment. These challenges represent unprecedented opportunities for big brands – such as Clorox, Dell, Toyota, Procter & Gamble, Nike, and Wal-Mart – that are implementing integral, rather than tangential, strategies for sustainability. What these companies are doing illuminates the book’s practical framework for change, which involves engaging employees, using transparency as a business tool, and reaping the rewards of a networked organizational structure.

Leave your quaint notions of corporate social responsibility and environmentalism behind. Werbach is starting a whole new dialogue around sustainability of enterprise and life as we know it in organizations and individuals. Sustainability is now a true competitive strategic advantage, and building it into the core of your business is the only means to ensure that your company – and your world – will survive.

18. Sustainable | By Avi Friedman

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This book begins with an introduction describing current societal transformations that merit new urban designs, including depletion of non-renewable natural resources, elevated levels of greenhouse gas emissions, large numbers of aging “Baby Boomers,” and climate change. Dr. Friedman then examines these challenges through thirty chapters of interest to urban designers, architects, civil and construction engineers, and town planners. Each of these topics represents an aspect of urban design and describes an innovative solution and offers a detailed description of underlying principles. The highly illustrated text presents innovative urban design strategies based on sustainable principles. Integrated with each chapter are several international case studies illustrating design implementations.

19. Making Sustainability Stick | By Kevin Wihelm

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This book provides the blueprint for implementation, breaking down barriers, and the steps required to integrate sustainability successfully into any business.  It is laid out in easily digestible chapters, with action steps backed up from interviews with sustainability thought leaders, case studies, and the real life experience of the author, as well as over 40 interviews with CSR and Sustainability Directors at various companies on how to “get things done” based on their successes and temporary setbacks.  It provides the step-by-step roadmap for implementing sustainability successfully and focuses on “how” companies can realize the benefits of sustainability by engaging the head, heart, and hands of their employees.  Also included is a checklist for implementation and tips on how to regain momentum or get “un-stuck” at the end of each chapter as well as additional helpful resources and exercises to overcome the most common barriers towards implementation.

Final Thoughts on the Best Books on Sustainability in Business

You will be blown away by these books. We all know the importance of sustainability but with so many options, it can be tricky to know where to start. That’s why I’m here to help you with some of the best books on sustainability in business. These is the list of the best books on sustainability in business. 

Happy reading!

Do you see a book that you think should be on the list? Let us know your feedback here.

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