evelopment is a process in which a society moves from a lower stage of socio-economic development to a higher one. Sustainable Development is the idea that we can grow and become more prosperous without harming the environment. For example, we can make better use of natural resources or produce fewer wastes. In this article, I will show you some of the best books on sustainable development.
Best Books on Sustainable Development: THE LIST
1. The Age of Sustainable Development | By Jeffrey Sachs
Jeffrey D. Sachs is one of the world’s most perceptive and original analysts of global development. In this major new work he presents a compelling and practical framework for how global citizens can use a holistic way forward to address the seemingly intractable worldwide problems of persistent extreme poverty, environmental degradation, and political-economic injustice: sustainable development.
Sachs offers readers, students, activists, environmentalists, and policy makers the tools, metrics, and practical pathways they need to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Far more than a rhetorical exercise, this book is designed to inform, inspire, and spur action. Based on Sachs’s twelve years as director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, his thirteen years advising the United Nations secretary-general on the Millennium Development Goals, and his recent presentation of these ideas in a popular online course, The Age of Sustainable Development is a landmark publication and clarion call for all who care about our planet and global justice.
2. Doughnut Economics | By Kate Raworth
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Pity then, or more like disaster, that its fundamental ideas are centuries out of date yet are still taught in college courses worldwide and still used to address critical issues in government and business alike.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. Small Is Beautiful | By E. F. Schumacher
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.
4. Limits to Growth | By Donella Meadows
In 1972, three scientists from MIT created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global ‘overshoot,’ or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Now, preeminent environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows have teamed up again to update and expand their original findings in The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Global Update.
Meadows, Randers, and Meadows are international environmental leaders recognized for their groundbreaking research into early signs of wear on the planet. Citing climate change as the most tangible example of our current overshoot, the scientists now provide us with an updated scenario and a plan to reduce our needs to meet the carrying capacity of the planet.
Over the past three decades, population growth and global warming have forged on with a striking semblance to the scenarios laid out by the World3 computer model in the original Limits to Growth. While Meadows, Randers, and Meadows do not make a practice of predicting future environmental degradation, they offer an analysis of present and future trends in resource use, and assess a variety of possible outcomes.
In many ways, the message contained in Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update is a warning. Overshoot cannot be sustained without collapse. But, as the authors are careful to point out, there is reason to believe that humanity can still reverse some of its damage to Earth if it takes appropriate measures to reduce inefficiency and waste.
5. The Upcycle | By William McDonough
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.
6. Lean Impact | By Ann Mei Chang
Despite enormous investments of time and money, are we making a dent on the social and environmental challenges of our time? What if we could exponentially increase our impact?
Around the world, a new generation is looking beyond greater profits, for meaningful purpose. But, unlike business, few social interventions have achieved significant impact at scale. Inspired by the modern innovation practices popularized by bestseller The Lean Startup that have fueled technology breakthroughs touching every aspect of our lives, LEAN IMPACT turns our attention to a new goal–achieving radically greater social good.
Social change is far more complicated than building a new app. It requires more listening, more care, and more stakeholders. To make a lasting difference, solutions must be embraced by beneficiaries, address root causes, and include an engine that can accelerate growth to reach the scale of the needs. Lean Impact offers bold ideas to reach audacious goals through customer insight, rapid experimentation and iteration, and a relentless pursuit of impact.
Ann Mei Chang brings a unique perspective from across sectors, from her years as a Silicon Valley executive to her most recent experience as Chief Innovation Officer at USAID. She brings the book to life with inspiring stories from interviews spanning more than 200 organizations across the U.S. and around the world.
Whether you are a nonprofit, social enterprise, triple bottom line company, foundation, government agency, philanthropist, impact investor, or simply donate your time and money, Lean Impact is an essential guide to maximizing social impact and scale.
7. Net Positive | By Andrew Winston
These massive dual challenges—and other profound shifts, such as pandemics, resource pressures, and shrinking biodiversity—threaten our very existence. Other megatrends, such as the push for a clean economy and the unprecedented focus on diversity and inclusion, offer exciting new opportunities to heal the world, and prosper by doing so. Government cannot do this alone. Business must step up.
In this seminal book, former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and sustainable business guru Andrew Winston explode fifty years of corporate dogma. They reveal, for the first time, key lessons from Unilever and other pioneering companies around the world about how you can profit by fixing the world’s problems instead of creating them. To thrive today and tomorrow, they argue, companies must become “net positive”—giving more to the world than they take. A net positive company:
- Improves the lives of everyone it touches, from customers and suppliers to employees and communities, greatly increasing long-term shareholder returns in the process.
- Takes ownership of all the social and environmental impacts its business model creates. This in turn provides opportunities for innovation, savings, and building a more humane, connected, and purpose-driven culture.
- Partners with competitors, civil society, and governments to drive transformative change that no single group or enterprise could deliver alone.
This is no utopian fantasy. Courageous leaders are already making it real—and the stakes couldn’t be higher. With bold vision and compelling stories, Net Positive sets out the principles and practices that will deliver the scale of change and transformation the world so desperately needs.
8. Cradle to Cradle | By William McDonough
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.
9. Thinking in Systems | By Donella Meadows
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. Development as Freedom | By Amertya Sen
By the winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Economics, an essential and paradigm-altering framework for understanding economic development–for both rich and poor–in the twenty-first century.
Freedom, Sen argues, is both the end and most efficient means of sustaining economic life and the key to securing the general welfare of the world’s entire population. Releasing the idea of individual freedom from association with any particular historical, intellectual, political, or religious tradition, Sen clearly demonstrates its current applicability and possibilities. In the new global economy, where, despite unprecedented increases in overall opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers–perhaps even the majority of people–he concludes, it is still possible to practically and optimistically restain a sense of social accountability. Development as Freedom is essential reading.
11. Whole Earth Discipline | By Stewart Brand
This eye-opening book by the legendary author of the National Book Award-winning Whole Earth Catalog persuasively details a new approach to our stewardship of the planet. Lifelong ecologist and futurist Stewart Brand relies on scientific rigor to shatter myths concerning nuclear energy, urbanization, genetic engineering, and other controversial subjects, showing exactly where the sources of our dilemmas lie and offering a bold, inventive set of policies and design- based solutions for shaping a more sustainable society. Thought- provoking and passionately argued, this is a pioneering book on one of the hottest issues facing humanity today.
12. An Introduction to Sustainable Development | By Peter Rogers Atsatt
This fourth edition has been comprehensively rewritten and updated to provide a concise, well illustrated and accessible introduction to the characteristics, challenges and opportunities of sustainable development with particular reference to developing countries. The contested nature of sustainable development is explored through a detailed consideration of changing ideas and practices within environmentalism and development thinking. The text identifies the different actors involved (from institutions of global governance through to community based organisations), the policies and mechanisms through which sustainable development is being sought and considers the outcomes for particular groups and environments in both rural and urban contexts.
This edition places stronger emphasis on the global challenges of sustainable development with an understanding of inter-linked crises in climate, energy, economy, poverty and social injustice. It explores how these issues are leading to deep questioning of what sustainable development is, what it should be, and how sustainable development policies and mechanisms are being reconsidered. The book gives new consideration to the challenge of achieving lower carbon growth, climate adaptation, and the implications on sustainable development of rapidly expanding economies, including China and India. It contains greater discussion of how civil society movements influence outcomes of international climate policy, as well as technological developments in energy and agriculture. The text also contains a substantially expanded discussion of how poverty remains central to sustainable development challenges, as revealed through the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and Millennium Development Goals.
This invaluable text retains the core message that sustainable development has become central to debates about environment and development. Containing a substantial number of new boxed case studies, learning outcomes, chapter summaries, discussion questions, further reading and websites, this text provides an essential introduction for students.
13. Beyond Growth | By Herman Daly
Named one of a hundred “visionaries who could change your life” by the Utne Reader,Herman Daly is the recipient of many awards, including a Grawemeyer Award, the Heineken Prize for environmental science, and the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” the Right Livelihood Award. He is professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs, and coauthor with John Cobb, Jr., of For the Common Good.
14. SDG2 - Zero Hunger | By Ambe Emmanuel Cheo
SDG2 links food security, nutrition and a sustainable but climate resilient agriculture. This multi-dimensional goal encompasses several specific targets and indicators, aimed at ending hunger, improving nutrition and achieving food security through sustainable and resilient agriculture and income increase.
This book assesses the implications of SDG2 for the economic, social and environmental domains of communities and countries. Three case study countries (Nigeria, Ghana, and The Gambia) were used to record values of their SDG2 indicators to demonstrate the operationalization of keeping track and measuring progress. This research shows that many of the datasets for the three countries are not available in the Global SDG Indicators Database compiled through the United Nations system. This book supports the database update process by United Nation Statistics Division since it enhances the process of proper accounting in reporting progress. Furthermore, the book supports the enhancement of the adaptive capacity and resilience of small-scale farmers since it is critical to reverse the trend in the rise in hunger.
Concise Guides to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals comprises 17 short books, each examining one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The series provides an integrated assessment of the SDGs from economic, legal, social, environmental and cultural perspectives.
15. Grand Transitions | By Vaclav Smil
What makes the modern world work? The answer to this deceptively simple question lies in four “grand transitions” of civilization–in populations, agriculture, energy, and economics–which have transformed the way we live.
Societies that have undergone all four transitions emerge into an era of radically different population dynamics, food surpluses (and waste), abundant energy use, and expanding economic opportunities. Simultaneously, in other parts of the world, hundreds of millions remain largely untouched by these
Through erudite storytelling, Vaclav Smil investigates the fascinating and complex interactions of these transitions. He argues that the moral imperative to share modernity’s benefits has become more acute with increasing economic inequality, but addressing this imbalance would make it exceedingly
difficult to implement the changes necessary for the long-term preservation of the environment. Thus, managing the fifth transition–environmental changes from natural-resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and global warming–will determine the success or eventual failure of the grand transitions
that have made the world we live in today.
16. Built to Last | By Jim Collins
Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day — as start-ups, as midsize companies, and as large corporations. Throughout, the authors asked: “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?”
Filled with hundreds of specific examples and organized into a coherent framework of practical concepts that can be applied by managers and entrepreneurs at all levels, Built to Last provides a master blueprint for building organizations that will prosper long into the 21st century and beyond.
17. Biomimicry | By Janine Benyus
Biomimicry is rapidly transforming life on earth. Biomimics study nature’s most successful ideas over the past 3.5 million years, and adapt them for human use. The results are revolutionizing how materials are invented and how we compute, heal ourselves, repair the environment, and feed the world.
Janine Benyus takes readers into the lab and in the field with maverick thinkers as they: discover miracle drugs by watching what chimps eat when they’re sick; learn how to create by watching spiders weave fibers; harness energy by examining how a leaf converts sunlight into fuel in trillionths of a second; and many more examples.
Composed of stories of vision and invention, personalities and pipe dreams, Biomimicry is must reading for anyone interested in the shape of our future.
18. Understanding Sustainable Development | By John Blewitt
A truly comprehensive introduction to the topic, Understanding Sustainable Development is designed to give students on a wide range of courses an appreciation of the key concepts and theories of sustainable development.
Fully updated, the third edition includes detailed coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals and their impact on global development. Major challenges and topics are explored through a range of international case studies and media examples which maintain the ‘global to local’ structure of the previous edition.
With an extensive website and pedagogy, Understanding Sustainable Development is the most complete guide to the subject for course leaders, undergraduates and postgraduates.
19. The Nature of Nature | By Enric Sala
In this inspiring manifesto, an internationally renowned ecologist makes a clear case for why protecting nature is our best health insurance, and why it makes economic sense.Enric Sala wants to change the world–and in this compelling book, he shows us how. Once we appreciate how nature works, he asserts, we will understand why conservation is economically wise and essential to our survival. Here Sala, director of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project (which has succeeded in protecting more than 5 million sq km of ocean), tells the story of his scientific awakening and his transition from academia to activism–as he puts it, he was tired of writing the obituary of the ocean. His revelations are surprising, sometimes counterintuitive: More sharks signal a healthier ocean; crop diversity, not intensive monoculture farming, is the key to feeding the planet.Using fascinating examples from his expeditions and those of other scientists, Sala shows the economic wisdom of making room for nature, even as the population becomes more urbanized. In a sober epilogue, he shows how saving nature can save us all, by reversing conditions that led to the coronavirus pandemic and preventing other global catastrophes. With a foreword from Prince Charles and an introduction from E. O. Wilson, this powerful book will change the way you think about our world–and our future.
Final Thoughts on the Best Books on Sustainable Development
A sustainable lifestyle is one that can be maintained indefinitely, without undermining the ability of future generations to live well. Sustainable development is one of the most important goals for humanity. It refers to practices that meet the needs of both the present and future generations without compromising sustainability; it can also refer to maintaining social, economic, and environmental wellbeing. This blog will show you the best books on sustainable development.
Do you see a book that you think should be on the list? Let us know your feedback here.
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