I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems like “sustainability” and “sustainability books” are used as buzzwords without a lot of thought put into what it really means. So, indulge me for a sec while I refer to the Environmental Protection Agency for some help:
Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.
Sustainability can touch many aspects of our lives, from food to clothes to travel and even the way we do business. But the message across all remains the same: It’s up to all of us to work together and make some life changes now that will greatly benefit us in the future, not to mention future generations.
This list has a mix of sustainability books that discuss sustainable living within these different areas. And also because we cannot separate sustainability from environmental activism and climate science, there are a few of those titles as well.
Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy
This powerful book combines a personal memoir with a study of earth formation and culture. In a collection of eight essays, Savoy (who is a professor of Environmental Studies) takes the reader through childhood memories and a family history of her ancestors, all while talking about environmental erasures that have happened throughout the years.
Design + Architecture
The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance by Michael Braungart and William McDonough
Chances are you’ve heard of Cradle to Cradle, the first book from this author pair. If that book was the road map, this one is the blueprint. McDonough and Braungart look at sustainable design and best practices for everything from product design to building architecture to personal business.
The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good by Elizabeth L. Cline
Fashion is quickly becoming a way that you can personally make changes in your life that benefit the environment. In Cline’s book, she covers everything from how to build a sustainable wardrobe, ways to keep clothes in good shape for several years, and smart shopping. This is a very eye-opening book that will change the way you look at your closet.
Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics by Safia Minney
Minney interviews a group of entrepreneurs and pioneers from across the world that are alternatives to big name brands we are used to hearing about. Each section gives these people the chance to explain their motivations from all parts of the fashion business, from influencers to designers to store owners.
Sustainable Books About Daily Life
A Zero Waste Life: In Thirty Days by Anita Vandyke
If you are a beginner to sustainable living, this is a great place to start. It’s quite basic and really nails down the fundamentals. Vandyke presents a 30-day plan for exploring zero-waste options and integrating these behaviors into your life.
Plastic Purge: How to Use Less Plastic, Eat Better, Keep Toxins Out of Your Body and Help Save the Turtles! by Michael SanClements
This book does a little more than just covering how plastic can be harmful to our environment. We also learn about the history of plastic and how it became such a mainstay in our lives. Eye-opening, but the writing is kind of dense.
101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg
Another good resource for newbies looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Because there are 101 tips in here, they don’t go into too much depth, and it definitely invites additional research to develop a plan for implementation.
Minimal: How to Simplify Your Life and Live Sustainably by Madeleine Olivia
Madeleine Olivia is a well-known YouTuber with a following of 500K+ who makes videos about living minimally. In this, her first book, she channels all of her thoughts, knowledge, and tips. It’s a great way to look inwardly, acknowledge areas in your life that aren’t doing anything for you, and learn how to minimize and let go.
Environmental Activism / Agriculture
As Long As Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
This book centers on Indigenous activists and their fight against the “mainstream” environmental movement. The history also goes into moments of resistance and how not only environmentalists but also the general public can learn from looking at new approaches inspired by the leadership of Indigenous women.
Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage by Dianne D. Glave
From the early days of farming to the horrific days of frequent lynching and beyond, this book focuses on the connection that Black Americans have had to nature. Glave is an environmental historian who does a fantastic job at analyzing the attachment with nature and the importance of Black environmentalism.
Robinson has worn many hats, including the first woman president of Ireland, but now she is the face of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, which seeks to serve victims of climate change, primarily marginalized groups, from across the world. At the core of the book is a sense of urgency to join the fight against climate change and look into ways to improve our individual contributions to sustainable living.
Farming While Black by Leah Penniman
This book looks at the history of Black farmers and how the total number continues to fall. Penniman has put together a moving and powerful how-to book for Black farmers to reclaim the occupation and the contributions of the BIPOC community that introduced sustainable agriculture.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Like the title suggests, this book interweaves three seemingly separate, distinct narratives: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and botany. It uses them to tell a larger story about the beauty of the natural world, how we as humans are destroying it, and how we can work together to build a better future.
Third Culture Kids of the World: Exploring Sustainable Travel Mindsets by Priyanka Surio
A multinational kid herself, Priyanka is perfect for giving a voice to third culture kids. With the guidance and advice from activists, scientists, and travel industry professionals, this book outlines ways we can leave positive footprints on the world while traveling sustainably.
Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto by Adam Werbach
Considered the premier book in the conversation of sustainability strategy, Werbach looks at how successful companies have established corporate social responsibility policies. He also covers why this makes companies more competitive and even a strategic advantage.
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