Sustainability is a topic that has been gaining more and more attention over the years, especially as we come to grips with the increasing amount of environmental disasters (think: climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity).
Though sustainability may seem trendy (who doesn’t love to watch an aesthetic TikTok about how to live a sustainable lifestyle?), this practice has been carefully cultivated by Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities over generations.
Sustainability is a holistic approach that seeks to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It considers economic, social, and environmental factors in order to create a more equitable and livable world.
A surefire way to educate ourselves on its history and take action in our own lives is through … reading. From memoirs of environmental activists to how-to guides for living a more sustainable lifestyle, there’s no shortage of books (seriously, it was hard to narrow this list down!) providing inspiration, knowledge, and practical advice on reducing our environmental impact.
Whether you want to sustain your house plants, learn from Indigenous earth protectors, or are struggling to stay hopeful (hello, climate anxiety), we’ve got you covered.
P.S. We’ve linked Amazon for convenience and accessibility, but we’re also linking to our favorite Amazon alternatives: Bookshop and Libro.fm, which are both great ways to support small, independent bookstores when you buy physical books and audiobooks.
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Best Sustainability Books To Help You Learn More & Do Good
“Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
In their 2002 book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart present a radical new way of thinking about how humans interact with the environment — what they call “cradle to cradle,” an industrial system that shifts away from “take, make, waste” models and towards models of “renew, reuse, recycle.”
Focusing on creating products and systems that are safe, efficient, and ecologically responsible, this book argues that if humans are to live in harmony with nature, then our industrial systems must be designed to emulate natural systems.
“The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
If you’ve already read “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, then “The Upcycle” is a great follow-up! Drawing on lessons learned from 10 years of applying the cradle-to-cradle concept with businesses, governments, and everyday folks, the authors map out the next step in the solution to our ecological crisis.
From reimaginations of everyday objects from chairs and cars, to factories and homes, this eye-opening, inspiring book shows us that there’s a way to not only sustain life on the planet — but to grow it.
“Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” by Kate Raworth
Essential reading for anyone interested in our economic system and its future, economist Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” explores the concept of a doughnut-shaped economy that balances the needs of both people and planet.
Drawing from her economics, ecology, and social science research, Raworth unravels the complexities of our current economic system and presents a compelling argument for a new economic model that considers both social and ecological values — creating an equitable and environmentally sustainable society.
“Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman — Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual” by Yvon Chouinard
Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing” chronicles the journey of the successful founder of Patagonia and environmental activist. From Patagonia’s humble beginnings as a climbing equipment company to its current status as one of the world’s most socially and environmentally responsible companies, Chouinard gives readers an inside look into his life-long dedication to sustainability and his pursuit of incorporating his values into his business and promoting environmental conservation.
“The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health” by Annie Leonard
From sneaking into factories and dumps around the world, to visiting textile workers in Haiti and children mining coltan for cell phones in the Congo, Annie Leonard — named one of Time magazine’s 100 environmental heroes in 2009 — highlights each step of the materials economy and its eye-opening impact on our planet and people.
Drawing on her extensive experience in the field of environmental science, Leonard makes a case for a more sustainable and equitable future by exploring the full cycle of our stuff— from extraction to production, distribution, consumption, and disposal — and ways we can transition into a more sustainable lifestyle.
“A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future” by David Attenborough
How could we talk about sustainability and the planet without including the renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough? In “A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future,” Attenborough offers a captivating exploration of his lifelong journey of discovery and challenges the reader to engage the natural world in a new way.
Through vivid stories and breathtaking photography, Attenborough takes readers on a journey to enjoy the beauty of our world — and the urgent need to protect it.
From filming the wildly diverse species of the Galapagos Islands to his efforts to protect the fragile ecosystems of the Antarctic, Attenborough paints a stark picture of the ecological damage that human activities have caused while proposing a bold vision for how we can reverse this destruction.
“The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet” by Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas is an intersectional environmental educator, writer, and creative whose passion for the relationship between social justice and environmentalism led her to found @greengirlleah and the Intersectional Environmentalist platform. (Check out our conversation with Leah as part of our collaborative Intersectional Environmentalist Edition of the Goodnewspaper!)
In her debut book, Leah outlines the need for environmental activists to be aware of the connections (aka the intersections) between environmentalism, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression. Consider this book your introduction and call to action to create sustainable, systemic change within your community.
“Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm” by Isabella Tree
While the stress and anxiety of creating a sustainable lifestyle for yourself is intimidating, “Wilding” provides us with tangible hope and action.
When Isabella Tree and her husband were forced to accept that their land in West Sussex — farmed for centuries — was economically unsustainable, they decided to step back and let nature take over.
Despite Tree and her husband facing considerable opposition, their journey to bring nature back to the depleted 3,500 acres of land soon brought extraordinary change. This inspiring story reveals the incredible power of rewilding and how it can be used to restore the health of both nature and the humans living amongst it.
“Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer — mother, scientist, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and botanist — interweaves three seemingly distinct, but intersectional narratives: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and botany.
Through stories, observations, and teachings, Kimmerer models how these three different lenses can be used in tandem to deepen and celebrate our relationships with the natural world.
“Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability” edited by Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling
Written by a team of scholars and leading experts in the field, this book offers a comprehensive look into how the Indigenous community has passed down traditional ecological knowledge (also referred to as TEK) for generations — and how this knowledge is essential to working toward global sustainability.
Through personal narratives, historical case studies, and cutting-edge research, readers explore how Indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with their environments for centuries, and how their practices can be applied to current environmental challenges.
“Who Really Feeds the World?: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promise of Agroecology” by Vandana Shiva
Debunking the idea that the answer to addressing a food crisis must be managed through industrial agriculture and genetic modification, author and activist Vandana Shiva argues that those forces are actually the ones responsible for the hunger problem in the first place.
Shiva examines the causes of agribusiness’ failure, like its heavy reliance on chemical inputs, monocultures, and genetically modified organisms, and its disregard for ecological processes and local knowledge. She also looks at how agroecology — an alternative method of food production — offers a viable solution to the current food crisis.
“Can I Recycle This? A Guide To Better Recycling And How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics” by Jennie Romer
Ever find yourself standing in front of a recycling bin and asking yourself: “Can I actually recycle this?” Jennie Romer is here to make things a little less confusing for you.
Romer has been working for years to help cities and states across the U.S. better deal with the waste we produce, while also helping draft meaningful legislation to help communities better process their waste — and produce less of it in the first place.
In this book, she condenses her years of experience into this non-judgmental, easy-to-use guide that aims to change the way you think about what you throw away and how you do it.
“The Conscious Closet” by Elizabeth L. Cline
You might recognize the name Elizabeth L. Cline from her work within the sustainable fashion industry. Her knowledge and expertise on how to mindfully manage our consumption habits (and closets), shop responsibly, and take care of what we already own led her to create this comprehensive guide for people who want to make responsible fashion choices that are both stylish and sustainable.
Whether your goal is to build an effortless capsule wardrobe, keep up with trends (without harming the environment), buy better quality, seek out ethical brands, or all of the above, “The Conscious Closet” is packed with practical tools to help get you started.
“The Waste-Free World: How the Circular Economy Will Take Less, Make More, and Save the Planet” by Ron Gonen
“The Waste-Free World” makes a persuasive, bold case toward moving away from the traditional take-make-waste model our society has grown accustomed to and into a circular (“closed loop”) economic model. Entrepreneur, CEO, and sustainability expert Ron Gonen argues that circularity is not only crucial for the planet but holds immense business opportunities.
Gonen reveals brilliant innovations emerging worldwide, like “smart” packaging, robotics that optimize recycling, nutrient-rich fabrics, technologies that convert food waste into energy, and so much more. Through case studies and interviews with experts, Gonen offers a comprehensive overview of the movement for a waste-free world and its potential to create a more sustainable future.
“The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis” by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
“The Future We Choose” by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac is a cautionary (but optimistic) book about the world’s changing climate and the fate of our world. It offers practical solutions to the global climate crisis, while providing insight into the authors’ firsthand experience of leading the Paris Agreement negotiations.
The authors share their optimism that humanity can rise to the challenge of climate change while emphasizing the importance of individual action.
“Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.” by Ashlee Piper
Y’all, it’s time to give a shit — about our health, footprint, and planet. If you’re all about putting good intentions into action, Ashlee Piper’s “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.” is a guide to doing just that. Piper provides an easy-to-follow guide on how to live an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle, and all the amazing benefits that come from it.
Piper also provides resources to help readers become more educated on the impact of their choices and the importance of reducing their carbon footprint, along with a variety of recipes and activities that can help reduce waste and promote sustainability.
“101 Ways to Go Zero Waste” by Kathryn Kellogg
Another good resource for readers looking to reduce their carbon footprint is Kathryn Kellog’s “101 Ways to Go Zero Waste.” Kellogg offers readers comprehensive tips on how to reduce their environmental footprint while providing simple and achievable strategies (like avoiding single-use plastic, how to participate in the circular economy, and eating unprocessed foods).
Even better, each tip is broken down into action steps with resources to help get you started. Through practical steps, the book provides a helpful outline of how to reduce waste and consumption — while still living a full and comfortable life.
“We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast” by Jonathan Safran Foer
In Jonathan Safran Foer’s “We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast,” he highlights the importance of dietary choices as a way to combat climate change.
Foer argues that the most effective way to reduce our collective carbon footprint is to adopt a plant-based diet, as the production of animal products is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions. The book, along with offering helpful tips, encourages the reader to view food and eating as a form of activism — which starts at our kitchen table.
“Go Gently: Actionable Steps to Nurture Yourself and the Planet” by Bonnie Wright
“Go Gently: Actionable Steps to Nurture Yourself and the Planet” is an inspiring and approachable tip-filled guide to changing your habits, living more sustainably, and taking action, by Greenpeace ambassador Bonnie Wright (aka Ginny Weasley of Harry Potter).
Wright lays out a wide range of strategies — from simple lifestyle changes to more involved actions — that can be used to reduce our carbon footprint and help protect the environment.
The book also provides tips and advice on how to go about making these changes while staying motivated. Sharing stories from her own journey as a sustainability advocate, Wright inspires readers to pursue their own eco-friendly goals, no matter how big or small.
“Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice, and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming” by Liz Carlisle
A powerful movement is happening in farming today — farmers are reconnecting with their roots to fight climate change. For one woman, that meant learning her tribe’s history to help bring back the buffalo. For another, it meant preserving the forest purchased by her great-great-uncle, among the first wave of African Americans to buy land.
In “Healing Grounds” Liz Carlisle examines the potential of regenerative farming to address climate change, environmental justice, and food insecurity. Carlisle details how regenerative agriculture methods — which focus on soil health and organic farming practices — can boost biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions, and increase access to fresh, healthy food.
By highlighting the value of traditional knowledge, the need for systemic change, and the power of collaboration, Carlisle’s work emphasizes the importance of regenerative farming in creating a more just and sustainable food system.
“Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism” by Aja Barber
Aja Barber, a renowned writer and stylist, examines the interconnectedness of colonialism, climate change, and consumerism and how we interact with them in the modern world. “Consumed” is a call to action for consumers everywhere to look at how and why we buy what we buy, how it’s created, who it benefits, and how we can solve the problems created by a wasteful system.
Barber also dissects the current climate crisis and its direct connection to capitalism — which was built on the exploitation of marginalized people and precious resources. Ultimately, Barber aims to teach readers how to become citizens, not consumers.
“Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability (Food, Health, and the Environment)” edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman
“Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability” examines how food justice is a critical issue in the effort to create a sustainable world. The book explores the intersections between race, class, and food justice, and how these facets shape people’s access to resources and decision-making.
Offering essays from a collection of authors and perspectives — including public policy, sociology, environmental studies, and law — the book examines the importance of promoting social equity and provides strategies for creating a more equitable and sustainable food system.
“Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land” by Leah Penniman
“Farming While Black” is the first comprehensive “how to” guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture.
Author Leah Penniman draws on her own experience as a Black farmer and provides readers with a holistic approach to sustainable farming that includes her core principles: healing, justice, and sovereignty. The book also provides advice on topics such as land access, seed sovereignty, and marketing for small farmers — we love to see that!
“Plant Coach: The Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Plants and the Planet” by Nick Cutsumpas
Urban gardener, “plantrepreneur,” and star of Netflix’s “Instant Dream Home,” Nick Cutsumpas combines sustainability, science, and philosophy to coach new plant owners on how to find the right houseplants for their space and help them thrive. Plant parents, this one’s for you!
Cutsumpas reframes what it means to be a plant parent by viewing the home as an ecosystem, introducing unconventional and sustainable plant tactics that go beyond the basic requirements of water and sunlight. At the same time, he inspires readers to care for the planet, using houseplants as a stepping stone toward sustainability and environmental action.
“A Zero Waste Life: In Thirty Days” by Anita Vandyke
Anita Vandyke (@rocket_science on Instagram) offers practical advice and tips that will benefit both your wallet and the planet. “A Zero Waste Life” is structured as a 30-day guide, with each day focused on a different aspect of reducing waste including: reducing food waste, using reusable products, and learning to live with less.
Vandyke shares her personal experiences and challenges she faced while transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle, providing readers with actionable steps they can take to make a difference in their own lives.
“Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” by Paul Hawken
Paul Hawken — environmentalist, entrepreneur, author, and activist — has dedicated his life to environmental sustainability. “Drawdown” is his comprehensive plan to reverse the effects of global warming, which include 100 of the most substantive solutions to reverse global warming — based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world.
The book also provides an in-depth analysis of each solution’s economic and social benefits, as well as the challenges and obstacles that must be overcome to implement them. “Drawdown” is a valuable resource for concrete, actionable solutions to address global warming.
“Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have” by Tatiana Schlossberg
Tatiana Schlossberg explores the hidden environmental impacts of everyday consumer choices, including the systems and supply chains that go into producing the products we use (ahem, we’re looking at you, fast fashion).
Schlossberg also provides practical tips on making more sustainable and responsible choices in our daily lives, encouraging readers to consider the long-term impacts of our consumption habits.
“Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future” by Mary Robinson
“Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future” by Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) examines the global impact of climate change and argues that the fight against it is a matter of justice — as many living in poverty and in developing countries are disproportionately affected.
Robinson provides a historical perspective on the issue and examines the political and social factors hindering progress in addressing climate change. She also shares a vision of collective resilience and hope that’s driving change, and the role civil society, global governments, and individuals play in achieving a sustainable future.
“Third Culture Kids of the World: Exploring Sustainable Travel Mindsets” by Priyanka Surio
“Third Culture Kids of the World: Exploring Sustainable Travel Mindsets” by Priyanka Surio offers the perspectives and experiences of “Third Culture Kids” (TCKs) — individuals who have spent a significant portion of their childhood in a culture different from that of their parents.
Surio provides a fresh (rarely covered) perspective on the topic of sustainable travel, and highlights the potential of TCKs to promote responsible travel and contribute to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.
The book explores how TCKs’ unique experiences and perspectives shape their attitudes towards and approaches to travel, and how they can be a source of inspiration for sustainable travel practices. The author suggests that TCKs’ ability to adapt to different cultures and their awareness of the impact of their actions on the environment and local communities can lead to more responsible and sustainable travel practices.
“How to Give Up Plastic: A Guide to Changing the World One Plastic Water Bottle at a Time” by Will McCallum
Will McCallum’s “How to Give Up Plastic” is an accessible guide to the changes we can all make — big and small — to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic and clean up the world’s oceans. McCallum uses his expertise in marine conservation and plastic pollution to provide a comprehensive overview of the plastic crisis and the impact it has on our oceans and wildlife.
“How to Save the World For Free” by Natalie Fee
Natalie Fee’s “How to Save the World for Free” outlines a range of simple, cost-free steps people can take to help protect the environment. Fee stresses that small, simple changes in everyday habits can greatly impact our environmental footprint and provides tips and advice on how to reduce waste, save energy, and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
The book also includes information on how to get involved in local and national campaigns and organizations that are working to protect the environment and provides guidance on how to make your voice heard and advocate for change.