20 Must-Read Books on Sustainability in 2020

Must Read books on sustainability

Whether you want to help shape the world or simply learn a bit more about your environmental footprint, this list of books on sustainability will help get you started!


When it comes to thinking about the climate, it’s easy to ping pong between hope and despair. One thing that can help is to focus on sustainability and learn practical solutions you can take in your everyday life to help make a difference.

Stories of sustainability are those of pioneering thinking, radical shifts, and action. They introduce role models and challenge us to imagine the future we want. They also empower us, providing concrete steps we can take to get started. 

This list presents some of the best books on sustainability. There are true classics like Small is Beautiful, modern classics like Cradle to Cradle and Diet for a Hot Planet, and new voices, armed with their own experiences and the latest research.

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Top 20 Books on Sustainability

From politics and economics to indigenous wisdom and gardening, there are a variety of approaches to sustainability. These sustainable living books will show you the way forward.

1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Author: William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Did you know that up to 90% of the materials used in traditional manufacturing models ends up as waste? This book challenges the way the traditional “cradle to grave” cycle works and envisions a world where we don’t have to harm the natural environment in order to create new products.

Rather than settling for recycling or downcycling, the authors argue for designing products in such a way that, after their useful life, they provide genuine nourishment or life to something new.

Buy it on Amazon

2) Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future

Author: Mary Robinson

Too often sustainability and human rights are thought of as separate issues instead of intersecting ones. Climate Justice, written by former President of Ireland and UN Special Envoy, tells stories from all over the world of people who have faced environmental and human rights injustices and then done something about it.

A great read for people who like stories of resilience, this book offers hope for community-based change

Buy it on Amazon

3) The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance

Author: William McDonough & Michael Braungart

The Upcycle is William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s follow-up to Cradle to Cradle, one of the most well-respected sustainability books of our time!

Their second book shifts the focus from theory to practice and demonstrates how the cradle-to-cradle approach has fared in real business. 

Buy it on Amazon

4) Rebuilding Earth: Designing Ecoconscious Habitats for Humans

Author: Teresa Coady

Written by an award-winning Canadian architect, this book is both a call to action and a plan. It starts by tracing how we ended up with our unsustainable concrete jungles, and then it lays out principles and techniques for how to build a better future.

Its highly readable prose is for anyone who wants be part of, or simply imagine, a more natural and sustainably built environment.

Buy it on Amazon

5) The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us

Author: Diane Ackerman

This book by Diane Ackerman is celebrated for its unique insight into the natural world and humans’ place in it. The Human Age argues that there is no force more meddlesome or more influential than we are.

Praised as a “beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives,” this one is should definitely be on your reading list this year.

Buy it on Amazon

6) Sustainability for the Rest of Us: Your No-Bullshi*t, Five-Point Plan for Saving the Planet 

Author: John Pabon

If you’ve ever asked yourself “but what can I actually do?” – this book is for you. If you’ve said “yes, but I’m only one person” – this book is for you.

This book is for everyone.

Self-described pragmatic altruist John Pabon draws on his years of experience and expertise to tell us what we’ve been doing wrong, what has prevented significant change, and what we should be doing instead. 

Buy it on Amazon

7) The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win

Author: Jeffrey Hollender & Bill Breen

Championed as a book for “leaders, entrepreneurs, and change agents” – this thought provoking read encourages companies to change their mindset from trying to be “less bad”, to embracing an “all good” philosophy instead.

Drawing on personal experience as the chairman of Seventh Generation, Hollender & Breen also interview some of the biggest and forward-thinking companies in the world to come up with their recipe for creating “good companies”.

Buy it on Amazon

8) How Bad Are Bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything (2020 Update)

Author:  Mike Berners-Lee

“Carbon footprint” was a newer concept when this book first came out in 2009. This updated 2020 edition uses the latest data to quantify carbon footprints, and it’s been expanded to include technology like a Zoom call and the Cloud.

This book will empower hard data-lovers to reduce their own footprint and enable them to pressure companies and governments to do the same.

Buy it on Amazon

9) Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe

Author: Greta Eagan

If you haven’t yet looked into the atrocities of the garment industry, you are in for a bit of a shock. 

Wear No Evil takes a close look at the fashion industry and how we can support sustainability while shopping for our wardrobe.

Buy it on Amazon

10) #futuregen: Lessons from a Small Country 

Author: Jane Davidson

Did you know that Wales has the most sustainable legislation in the world? In #futuregen, Jane Davidson explains her proposal of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which was the first legislation ever to make sustainability the cornerstone of government.

Wales isn’t one of the first countries that comes to mind when we think of environmental and social leadership, but this book shows that it probably should be.

Buy it on Amazon

11) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

 Author: E. F. Schumacher

Small is Beautiful is an oldie but a goodie. Originally published in 1973, this book has been a statement on sustainability in its field for decades. And it only gets more relevant every year.

Schumacher argues that the “bigger is better” mentality of industrialism is a damaging one, and that if we really care about people we will actively seek a better balance between economic growth and its human cost.

Buy it on Amazon

12) Grow Food For Free: The sustainable, zero-cost, low-effort way to a bountiful harvest

Author: Huw Richards

Saddened by hearing that people think it’s too expensive to grow their own food, Huw Richards challenged himself to grow food for free for a year and then wrote a book about it.

Full of pictures and practical tips, it’s the perfect guide for new, cost-conscious gardeners. Learn about living sustainably at the most grass-roots level!

Buy it on Amazon

13) Quenching the Thirst: Sustainable Water Supply & Climate Change

Author: George Annandale

Global water shortages just can’t be ignored anymore. Increased demand, a rapidly growing global population, and decreased water availability are all serving to create a catastrophe that we’re all accountable for.

This book serves to open our eyes to the issue, and offer solutions. Reviewed as insightful, compelling, and written for the general public and professionals alike, this is a hard-hitting read.

Buy it on Amazon

14) Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard

Author: Douglas W. Tallamy

Conservation isn’t always in the hands of governments and politicians; it can start with us, and it can start in our own backyards.

Described as a “quiet revolutionary,” Entomology and Wildlife Ecology professor Doug Tallamy challenges us to see our property as a natural habitat and lays out simple, specific steps we can follow to transform it into just that. With this book in our hands, we can all be wildlife conservationists.

Buy it on Amazon

15) Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

by Robin Wall Kimmerer 

Braiding Sweetgrass ushers us into a more sustainable future by reminding us of past knowledge.

As a scientifically-trained botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer is the perfect guide through the world of indigenous wisdom.

Her storytelling and poetic prose illuminate reciprocal relationships, revealing deeper, more spiritual reasons for safeguarding the natural world. 

Buy it on Amazon

16) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist

Author: Kate Raworth 

Despite the title, this book has more to do with sustainability than sweet treats. Employing a doughnut shape to illustrate her new vision for economic theory, Kate Raworth argues that it’s possible to meet all of humanity’s needs with what our planet can provide.

She replaces old economic myths with seven new insights that are sure to get business- and economically-minded people rethinking everything they’ve been taught. 

Buy it on Amazon

17) Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto

Author: Adam Werbach

An insightful introduction into CSR, or Corporate Social Sustainability, in his book Adam Werbach demonstrates how large multinational companies might use sustainable principles to reach new heights through integrated business strategies.

He argues that sustainability is the only way forward for companies who want to grow in today’s world.

Buy it on Amazon

18) The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Warming

Author:  Eric Holthaus

It’s hard to create a sustainable future if we can’t even picture it. The Future Earth walks us through an imagined future – from the 2020s, to the 2030s, to the 2040s – showing what the world could look like if we commit to taking drastic action now.

The vision within this book isn’t all rosy; there are flooded cities, climate refugees, injustices, and other growing pains. However, its tone is ultimately hopeful and its vision necessary. 

Buy it on Amazon

19) Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork

Author: Anna Lappe

There’s something fundamentally wrong with our food system, and this book delves into the reasons why.

Lappe picks up the conversation her mother started in the book “Diet for a Small Planet” and expands on how our diet choices are contributing to the current climate crises.

A must-read for everyone, this book not only spells out the problem, it gives practical solutions for solving it.

Buy it on Amazon

20) The Hunt for the Golden Mole: All Creatures Great & Small and Why They Matter

Author: Richard Girling

Learn about the importance of biodiversity in this engaging tale by Richard Girling.

With his delightful writing, the author takes us on an enchanting journey that delves into humankind’s obsession with hunting and collecting.

Buy it on Amazon



Time to pick one of these great books on sustainability and get started!

Dive into the history of Wales, plan your backyard nature reserve, or figure out exactly what an economic doughnut looks like. Travel back to America’s indigenous past or forward into a beautiful vision of the future.

Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone read even one of these books and took its lessons to heart. Start with yourself and spread the word!  

13 thoughts on “20 Must-Read Books on Sustainability in 2020

  1. Greta deJong says:

    Is Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, on your radar? This book, compiled by scientists from around the world, is huge in potential impact. It needs all the exposure it can get. Please check it out. And thanks for the above list.

  2. Nkem says:

    Thanks for the tips! I found a few of these books at my local library so I’m looking forward to giving them a read. It was nice stumbling upon your blog 🙂

  3. Susan Krumdieck says:

    I notice a theme in the books – gaining awareness of the issues our economic system causes. Add to this reading list a book that goes the next step. Don’t let the title put you off. It is very accessible reading.
    Transition Engineering, Building a Sustainable Future

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