While the media may make sustainability out to be all perfectly organized zero-waste pantries, and beautiful slow-fashion garments, the realities of the sustainability movement are much less — pretty. The following 12 sustainability books do an excellent job of walking the line between information that we all need to know — and positive encouragement that can (and has) sparked social change.
The sustainability movement is gaining momentum, and with more people choosing to move beyond the minimum to protect our planet and redefine our social and economic standards, education on this complex issue is needed now more than ever.
12 best sustainability books to inspire change
Below are 12 of the best sustainability books to inspire change, and all have been a part of my education as a public health sustainability advocate. The following books cover everything from sustainability in our food system, to our purchasing habits, how to grow our own food and connect with our surrounding environment, and the ethical issues that continue to exist (particularly within our food system) and how we can be better allies for change.
If you let them, these books will push your mind to uncomfortable places, and will change the way you see the world and live your life. However, it’s important to remember that education is a privilege so once you know better (which you will after reading these books) it is your responsibility to do better.
The Third Plate: Field Notes On The Future Of Food
Chef Dan Barber pulls the curtain back on the less positive results of the farm-to-table movement, and the way in which it has failed to improve the standard American diet. The Third Plate takes a hard look at the way our food and food culture is connected with our environment and the complex food system that we all participate in everyday.
Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals
Arguably Michael Pollan’s most famous book that brings the reader through a journey to understand our American food system and the way in which our food culture impacts our food choices. In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollen open’s the readers eyes to the realities of industrial farming and just how disconnected we really are from what we eat.
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming
Drawdown maps and measures the 100 most substantial solutions to combating global warming. This book is simple to flip through and addresses the history of every solution, the potential carbon reduction impact, and really opens the readers eyes to the most impactful (yet not always the most talked about or popular) solutions to reversing global warming.
Animal Vegetable Miracle
A beautifully written memoir by Barbara Kingsolver that will bring you along a family’s journey to remove themselves from our current industrial food system and consume only food grown themselves or within their local community for one year. This book will bring you through the seasons and connect you with what it truly means to live and eat seasonally, and bring the center of our relationship with our food back to the kitchen and family.
Written by botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she used her knowledge as an indigenous scientist to share the ecological knowledge and teachings that can be found through plants. In Braiding Sweetgrass she emphasizes how plants and animals are our oldest teachers, and the traditional wisdom we can learn from them.
The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability — Designing Abundance
Upcycle is actually a follow-up to one of the most popular sustainability books, Cradle to Cradle, The Upcycle addresses the next steps we need to take to improve the world we live in by how we create, live, and build. Throughout this book the authors take you on a journey to reimagine a truly “green” world, where instead of approaching sustainability from a mindset of “protecting the planet from humanity” we focus on redesigning the very ways in which we live to activity improve the environment with our human existence.
Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide To Liberation Of The Land
Leak Penniman is the founder of Soul Fire Farm in Upstate New York, and has written an incredible book that addresses the current issues of racism that exist in our farming and food system today. The book describes the history of farming in the USA and the current racial divides that exist to this day. Farming While Black is the very first “how to” guide written for African-heritage growers to help reclaim their power as agriculturists and for all farmers and citizens to understanding the contributions of African-heritage in the history, and present work of sustainable agriculture.
Nourished Planet is one of the most comprehensive sustainability books recently published by the Barilla Center For Food And Nutrition and Danielle Nierenberg, the founder of Food Tank. Nourished Planet focuses on our global food system and the current practices within it that are compromising both of human and environmental health. With more than 30% of food in the world being waste, and roughly 800 million people living with chronic malnutrition, Nourished Planet works to address the disparities in our food system and solutions for sustainable improvement.
The Humane Gardener
Written by journalist and long-time gardener Nancy Lawson, The Humane Gardener is a book that encourages compassion and respect for all species. Throughout the book engaging anecdotes from scientists, home gardeners, and horticulturists explore the broader ecological lessons we can all learn and implement in our own outdoor spaces.
Written by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring addresses the real life and scientifically proven impact of pesticides on wildlife, bees, and humans. Silent Spring calls for individuals to question what is allowed by the government to enter into our environment, and in many ways inspired the modern day environmental public health movement.
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost Of Cheap Fashion
Whether you are well versed in the social, environmental, and economic issues associated with the fast-fashion industry, or are just beginning to open your eyes to the impact our clothing has on the world, Overdressed is an eye-opening must read that will absolutely change the way you view your clothing.
A Life Less Throwaway
Lastly, A Life Less Throwaway, written by Tara Button the founder of the sustainable brand BuyMeOnce, addresses our current “throwaway culture” and the changes we need to make in the way we choose to consume. A Life Less Throwaway describes how our current purchasing habits are impacting our planet and our lives, and why we need to focus our attention on bringing items into our lives and homes that are made to last a lifetime. From a sustainable lifestyle perspective, A Life Less Throwaway is one of the best sustainability books to get folks thinking about their daily habits.