Being an environmentalist often means oscillating between despair and hope, emotions that are both necessary in finding inspiration, making shifts, and taking action. These best sustainability books can also help to both inspire and educate.
12 of the Best Sustainability Books
1. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein focuses on the C-word that’s killing our planet. No, this doesn’t mean the book is about carbon—it’s about capitalism.
Exploring all the ways our economic system is failing people and planet, the author of bestsellers like No Logo and Shock Doctrine sheds light on the fact that the market won’t save us—but we have what we need to create an even better system.
This is a highly rated book that presents a view of climate change that is commonly left out of public discussion. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone ready to evaluate their role in global warming, and how we can come together to solve it.
2. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
The name says it all—Paul Hawken’s Drawdown is the first and most thorough collection of solutions to reverse global warming.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the scientists, activists, scholars, and companies at Project Drawdown, the book features solutions like public transport, hybrid cars, regenerative agriculture, and educating girls. It also includes how much each solution will cost initially as well as how they will provide financial savings and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over time.
This is a great source of inspiration for anyone feeling down about global warming or looking for ways to make a difference.
3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Want some encouragement for examining your eating habits? Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is part journalistic investigation, part memoir. It follows Kingsolver and her family as they try to navigate a year consuming only food they grow or source locally.
The book really makes you think about the journey your food makes before ending up on your plate, as well as the magic that comes from a home-grown tomato. Plus, it’s quite a page-turner filled with moments that will bring both laughter and tears.
4. Let My People Go Surfing
Let My People Go Surfing is Yvon Chouinard’s memoir. If Yvon Chouinard sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a legendary environmentalist, climber, and founder of Patagonia—the Certified B Corporation and business we all know and love.
The story documents Chouinard’s journey from a childhood in French Canada to his adventures in the business world and the great outdoors. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or anti-business activist, you’re sure to find value in these 272 pages.
5. Silent Spring
Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson was one of the first sustainability books in modern history. It was first published in 1962 and it shed light on DDT—and in fact was the catalyst behind the decision to ban the insecticide, as well as introduce legislation regarding water, land, and air.
The book combines both beautiful poetic expression and scientific evidence demonstrating the damage that we were—and continue to exert—on our planet.
Here’s just a taste from what you’ll read in this book:
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
6. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
From activist and 350.org founder, Bill McKibben, came his 2010 book, Eaarth. The misspelling of our home is intentional, for the book portrays a planet that has been changed to the point that it’s unrecognizable from its original state.
If you can handle a bit of doom and gloom—or are in need of a serious reality check—allow McKibben’s words to remind you that the hope for sustaining a habitable planet requires fundamental change, and it must come from all of us.
7. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she reminds us that we have a lot to learn from our most valued teachers—plants and animals.
She also changes the narrative of climate change mitigation to remind us that we absolutely must acknowledge and celebrate all beings, including Indigenous communities and ecosystems themselves.
Poetic prose is intertwined with a critique of capitalism and a Western way of thinking in the book’s 391 pages—providing a beautiful backdrop for learning how to reconnect with all that’s important on this planet.
8. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
As the blurb indicates, The Uninhabitable Earth isn’t for the faint-hearted. That said, however, David Wallace-Wells provides a much-needed summary of what we’re likely going to face in coming years.
This is a straight-forward, NOT sugar-coated account of where our planet is headed. It’s somewhat depressing, but just the book for someone who isn’t taking “that bogus climate change thing” seriously.
9. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Ever consider your closet when thinking about climate change? Regardless of your answer, this book is definitely a good one to add to the to-read list. Elizabeth Cline was just like the rest of us, a shopper who frequented retailers like H&M, Forever21, and Target. She had a full closet and new outfits to regularly show off.
That is, until she realized the impact of her wardrobe.
The environmental and social cost of fast fashion is well documented—and it’s one of the worst industries for our planet. This book will educate and inspire you to vote with your dollar and wear clothes that will make you feel good on the outside and inside.
10. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Jared Diamond’s Collapse was published in 2005, but many of its points are things that we’re discussing now.
When we look back to some of the great civilizations of the past, we have a lot to learn. Particularly how unrivaled power oftentimes leads to the misuse of natural resources—and ultimately, ecological suicide.
11. The Limits to Growth
Authors Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jørgen Randers published a follow up book, The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, demonstrating that we are indeed exceeding the carrying capacity of our planet, but that humanity has what it takes to make corrections for some of the damage we’ve called.
This isn’t exactly one of the most uplifting books out there, but it’s an essential read on any environmentalist’s bookshelf.
12. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
Whether you’re a foodie, a Michael Pollan fan, or just an eater, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is for you. Published in 2008, it was one of the first well-received critiques of the American way of eating—and also where one of Pollan’s most famous quotes came from:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
The book reminds us of the power of food, and the fact that it should be a beautiful, inspiring, and healing experience. He follows the journey of food from farm to fork, and highlights the many places we’re going wrong.
Any More Recommendations for the Best Sustainability Books?
When it comes to the best sustainability books, we’re sure that there are hundreds, if not thousands! If your favorite eco-centric read didn’t make the list, feel free to recommend it in the comments!