GREEN READS: Part 1 - Seminal Sustainability Books

Dispatch from the SSC Team

This series of "green reads" provides a snapshot into the most important books in sustainability.  We've divided them up into categories -- seminal reads, Green IT, Green Marketing, etc. Be sure to check out the whole series!

And now, part one...seminal sustainability books.  These books were revolutionary -- changing the way we thought about sustainability.  Years later, we're still amazed at their insight.

Book #1: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution

by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins

September 1999 (revised December 2008), 416 pages

In this groundbreaking blueprint for a new economy, three leading business visionaries explain how the world is on the verge of a new industrial revolution-one that promises to transform our fundamental notions about commerce and its role in shaping our future. Natural Capitalism describes a future in which business and environmental interests increasingly overlap, and in which businesses can better satisfy their customers' needs, increase profits, and help solve environmental problems all at the same time. The authors have two related goals: first, to show the vast array of ecologically smart options available to businesses; second, to argue that it is possible for society and industry to adopt them. In looking at options for transportation (including the development of ultralight, electricity-powered automobiles), energy use, building design, and waste reduction and disposal, the book's reach is phenomenal.

Why we chose it: This book pioneers a new vision of business, industrialization and commerce that truly tackles issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Book #2: Limits to Growth

Donella H. Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers

June 1979, 208 pages 

By a trio of professors and systems analysts, Limits to Growth offers a pessimistic view of the natural resources available for the world's population. Using extensive computer models based on population, food production, pollution and other data, the authors demonstrate why the world is in a potentially dangerous "overshoot" situation. Put simply, overshoot means people have been steadily using up more of the Earth's resources without replenishing its supplies. The book also discusses population and industrial growth, the limits on available resources, pollution, technology and more importantly, ways to avoid overshoot. Their extensive research is made even more instrumental with clear writing and helpful charts illustrating trends in food consumption, population increases, grain production, etc., plus there’s a 30-year update available that addresses more contemporary issues.

Why we chose it: The model put forth in this book was groundbreaking for its time and its projections of the future state of society and the economy in the 21st century are almost prophetic.  (Note that there is also the Limits to Growth: 30-Year Update, published in 2009 that examines the original publication in light of three decades of experience with sustainability trends!)

Book #3: Cannibals with Forks: Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business

by John Elkington             

September 1998, 416 pages

In Cannibals with Forks, Elkington designed an alternate outlook for what constitutes a successful business.  He discusses the need for accountability in organizations as per the "triple bottom-line," which includes economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social justice. When establishing new initiatives or revising old ones, organizations should consider all aspects of the triple bottom line to ensure each is not negatively impacted.  Elkington makes the reader truly contemplate how to incorporate environmental issues and corporate social responsibility into sustainable development and the future of business.

Why we chose it: Cannibals with Forks changed the business strategy model to look beyond the world of profitability and actually look at the world.