A 10 Book Primer on Sustainability

Kevin Lynch Sustainability

reading outsideThe field of sustainability is changing fast, as it evolves from an organizational “add-on” (in other words, something companies do when it’s convenient) to an organizational imperative (something customers and executives demand, because it makes good business sense).

Others, including Andrew Hoffman and John Ehrenfeld, argue that while sustainability has gone mainstream, we are not becoming more sustainable. Hoffman and Ehrenfeld suggest that in order to address sustainability fully and meaningfully requires a fundamental shift in the way we think. (You can read more about this here.)

Educating ourselves with ideas can fuel this fundamental shift in the way we think. Our faculty and staff, along with executives we’ve polled, have created a reading list of over 50 books for leaders looking to establish a baseline understanding of the theory, science, and application of sustainability. Below are 10 of my favorites from the list. These 10 books together create a great primer on the subject of sustainability.

  1. Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose–Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, by Ray C. Anderson and Robin White
  2. The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, by Peter M. Senge, Bryan Smith, Sara Schley, and Joe Laur
  3. Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
  4. Our Common Future (‘The Brundtland Report’), by World Commission on Environment and Development
  5. Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
  6. Beyond Good Company: Next Generation Corporate Citizenship, by Bradley K. Googins, Philip H. Mirvis, and Steven A. Rochlin
  7. Sustainable Value, by Chris Laszlo
  8. The Dream of the Earth, by Thomas Berry
  9. Capitalism at the Crossroads, Stuart L. Hart
  10. The Soul of a Business: Managing For Profit And The Common Good, by Tom Chappell

On a final note, I would like to add one more book that I think is significant. The book is Sustainabilty by Design written by John Ehrenfeld. This book is seminal because Ehrenfeld defines sustainability differently than anyone else. His definition is as follows: Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the earth forever. Indeed!


Dr. Kevin Lynch is Leadership Executive-in-Residence at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. As a practitioner, academic and consultant, Kevin specializes in assisting organizations that are experiencing rapid change, particularly with regard to strategic growth decisions, and the implementation of appropriate organizational infrastructure. Before joining the Center, Kevin was a senior executive in the real estate industry. He also is co-owner of a wilderness canoe outfitting business in Ely, Minnesota.

Photo credit: mfcorwin via Compfight cc

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