8 Best Books on Sustainability for Startups

Man sitting in a park reading a book.

As a startup owner, striving to create a sustainable company lets you make the world a better place for every creature that lives there. Today, though, entrepreneurs have more reasons than altruism alone to value sustainability. Along with helping meet customer expectations, good environmental practices can often help companies reduce costs by eliminating waste. 

If you want to learn more about green business practices and how to lead a sustainable company, there are plenty of business books to check out. Let's look at eight of the best startup books on sustainability

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Must-Read Sustainability Business Books

Here are eight excellent business books on sustainability that every startup founder should check out. Note that this is not a ranking, and these books are listed in no particular order. 

Also Recommended: Check out our list of the best startup books.

1. ‘Cradle to Cradle’ by Michael Braungart and William McDonough

Recycling is one great way for companies and consumers alike to make a positive environmental impact. However, recycling requires more than throwing waste in the right bin; to really embrace the benefits of recycling, we need to rethink how we make products. 

In "Cradle to Cradle,” authors Michael Braungart and William McDonough make an argument that we should stop designing products to eventually be thrown away and instead embrace circular design where companies create value by eliminating waste. If you are still in the process of designing your startup's products and are looking for ways to make them more recyclable and eco-friendly, this is an excellent book to read.

2. ‘Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism’ by John Elkington

Drawing on Nassim Taleb’s book “Black Swans,” which discussed unforeseen problems that can lead to breakdowns, John Elkington depicts future environmental solutions and breakthroughs as "green swans." According to him, the very survival of humanity may depend on these green swans materializing. 

John Elkington is known as "The Godfather of Sustainability", and in "Green Swans" he discusses the new principles of capitalism that we will need to adopt in order to avoid the looming climate crisis. He also presents a number of real-world technologies and case studies showcasing what companies are already doing. 

3. ‘Speed and Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now’ by John Doerr

In "Speed and Scale," renowned venture capitalist turned climate activist John Doerr is said to lay out practical actions and ambitions for solving the planet's climate crisis with "clear-eyed realism and an engineer’s precision." In it, he offers a ten-step plan for cutting the world's greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the year 2050. 

The ten-step plan in "Speed and Scale" is both to the point and compelling, but it also requires the cooperation of individuals, governments, and companies worldwide. If you want to ensure that your company is on board with John Doerr's plan for saving the environment, check out "Speed and Scale."

4. ‘Biomimicry’ by Janine Benyus

Nature has had billions of years to perfect its designs. While humans have looked to nature for inspiration for as long as we've been around, "Biomimicry" argues that we still have a lot more to learn. 

From natural alternatives to toxic industrial chemicals to renewable energy sources to nature-inspired methods for repairing the environmental damage we've already caused, "Biomimicry" offers a wide range of innovative ideas. Or rather, it highlights the innovative ideas that nature came up with a long time ago.

5. ‘Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto’ by Adam Werbach

"Strategy for Sustainability" isn't just a book on sustainability practices that companies should adopt (though it does have plenty of those to offer). Instead, it's a book on how companies can leverage sustainability to give themselves a powerful competitive edge, now and in the future. 

In "Strategy for Sustainability," Adam Werbach makes the case that employees, customers, and investors have a passion for companies that "do well by doing good". If you would like to learn how to create a company that leverages sustainability and good environmental practices as a springboard rather than a shackle, this is a book that you are to benefit from reading. 

Looking for more book recommendations? We asked startup founders to share their favorite books on entrepreneurship, and here's what they said.

6. ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’ by Paul Hawken

Many people talk about what it will require to slow down global warming, but have you ever wondered what it would take to actually reverse it? In "Drawdown," Paul Hawken presents a detailed and comprehensive plan for doing exactly that. 

As you can imagine, companies all over the world play a highly important role in Hawken's plan. If you would like to align your company with the initiatives required to stop global warming altogether, then be sure to give "Drawdown" a read. 

7. ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth

By the title, you might think that this book is a volume on macroeconomics. However, the purpose of "Doughnut Economics" is to instruct companies on how to "think in systems" and analyze their impact on both societal and environmental issues. 

In "Doughnut Economics," Kate Raworth presents a model for a regenerative economy that actually benefits society and the planet rather than taking cruel advantage of them both. While Raworth's ideas are certainly ambitious, she also offers several real-world business examples proving that they can work.

8. ‘What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption’ by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

The sharing economy is a model that has already made numerous entrepreneurs exceedingly wealthy, and it's one that still has an enormous amount of potential left. Companies such as Uber, eBay, Airbnb, Swaptree, and many others have proven it successful. 

Along with offering plenty of untapped potential for entrepreneurs, the sharing economy is also a model that tends to benefit the environment since it prioritizes reuse and community collaboration over individual consumption. If you like to learn all about the sharing economy, how it helps both society and the planet, and how companies can capitalize on it, then you are sure to enjoy "What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.”

What’s your favorite sustainability book for entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments!

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