Metabolic’s top sustainability reads

Published on the 10th of May 2017

Looking for a deeper understanding of sustainability and circular economics? Then we have the books you need to add to your summer reading list.

Exponential growth in our population and increasing resource demands are putting pressure on the planet like never before, establishing a clear case for a thriving, ‘circular’ economy. Making this a reality is at the heart of Metabolic’s mission. And to help you get a good understanding of the theories behind the buzzwords, we’ve compiled a list of eight of our favorite books on sustainable economic thinking, with topics ranging from wealth and prosperity to natural capital and climate change. If you’re after a read that will shift your perspective and give you a deeper understanding of some of the most important issues of our age, check out our list. And if you’re new to this area then we recommend starting here, with Eva Gladek’s ‘Seven pillars of the circular economy’. Happy reading!

This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein

Klein has built a solid reputation for her ability to shine a light on problems within contemporary political and economic practices in a captivating and approachable style. In This Changes Everything, her most provocative (and optimistic) book yet, she applies this to one of our greatest challenges–climate change–and identifies how the economic system can and must be shifted if we are to survive and thrive. It’s packed full of stories from around the world of people leading the charge. It has been described as one of the most important books of this century, and for good reason.

Deep Economy – Bill McKibben

McKibben defines a deep economy as an economy that “cares less about quantity than about quality”. He argues that our goal of endless economic expansion is currently destroying the planet, and with it, human society. He advocates for creating localized economies and rethinking the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all. He offers tangible solutions in the form of community-centered initiatives that provide benefits in livelihood and wellbeing. McKibben succeeds in presenting an alternative scenario to globalization that is appealing on both a social and economic level.

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? – Tony Juniper

Juniper has managed to make the concept of ecosystem services not only digestible but meaningful for everyone. Nature may be beautiful, but it is also essential to culture, life and the economy. The book describes ten major services provided by the environment, such as purification of drinking water, using sobering statistics and real-world examples to explain and quantify what exactly nature provides for humanity. Juniper says it is time we learn to appreciate nature for all it is worth, with a necessary step in that appreciation being a proper valuation within economic markets. One memorable example looks at vulture eradication in India. This turned disastrous when animal carcasses rotted in the streets, and rabid dog populations exploded. Readable and informative, Juniper shows us how ‘money really does grow on trees’.

How to Thrive in the Next Economy – John Thackara

A celebration of small wins with big impact is the mantra of Thackara’s latest book. Readers can bask in the feel-good glow of community-based sustainability successes from around the world. While the underlying themes of circular economy run throughout the book, the focus remains on bottom-up creativity as a means to secure social and ecological benefits. Highlights include his descriptions of community innovations in urban ecosystems, like Lagos kiosk traders and Danish bike sharing programs. Thackara’s account of interacting and learning from groups of people doing more with less is both positive and poignant.

Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth

Here Raworth presents a model to reframe the economy, from growth to thriving, using the visual metaphor of a donut. The outer edge of the donut represents planetary boundaries (such as climate change, biodiversity and pollution), the inner edge represents the social foundation of a working society (such as health, education and equality). To thrive, we need to avoid overshooting the boundaries and make sure we don’t have a shortfall of foundations; in other words, we need to live within the doughy goodness of the donut itself. The book also outlines a background to economic theory, its history, and current challenges. Published in April 2017, it is already gaining widespread attention and it is on our reading list to find out more.

Natural Capitalism – Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins

When it was first published in 1999, Natural Capitalism gained huge attention and has since been regularly updated to include new theories and applications. The authors describe the global economy as being dependent on natural resources and the ecosystem services that nature provides. Natural capitalism recognizes the critical interdependency between the production and use of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital, underpinning why we need to assign it proper value. The book argues that only through recognizing this essential relationship–and by uniting profit with social responsibility –can businesses (and the people they support) continue to exist. The approach of the book fuses ecological integrity with business acumen and sets out a path we can follow.

Prosperity Without Growth –  Tim Jackson

In this book, Jackson provides a critique of the concept of ‘green growth’–the idea that economic growth can benefit the environment. He stresses the fundamental issues within economy and governance, such as reliance on ineffectual measures like GDP as an indicator of wealth, and contrasts them with more philosophical approaches, such as measuring happiness and wellbeing. Jackson goes on to dismantle the notion of ‘sustainable growth’, instead outlining the concept of a ‘post-growth’ economy, while still maintaining prosperity. The book was recently re-published and contains updates to his seminal arguments.

Origin of Wealth – Eric Beinhocker

The subtitle of this book tells you a lot about what you will get from reading it: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What it Means for Business and Society. This impressive book takes readers on a tour of economic history, breaks down theories to be easily understandable, and highlights where we are heading. Beinhocker explores how wealth is created and shared within the current system and how wealth can be increased for the benefit of individuals, businesses, and society. He provides provocative insights on issues ranging from creating adaptive organizations, to the evolutionary workings of stock markets, to new perspectives on government policies. It is rare for a book to be so intellectually comprehensive on economic theory while also being such an engaging and enthralling read.

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