Outlining the best books on climate change and sustainability in business
Involved in the business world? Looking for the best books on climate change, sustainability and ESG?
The good news is that you’re in the right spot. And thanks for being here. If the world is to truly transition to sustainable ways and halve emissions by 2030, we will need business leaders like you with the right environmental values.
Personally, I’ve been involved in business and sustainability since 2016. When I started to really dig into the topic, my first port of call was ordering a few books. In my view, books are still one of the best mediums for learning. Videos and podcasts are surging in popularity at the minute, but books will always be at the top for me.
Climate change is a fast-moving and incredibly pressing global issue. The time for talk, and just talk, is over. What we need is action. Positive action. That’s where you come in.
All of the books in our list below share valuable insights on both the business risks and opportunities associated with climate change. They also provide plenty of actionable tips that you and your business can implement for a more sustainable future. Let’s get to the best books on climate change.
Best climate change books
1. Just Good Business
Just Good Business by Kellie McElhaney was one of the first books I read specifically about business and corporate responsibility. It’s an important read for businesses looking to strategically align corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their business operations.
As the book name suggests, going through this alignment process isn’t just for mitigating environmental impact, it also makes sense from a business perspective. CSR can help businesses achieve long-term success while addressing climate change and other environmental concerns.
The book gives examples of how this approach can benefit the overall brand too, leading to customer loyalty, attracting and retaining employees, and differentiating the company in competitive markets.
Just Good Business’s main aim is to help you develop an authentic CSR strategy through a seven-principle framework. Lots of practical advice too on implementation and how to measure results.
2. Chief Sustainability Officers At Work
Chief Sustainability Officers At Work is a handy book for business leaders and those looking to establish a sustainability or ESG strategy.
In short, it’s a collection of 20 in-depth interviews with Chief Sustainability Officers at some of the biggest companies on the planet. We’re talking about IKEA, Netflix, Aviva, Coca Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Now, some of the CSOs featured in this book work for companies with highly questionable sustainability and climate records. Some of the companies are outright harmful (at the current time of writing) to the environment.
But this interview format offers a unique perspective and insight into the types of actions these companies are putting in place and how it aligns with their services and revenue generation efforts.
With important topics raised, there are lots of points to take onboard and learn from. Think of it as a springboard for you to do even better with your own business.
3. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things
Moving away from the traditional ‘make, use, recycle’ way of working, Cradle to Cradle offers an alternative perspective on creating products. It can even apply to organisations themselves. It’s a play on words of ‘cradle to grave’, with the essence that all resources can be, and should be, valuable at some point in the supply chain.
This insightful book puts nature front and centre as the ideal model mimic. In the natural world, everything gets reused in one way or another. Waste barely exists. Why can’t production be the same?
Cradle to Cradle is a thought-provoking book that offers a roadmap for businesses to establish more sustainable production processes to create reusable and waste-free products.
The benefits for the planet are clear, but also for businesses’ bottom line.
It’s worth noting that the authors, McDonough and Braungart have recently released a follow-up book titled The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance. This new book goes deeper into the concept, providing case studies and real-world success stories.
4. Making Sustainability Work
Making Sustainability Work is a practical book for business leaders seeking insights into a corporate sustainability model. It gives a high-level overview of strategy, actions and the reasons behind them to arm you with the knowledge to make positive change.
I read this book back in 2017, and it’s definitely a useful read for business leaders, strategists and sustainability consultants.
The author, Marc J Epstein, promotes a more holistic approach to sustainability and business. In other words, get the model right from the beginning and you can benefit your business and significantly reduce your impact on the environment. He assumes the reader knows about business, but not much about sustainability, which is the right approach for most.
Admittedly it’s a little dry, but treat it more as a reference textbook and you’ll get plenty of value from it. Each of the ten chapters has a handy summary section and there are a number of good case studies to liven things up.
5. Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World
Written by Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell, Sustainable Excellence is a timely read for businesses in our current climate crisis.
This book explores the stories of companies that have successfully transformed themselves by adapting to the environmental challenges we see today. Although it was written in 2010, it’s still relevant – unfortunately the business world still hasn’t moved on as much as it should in this time.
As the title suggests, the book looks at how businesses can achieve sustainable excellence. So, what does this concept mean?
The model they highlight as the standard bearer is one that “delivers value for investors, customers, and employees; improves the living standards of its employees and the communities it touches; makes wise use of natural resources; and treats people fairly.”
In other words, create an ethical business for the benefit of a better world.
6. Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take
Net Positive is a fantastic read for business leaders who want to better impact the world. It’s written by Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever from 2009 to 2019, and Andrew Winston, a highly regarded sustainability strategist.
In terms of semantics, the title draws me in. Being ‘net zero’ is good, but we need even more if the world is to prosper. The business world needs to give back and become ‘net positive’.
Like a few of the other books on this list, Net Positive provides a model to help leaders build better, more sustainable companies.
The premise is this: create profit by fixing the world’s problems instead of creating them. Ensure that the environment and well-being are at the forefront of operations to benefit from lasting value and sustainable growth.
This book is relevant for leaders of businesses of all sizes. I’d definitely urge you to read this book.
Looking for more ways to learn about the climate crisis?
Here are some extra books to add to your reading list that are also really helpful for business leaders looking to go green.
- Green Swans: The Coming Boom In Regenerative Capitalism – John Elkington
- How To Avoid A Climate Disaster – Bill Gates
- Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit – Alex Edmans
- Supercharge Me: Net Zero Faster – Eric Lonergan and Corinne Sawers
- The Notorious ESG: Business, Climate, and the Race to Save the Planet – Vasuki Shastry
If you are more of an auditory learner, then also check out my review of the best climate podcasts for business leaders.