Want to read up on sustainability but don’t know what to start? CEO Rachel Brown shares her Top Six.

By Jessica Beau Paul

With the growing sense of urgency around the sustainability challenges we face, knowing how to inform yourself can be a daunting task. There are a plethora of articles, reports, podcasts, TED Talks, and books tackling some of the social and environmental issues of our time. But where to begin?

Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network, says: “Sustainability is the biggest issue of our times. It’s transforming the way we live and the way we run our businesses. So it’s important to understand what it’s all about to help you make informed decisions.

“I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books, articles and videos. Some of the information out there can be really depressing, so it’s important to include some inspiring, solutions-based information in your learning too.”

Here are Rachel’s Top Six: Where to Start in Sustainability.


  1. For some inspired reading.

Project Drawdown is shifting the larger global conversation on climate change from “doom and gloom” to a sense of opportunity, possibility, and hope for the future.  It’s a great read, as they share climate solutions with the world. It’s a world-class research and communication organisation which serves as a non-partisan, non-commercial, highly-trusted source of solutions to reverse global warming.

Take a look at Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. In Doughnut Economics, she sets out seven key ways to fundamentally reframe our understanding of what economics is and does. Along the way, she points out how we can break our addiction to growth; redesign money, finance, and business to be in service to people; and create economies that are regenerative and distributive by design.

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997) by Janine Benyus takes a look at the best ideas of nature, such as spider silk, sea shells, brain cells, and photosynthesis, and adjusts them for human use. It’s a journey through the lab in which researchers are discovering resourceful solutions from nature for the sake of a more sustainable future.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We make Things (2002) by William McDonough and Michael Braungart is a handbook for innovating and (re)designing in the twenty-first century, which should be read by everyone. It is certainly one of the most influential books on sustainability so far. It’s a call for a new Industrial Revolution, suggesting things like the complete removal of waste. They show several compelling examples of companies which, far from harming the planet and the people, are doing a good thing for the environment while earning money in the process.

Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries (2008). A provocative book by communication expert John Marshall Roberts, who expects messages from company leaders and activists to inspire others to take action. This book is a reflective call to a new generation of leaders looking towards the future, determined to become successful and fulfil themselves, while making the world a better place.

Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (1999), by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, is about creating the next Industrial Revolution. This reveals how global companies can be environmentally responsible and highly profitable. The work describes the global economy as one dependent on natural resources and all that nature can offer.


  1. For an urgent call to action on climate and biodiversity. 

This Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C was approved by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). “With more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, this important report testifies to the breadth and policy relevance of the IPCC,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared this report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UN Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  looks at the unprecedented rates of decline in nature, and the grave impacts of this on people around the world. The report asserts that the current global response is insufficient and transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature.


  1. For a great Web reference on the global environment.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre’s Planetary Boundaries looks at nine environmental limits and how they have changed since 1950.  The boundaries range from climate change to freshwater use and land system change.


  1. For some values based learning.

Dr Niki Harré is associate professor of psychology at The University of Auckland. Her seminal work, The Infinite Game was a project inspired by James Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games. She’s also written Psychology for a Better World.

My colleague Andy Kenworthy has created a starting point called Turning the Tide to reframe a deeper relationship with nature. We are planning on integrating this learning into our own practice.


  1. For leadership in sustainability.

In terms of influencing systems through sustainable innovation I like Alan AtKisson’s Amoeba Model – how to be a more effective agent of change.


  1. If you’re looking for some frameworks.

Check out the work of Bill Reed and Cabal’s Caroline Robinson with new ways of working together.

Our Million Metres Streams Project reconnects people with our waterways. Our GulfX Project – in partnership with Foundation North’s GIFT fund – is focused on bringing system change to restoring the Mauri of the Hauraki Gulf.

The transition to a circular economy is key and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation works to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a positive future circular economy. Or, more locally, check out our Circular Economy Accelerator which is focused on speeding up the adoption of the circular economy in New Zealand.