ESG is a framework that measures a company’s impact on environmental, social, and governance issues. That includes everything from environmental impact to the gender pay gap to how diverse the board is. Companies that commit to ESG are more sustainable and more popular with both employees and consumers. It’s not an easy commitment, however, and many companies take shortcuts or use misleading tactics to look more sustainable than they really are. Everyone should learn at least a little about ESG as its principles become more popular and – unfortunately in many cases – more watered down. Here are the top 11 books to start with:
Table of Contents
#1. Sustainability: A History (Revised Edition)
#2. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement
#3. Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion-Dollar Businesses
#4. Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism
#5. Chief Sustainability Officers at Work: How Csos Build Successful Sustainability and ESG Strategies
#6. Your Essential Guide to Sustainable Investing: How to Live Your Values and Achieve Your Financial Goals with ESG, SRI, and Impact Investing
#7. Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming Our Consumer Culture
#8. Sustainability Is the New Advantage: Leadership, Change, and the Future of Business
#9. DEI Deconstructed: Your Non-Nonsense Gudie to Doing the Work and Doing It Right
#10. Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and and Stop Microagressions
#11. The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis
#1. Sustainability: A History (Revised Edition) (2022)
By: Jeremy L. Caradonna
When did sustainability become a thing? In this book with an updated introduction, author Jeremy Caradonna tracks the sustainability movement from the 1600s to today. Readers will learn how sustainability isn’t a modern invention, but rather an innovation with roots in the late 17th and 18th centuries, the Industrial Revolution, and the early environmental movement. If you’ve ever wanted to know where sustainability came from and how it’s evolved, this is a great introduction.
Jeremy Caradonna is the author of three books, a sustainability speaker, and a contributor to publications like The Atlantic and CNN. He teaches at the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.
#2. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement (2000)
By: Luke W. Cole and Sheila R. Foster
To understand ESG and sustainability, it’s important to understand issues like environmental racism. This book explores this problem, which is the disproportionate impact of hazards like pollution and toxic waste dumps on low-income communities and people of color. Readers will learn about the environmental justice movement and its goals, which have only become more relevant since the book’s publication in 2000.
Luke Cole was the co-founder of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment in California. Sheila Foster is currently a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown Law.
By: E. Freya Williams
In this 2015 book, sustainable business expert Williams takes a close look at nine companies – like GE, Chipotle, and Unilever – who have made sustainable practices an essential part of their brands. She explores six factors that explain their success: the Iconoclastic Leader, Disruptive Innovation, A Higher Purpose, Built In, Not Bolted On, Mainstream Appeal, and New Behavioral Contract. The book features research, interviews, and case studies that show how sustainability can increase a company’s success.
Freya Williams has worked with companies like Unilever, Kraft, the Un, and more on how to incorporate corporate responsibility and sustainability into their businesses. She’s the co-founder of OglivyEarth, a sustainability and CSR communications practice, and the CEO of Futerra.
By: John Elkington
Written by “the Godfather of Sustainability,” this book looks at the capitalism of the future. Who will lead the way? Elkington’s book describes “green swans,” which he describes as a “symbol of radically better times to come.” Using case studies and Elkington’s experiences at huge companies, Green Swans explores the problems with current capitalism; the battle between black, gray, and green swans; and how green swans can change the world.
John Elkington is a professor, entrepreneur, and author of 20 books, including the Green Consumer Guide series, as well as an advisor to companies, non-profits, and policy organizations.
#5. Chief Sustainability Officers at Work: How Csos Build Successful Sustainability and ESG Strategies (2022)
By: Chrissa Pagistas
Written with sustainability professionals and aspiring ESG leaders in mind, this book features over 20 exclusive interviews with chief sustainability officers from Fortune 500 companies. Readers will learn how these major companies strategize, how CSOs get their jobs, and what their work entails.
Chrissa Pagistas is an ESG advisor to senior executives and a public speaker. She’s also developed sustainability strategies for real estate investors and advised USAID and others on renewable energy solutions.
#6. Your Essential Guide to Sustainable Investing: How to Live Your Values and Achieve Your Financial Goals with ESG, SRI, and Impact Investing (2022)
By: Larry E. Swedroe and Samuel C. Adams
ESG is a framework corporations adopt, but it’s also a strategy that guides investors. If you want to avoid investments in oil, gas, and other things that don’t align with your values, there’s a lot of information to sort through. How do you even know corporations are truly sustainable and not just greenwashing? This book helps investors understand sustainable investing, including how ESG, SRI, and impact investing are different and what the data says about these types of investments.
Larry Swedroe is the chief research officer for Buckingham Strategic Wealth and Buckingham Strategic Partners, as well as the author of several books. Samuel Adams is the CEO and co-founder of Vert Asset Management, an ESG investment management firm.
By: John R. Ehrenfeld
Is ESG just putting a band-aid on the real problem facing our world? In this book, John Ehrenfield, who is a leader in industrial ecology, promotes the idea that we need to transform how we think about sustainability. Readers will wrestle with the big problems – like culture’s unquenchable thirst for consumption – and explore practical ways to adopt a sustainability mindset. While written in 2009, the book’s ideas are far from stale and perhaps even more necessary today.
John Ehrenfeld has worked as an environmental researcher, engineer, and with the MIT Center for Technology, Policy, and Industrial Development. He also served as the executive director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology.
By: Peter McAteer
More and more companies have realized how essential sustainability is. To be successful, businesses and workers will need new skills, practices, and innovations. In this book, Peter McAteer examines sustainability and the evolution of business; why smaller businesses need different solutions; and how businesses can embed sustainability into their DNA. Through sustainability, companies can gain advantages over the competition.
Peter McAteer is the managing director of SustainLearning, which provides services like teaching sessions and consulting on sustainable business. He’s also worked for the UN Development Program and as the former managing director of Harvard Business Publishing, Corporate Learning.
By: Lily Zheng
DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion ) represents the “S” (social) in ESG. It can be a very challenging endeavor, but businesses cannot afford to ignore DEI. In this book, Zheng examines the faults with current DEI strategies and presents a more effective, pragmatic approach that relies on research, evidence, and insights. Readers will receive a thorough, outcome-based understanding and a solid foundation on how to put what they’ve learned into action.
Lily Zheng is a popular DEI speaker, strategist, and organizational consultant. They’ve been named a Forbes D&I Trailblazer and LinkedIn Top Voice in Racial Equity. Their work has also appeared in places like NPR, the Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times.
By: Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran
It’s not hard to notice overt sexism, racism, ableism, and other discrimination in the workplace, but small, subtle discriminations – known as microaggressions – create spaces where employees feel unsafe and disrespected. What do microaggressions look like? How can workplaces address them and stop them from happening? In this book, Jana and Baran offer a new term in place of microaggressions: “SEAs,” or “subtle acts of exclusion.” As you read, you’ll learn to understand the effects of these subtle acts, how to spot them, and what to do.
Dr. Tiffany Jana is an author and the CEO of TMI Portfolio, which is a network of companies focused on building inclusive workplaces. Dr. Michael Baran is a social scientist, author, speaker, and senior partner and digital solutions lead at inQUEST Consulting.
By: Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
In 2015, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnacc led negotiations for the UN on the Paris Agreement of 2015, which is a treaty on climate change. In this book, they offer a “cautionary but optimistic” look at the world and the future of humanity. There are two possibilities. In one, we fail to meet the climate targets by 2050. In the other, the world has achieved net-zero emissions. What can we do to make sure the second possibility becomes reality? This book lays out what governments, corporations, and individuals can do.
Christiana Figueres and Tom-Rivett Carnac are co-founders of Global Optimism and co-hosts of the podcast “Outrage + Optimism.” Figureres is the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change while Rivett-Carna worked as her political strategist.