Sunday, January 24, 2010

Claims made for the top 50 sustainability books

The material that follows is from the publisher. What do you think?

‘These are the Top 50 Sustainability Books as voted for by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership's alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. In addition to profiles of all 50 titles, many of the authors share their most recent reflections on the state of the world and the ongoing attempts by business, government and civil society to create a more sustainable future.


Written by Wayne Visser on behalf of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership

Published 7 December 2009, 200 pp

This unique title draws together in one volume some of the best thinking to date on the pressing social and environmental challenges we face as a society. These are the Top 50 Sustainability Books as voted for by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership's alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. In addition to profiles of all 50 titles, many of the authors share their most recent reflections on the state of the world and the ongoing attempts by business, government and civil society to create a more sustainable future.

Many of these authors have become household names in the environmental, social and economic justice movements - from Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader and E.F. Schumacher to Vandana Shiva, Muhammad Yunus and Al Gore. Others, such as Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry and Manfred Max-Neef, are relatively undiscovered gems, whose work should be much more widely known.

The profiled books tackle our most vexing global challenges, including globalisation (Globalization and Its Discontents, No Logo), climate change (Heat, The Economics of Climate Change) and poverty (The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Development as Freedom). Some of these featured thought-leaders are highly critical of the status quo (e.g. David Korten, Eric Schlosser and Joel Bakan), while others suggest evolutionary ways forward (e.g. Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, Paul Hawken and Jonathon Porritt). Some place their faith in technological solutions (e.g. Janine Benyus, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker), while others are upbeat about the potential of business to be a force for good (e.g. John Elkington, Ricardo Semler, William McDonough and Michael Braungart).

By featuring these and other seminal thinkers, The Top 50 Sustainability Books distils a remarkable collective intelligence - one that provides devastating evidence of the problems we face as a global society, yet also inspiring examples of innovative solutions; it explores our deepest fears and our highest hopes for the future. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to tap into the wisdom of our age.


1 A Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold (1949)

2 Silent Spring Rachel Carson (1962)

3 Unsafe At Any Speed Ralph Nader (1965)

4 The Population Bomb Paul L. Ehrlich (1968)

5 Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth R. Buckminster Fuller (1969)

6 The Limits to Growth Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William W. Behrens III (1972)

7 Small Is Beautiful E.F. Schumacher (1973)

8 Gaia James Lovelock (1979)

9 The Turning Point Fritjof Capra (1982)

10 Our Common Future ('The Brundtland Report') World Commission on Environment and Development (1987)

11 The Dream of the Earth Thomas Berry (1988)

12 A Fate Worse Than Debt Susan George (1988)

13 Staying Alive Vandana Shiva (1989)

14 Blueprint for a Green Economy David Pearce, Anil Markandya and Edward B. Barbier (1989)

15 For the Common Good Herman Daly and John B. Cobb Jr (1989)

16 Human Scale Development Manfred Max-Neef (1989)

17 Changing Course Stephan Schmidheiny and Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) (1992)

18 The Ecology of Commerce Paul Hawken (1993)

19 Maverick Ricardo Semler (1993)

20 When Corporations Rule the World David C. Korten (1995)

21 Biomimicry Janine M. Benyus (1997)

22 Cannibals with Forks John Elkington (1997)

23 The Hungry Spirit Charles Handy (1997)

24 Banker to the Poor Muhammad Yunus (1998)

25 The Crisis of Global Capitalism George Soros (1998)

26 Factor Four Ernst von Weizsäcker, Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins (1998)

27 False Dawn John Gray (1998)

28 Development as Freedom Amartya Sen (1999)

29 No Logo Naomi Klein (1999)

30 Natural Capitalism Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins (1999)

31 Business as Unusual Anita Roddick (2000)

32 The Mystery of Capital Hernando de Soto (2000)

33 The Civil Corporation Simon Zadek (2001)

34 Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser (2001)

35 The Skeptical Environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg (2001)

36 Cradle to Cradle William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002)

37 Globalization and its Discontents Joseph E. Stiglitz (2002)

38 The Corporation Joel Bakan (2004)

39 Presence Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers (2004)

40 The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid C.K. Prahalad (2004)

41 The River Runs white Elizabeth C. Economy (2004)

42 Capitalism as if the World Matters Jonathon Porritt (2005)

43 Capitalism at the Crossroads Stuart L. Hart (2005)

44 Collapse Jared Diamond (2005)

45 The End of Poverty Jeffrey D. Sachs (2005)

46 The Chaos Point Ervin Laszlo (2006)

47 Heat George Monbiot (2006)

48 An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore (2006)

49 When the Rivers Run Dry Fred Pearce (2006)

50 The Economics of Climate Change Nicholas Stern (2007)


Mike Peirce, Deputy Director, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership


The level of change that is going to be forced on our economies, our value chains, our companies and the people who work in business is going to be both profound, and profoundly exciting. There are few times in world history where I would rather have been alive.

John Elkington

We're going to solve these problems: extreme poverty will end by the year 2025. That's what I said in the book and I think that's what's going to happen.

Jeffrey D. Sachs

The simple truth is that there are no companies that are sustainable in the world today; there are none. What we have are companies that are experimenting with pieces of the puzzle.

Stuart L. Hart

Negligence begins tomorrow, because now we know what to do.

William McDonough

In America they said I was trying to tear down Wall Street and that would suck the juice out of the American dream.

Charles Handy

One tends to forget it's not the oil companies that drive our cars; we drive them and burn the fuel. We don't have to do it, and to entirely blame industry for making a profit from selling us petrol is quite naive. The whole of society is in the game together and to single out industry for attack is quite wrong.

James Lovelock

I always remember, on Donella Meadows' office door was a little motto which said 'Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow I'd plant a tree today.'

Dennis L. Meadows

Will our grandchildren know what a company is? ... it seems that the real institutional challenge is to create a new type of institution.

Simon Zadek

I am very sceptical about a moralistic appeal and I'm extremely sceptical about markets providing sustainable civilisation.

Ernst von Weizsäcker

I was just in Borneo watching 19 square kilometres of lush rainforest that had been recreated from scratch in six or seven years. Nobody knew you could do that.

Amory B. Lovins

Environmental concern is still very much a First World concern. Most of the world are still pretty worried about the fact that their kids can die from easily curable infectious diseases.

Bjørn Lomborg

I think there is unfortunately no level of human suffering that causes policy to change.

Susan George

Sustainability is boring. What would you say if I were to ask you about your relationship with your wife? How would you characterise it? As sustainable? If this is the bigger goal - sustainability - then I feel really sorry because it doesn't celebrate human creativity and human nature.

Michael Braungart

I think the system as a whole is structurally unsustainable. That means it has to be transformed. It can't be patched up.

Ervin Laszlo

Read about When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten (1995) for free

Review copies are available (hard copy and PDF).

List price: £25.00 / €37.50 / $45.00. Offer price: £22.50 / €33.75 / $40.50.
Significant investment in new Systems courses and programs by The Open University UK

The Open University UK has recently approved and developed a suite of new awards and courses to be called 'Systems Thinking in Practice'.

The overall program will comprise three possible awards. The first is a Postgraduate Certificate in Systems Thinking in Practice (C72) of 60 OU credit points. A new course due for first presentation in May 2010, ‘Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change’ (TU811) is a compulsory 30 point course for this award together with another 30 point OU option, or where credit transfer has been arranged, a partner option.

The second award is a Postgraduate Diploma in Systems Thinking in Practice (E28) of 120 OU points. To be awarded the PG Diploma the PG certificate plus another 60 points of study must be completed. ‘Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction’ (TU812) is a 30 point compulsory course with TU811 (above).

The third award is the MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice which is made up of the PG Diploma plus a further 60 points of study.

As a result of the investment made by The Open University in the new Systems awards four new books have been produced and co-published with Springer. The first, now published, Systems Thinkers, is devoted to the individuals who are generally recognised as systems thinkers. This work presents a biographical history of the field of systems thinking, by examining the life and work of thirty of its major thinkers. It discusses each thinker’s key contributions, the way this contribution was expressed in practice and the relationship between their life and ideas. This discussion is supported by an extract from the thinker’s own writing, to give a flavour of their work and to give readers a sense of which thinkers are most relevant to their own interests.

The second book in the series, ‘Systems Approaches to Managing Change’ due for release shortly, is devoted to the main methodologies that have been developed by Systems scholars and are often deployed as part of systems practice. In their book the five methodological approaches covered are:

  1. System dynamics (SD) developed originally in the late 1950s by Jay Wright Forrester
  2. Viable systems method (VSM) developed originally in the late 1960s by Stafford Beer
  3. Strategic options development and analysis (SODA: with cognitive mapping) developed originally in the 1960s by Colin Eden
  4. Soft systems methodology (SSM) developed originally in the 1970s by PeterCheckland
  5. Critical systems heuristics (CSH) developed originally in the early 1980s by Werner Ulrich.

The third book, Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World, due for release in May 2010 deals with a simple logic:

  1. What are the situations where systems thinking helps?
  2. What does it entail to think and act systemically?
  3. How can practices be built that move from systemic understanding to action that is systemically desirable and culturally feasible?
  4. How can situations be transformed for the better through systems practice?

The book is introduced against the backdrop of human induced climate change. It is argued that climate change and other factors create a societal need to move towards more systemic and adaptive governance regimes which incorporate systems practice. The systems practitioner referred to in this book is anyone managing in situations of complexity and uncertainty – it is not a specialist role or that of a consultant or hired ‘intervener’. Thus the book is structured so as to build a general model of systems practice.

The fourth book, a reader edited by Chris Blackmore called Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice, also due for release in May, is concerned with how social and critical learning systems and communities of practice can inform future systems thinking in action. Her focus is on practice in multi-stakeholder situations that call for collaborative or concerted action within groups.

This is a significant and timely commitment by The Open University. In a research report just released by The Work Foundation called Exceeding Expectation: the principles of outstanding leadership, the first key finding was that outstanding leaders ‘think systemically and act long term….Outstanding leaders achieve through a combination of systemic thinking and acting for the long term benefit of their organisation. They recognise the interconnected nature of the organization and therefore act carefully.’


Blackmore, C. P. (Ed.). (2010) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice. Springer: London.

Ison, R.L. (2010) Systems Practice. How to Act in a Climate-Change World. Springer: London.

Ramage, M. and Shipp, K. (2009) Systems Thinkers. Springer: London.

Reynolds, M. and Holwell, S eds (2010) Systems Approaches to Managing Change. Springer: London.