What Are the Best Books on Corporate Sustainability?

What Are the Best Books on Corporate Sustainability?

Judging by the number of books about business and the environment piling up on my shelves, the corporate sustainability movement is alive and well.

One of the best is Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson, the founder and chairman of the commercial carpet company Interface.

I've been provided with two signed copes of the paperback edition to give away. I'm expecting a signed copy of Howard Schultz's book, which I'm also going to give to a blog reader. More on that, in a moment.

But first, a few thoughts about Ray and his book. Ray is a terrific guy who has had a great influence on business people across America, by tirelessly promoting the idea that a truly sustainable approach to business is good for business. (See my 2009 interview, Ray Anderson, Radical Industrialist.) "Take nothing from the earth that cannot be replaced by the earth" is how he puts it.

Fifteen years after setting that goal for Interface, the company has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent, cut fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent, cut waste by 80 percent, increased sales, doubled earnings and re-invented the way carpets are made, sold and recycled.

Says environmental activist Bill McKibben: "Ray Anderson is a hero."

ray andersonA soft-spoken, genial Georgian, Ray, who is in his late 70s, can't get out to promote the paperback edition because, as he writes in a new foreword: "I have spent the last year dealing with cancer, thankfully holding my own -- barely."

He can't help but draw analogies between his own experience with disease and environmental pollution. Neither his father, who was one of seven siblings, nor his mother, who was also one of seven, nor any of their brothers and sisters had cancer. But he and and his two brothers have had the disease. Could it be something in the environment? Hard to say.

But Ray writes:

Irresponsible business -- the diggers, the drillers, the processors of poison, all of whom ought to know better -- they and their abusive industries -- are a cancer on society.

... It is high time we all started on the right treatment of this disease before it takes us all down.

Strong words, to be sure, but coming from a CEO and businessman with his own inspiring story, they resonate.

Interestingly, I've found that the best books about business and sustainability are written by CEOs and insiders, and not by journalists or consultants. My personal favorites include Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, Stirring it Up by Gary Hirshberg and What Matters Most by Jeff Hollender and Stephen Fenichell. I liked Howard Schultz's first book, Pour Your Heart Into It, a lot, although it's less about the environment and more broadly about doing business right. Jim Collins' work, especially on leadership in Good to Great, has had a big influence on my thinking. My friend Barbara Waugh's The Soul in a Computer is another inspiring read.

What about you? Which books about business, values and sustainability have influenced you most? I invite you to nominate a favorite or two in the comments below or, if you prefer, email me at [email protected]. I'll do a blogpost in the next week or so highlighting some of the nominations. Here's a Top 10 list I found online to get you thinking.

I'll send my two signed copies of Ray Anderson's book and my copy of Howard Schultz's Onward (assuming it arrives soon) out to those who sent in the most interesting or original nominations. Ancient as well as contemporary wisdom is welcome.

I've also decided to reduce my pile of books (below) by sending them to people who write guest posts to this blog, so if you're passionate about a corporate sustainability issue, please let me know if you like to contribute a post.