“Humans don’t have a pollution problem,
we have a design problem.”
-William McDonough, author of The Upcycle and Cradle to Cradle
Sustainable design is the future for consumers, creators, and the environment. Here is a roundup of my favorite books about sustainable design that look beautiful on a coffee table and also make great gifts!
10 Beautiful Books About Sustainable Design
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Brawngart
Products are typically made, used and discarded from the cradle to grave. The authors of Cradle to Cradle propose that design and manufacturing should mimic nature, where ‘waste becomes food’. Any material or product that we currently consider to be waste could be reused, upcycled, or returned to nature. This takes us from cradle to cradle, so products have value in each stage of upcycling, allowing for infinite use. There is no destruction of a product, only renewal, forming a circular economy and eliminating waste.
The physical book is a perfect example of this because it’s made of an inert plastic that can be upcycled to another book or plastic product. Once I read this book, my entire view of the global supply chain and best practices for product design shifted. Now, when I look at any product, I think about its design, the raw materials used and the way it was made, and consider ways in which it could be improved. Whenever I design new products I think about their manufacturing and use from cradle to cradle.
Biomimicry by Janine Benyus
Biomimicry is the art and science of looking at the way nature designs and creates in order to inspire human-made design and solve complex problems. Author Janine Benyus takes us through a study of nature over the past 3.5 million years, examining how biomimicry has transformed life and the ways it can inspire innovative solutions. She gives us a comprehensive study of examples which she beautifully connects to human creativity and nature-inspired problem solving.
Benyus explains how we can use the wisdom of nature to make better designs. Biomimicry is such an important part of my work and design process. I’ve used biomimetic thinking to inspire food, water, and energy systems on floating cities, solutions for cleaning contaminated river water, and other design solutions.
Lo-TEK. Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson
The newest book on my shelf, Lo—TEK is a green building design movement influenced by indigenous philosophy, with the goal of creating nature-based technology for sustainable communities. Julia Watson takes us on a stunning journey around the world, exploring human ingenuity and human symbiosis with nature. Lo—TEK wonderfully counters the notion that indigenous technology is outdated and primitive by explaining how it is innovative and can help us improve the sustainability of the built environment.
The Shark’s Paintbrush by Jay Harmon
Following the science of biomimicry, The Shark’s Paintbrush inspires us to design better as an appreciation of nature and its hidden treasures. Jay Harmon, a biomimetic entrepreneur and an award-winning inventor, made sure this book applies to every business case from corporate giants to humble startups. His work is all about analyzing the intricacies of nature and how it improves lives.
Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, and Future by Jennifer Farley and Colleen Hill
The eco-fashion movement has deep historical context, which Farley and Hill analyze from the nineteenth century onwards in Sustainable Fashion. Ethics and sustainability take center stage in this book. It’s a collection of stories and interviews that explain production from cultivation of raw materials to shipping of finished products.
The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability: Charting the Conceptual Landscape Through Economy, Ecology, and Culture by Ann Thorpe
This book inspects the economic and cultural elements involved during the design process. The stunning visuals make The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability an enjoyable read bent on inspiring readers. The core concept is to entice us to think broadly about design through a lens of sustainability. Ann Thorpe’s eloquent philosophies make her stand out from others.
Sign up for the Newsletter
The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular by Tom Szaky
Tom Szaky is the founder of TerraCycle and as a pioneer in recycling, he outlines the challenges manufacturers face and gives solutions. The Future of Packaging won a gold medal as “Most Likely to Save the Planet” from the Independent Book Publisher Awards. It’s a must-read if you want a practical guide to designing packaging with sustainability in mind. Szaky’s view of a “circular economy” is a proposal that eliminates overconsumption and waste.
Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice by Eric Benson and Yvette Perullo
Workflows are essential to product development, and graphic designers can reexamine their systems to create sustainable print and digital work. Benson and Perullo introduce the idea of systems thinking in their book Design to Renourish. Inspired by nature, they ask readers to approach problems with the environment in mind to create solutions with better design for our planet and people (from the consumer to the vendor). The ten case studies analyze how design can improve life.
Material Revolution: Sustainable Multi-Purpose Materials for Design by Sascha Peters
Material Revolution explores new materials and how they can revolutionize the future, while also examining the responsibilities of designers because they decide what materials we consume. These choices determine the future of humanity and our environment. This book aims to bridge the gap between hope and research to give a projection of what might be—and what should be.
Aesthetic Sustainability: Product Design and Sustainable Usage by Kristine H. Harper
Aesthetic Sustainability examines our psychological connections to objects, which play key roles in designing products. Harper posits that aesthetically sustainable products should add continuous value, something to strive for during the creative and manufacturing process. This book challenges traditional aesthetics and parameters for strategic product design. It defines a new dimension of design to reduce waste and reform consumption.
Disclosure: Every product is carefully selected by our editors. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.