10 Beautiful Sustainable Design Books

“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.

10 Beautiful Sustainable Design Books


Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Brawngart

Products are made, used and discarded from the cradle to grave. The authors 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.

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 world shifted. Now, when I look at any product, I think about its design 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. Janine Benyus takes us through a study of nature over the past 3.5 million years, examining how biomimicry has transformed life. 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 design movement influenced by indigenous philosophy, with the goal of creating sustainable nature-based technology. 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 Lo—TEK wonderfully counters the notion that indigenous technology is outdated and primitive by explaining how it is innovative.

The Shark’s Paintbrush by Jay Harmon

Following the science of biomimicry, this book 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 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. Ethics and sustainability take center stage in this book. It’s a collection of stories and interviews that explain production from cultivation to shipping.

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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 this 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.

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. This book 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. 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

The book 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

This book 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.

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