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Sustainable readings

Charles William Eliot, President of Harvard University between 1869 and 1909, said once that books are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. Less expensive than consultants, readings not only enable specialists to keep abreast of the trends; they furnish our characters and give us powerful tools to advance our careers.

John Friedman, Corporate Responsibility Communications Director at Sodexo, and Michael Stanley-Jones, Information Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) piled up a must-read list for anyone with an interest in sustainability.

John’s first choice is Wayne Visser’s CSR 2.0: Transforming Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility. The author, a thought leader in his space, impressed, surprised and guided John’s thinking throughout years.

His second recommendation is Screw It, Let’s Just Do It by Richard Branson, one of the most admired entrepreneurs worldwide.

Steve Young goes third on the top with his Moral Capitalism. I bit academic and dense, the book explains how culture overlays capitalism and focuses on complex issues such as advancing global conditions while needing to respect indigenous cultures, beliefs, political and social structures

Elinor Ostrom brings a worthy perspective on why the ‘tragedy of the commons‘ is unnecessary, explaining how collective consciousness can lead to sharing of natural resources for the common good.

On the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith is, in John’s view, misunderstood, misquoted and used by advocates to argue different sides of sustainability, a fundamental treatise on capitalism that is important to understand.

Last but not least, if you need a comparison between sustainable companies by sector, RobecoSAM Sustainability Yearbook answers your needs. John finds it useful as in CSR many employees look across industries to find a fit, and many communities want a ‘responsible’ company but do not have sector-specific desires.

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Michael’s primer recommendation is a classic: Walden. Or Life in the Woods (1854) by Henry David Thoreau. Walden Pond, where Thoreau made his home for two years, two months and two days, lies in a wood on the edge of Concord, Massachusetts, a mere two miles from Thoreau’s birthplace, explains Michael. Thoreau opinionates we can learn from nature how to live a real and full human life, and how we may live sustainably and in harmony with ourselves.

The influence of Thoreau’s approach can be seen today, for example, in the work of E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Matter (1973), Janine Benyus, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997), the Natural Step and the Global Footprint networks, and in the environmental ethics of Bryan G. Norton.

Second on Michael’s list comes Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson. From her passionate questioning of the unsustainable use of synthetic insecticides in agriculture, the modern environmental movement arose. Among its greatest achievements inspired by Carson was the adoption in 2001 of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the UN treaty seeking progressively to eliminate persistent, toxic chemicals from the global marketplace.

A Theory of Justice (1971) by John Rawls revives a tradition where principles of justice are seen as the outcome of a hypothetical social contract made between free and equal persons. “Justice between generations” or intergenerational justice are key concepts of sustainability.

Should Trees have Standing? Law, Morality, and the Environment (originally published in 1972) by Christopher D. Stone reveals a world “peopled with inanimate right-holders: trusts, corporations, joint ventures, municipalities, Subchapter R partnerships, and nation-states, to mention just a few… I am quite seriously proposing that we give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called “natural objects” in the environment-indeed, to the natural environment as a whole.”

Searching for Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Philosophy of Conservation Biology (2002) by Bryan G. Norton is a collection of essays questioning the treatment of animals held in captivity. Thoreau and Aldo Leopold are among the sources of his pragmatic conservation ethic. Norton challenges those who hold that sustainability requires we take an ecocentric, rather than an anthropocentric view of conservation, as well as those who believe that individual rights can be extended to objects of nature, including non-human animals.

Shared Responsibility: The United Nations in the Age of Globalization (2014) is newly arrived on Michael’s shelf. Authored by Ambassador Carsten Staur, the book is said to include the finest explanation of the origin and thinking behind sustainable development goals (SDGs) yet to be produced

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