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10 Best Sustainable Engineering Books to Read in 2023


Sustainable Engineering is at the forefront of creating a harmonious coexistence between human progress and the planet's well-being. It is a field driven by innovation and a commitment to crafting solutions that benefit both society and the environment. If you have a passion for designing a sustainable future, consider Oxford Summer Courses. Embark on a transformative journey through our Sustainable Engineering summer school, where you will explore the principles, technologies, and practices that are shaping a more environmentally conscious world.


Please note that the following list of resources is recommended reading to broaden your knowledge and deepen your understanding of Sustainable Engineering. While some of these resources may be included in the Oxford Summer Courses curriculum, the specific content of the summer school can vary. If you wish to study Sustainable Engineering with us, you can apply to our summer school.


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1. Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, by David J.C. MacKay

  • "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticising anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
  • Published in 2008, "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" is a seminal work that explores sustainable energy solutions with scientific rigour and clarity. This book is essential reading for anyone passionate about the future of sustainable energy.
  • Discussion: What themes and symbols in "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" resonate with you in today's world?

2. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

  • "Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes."
  • In "Cradle to Cradle," the authors challenge the conventional "take, make, dispose" model of production and advocate for a more sustainable approach where products are designed to be recycled and repurposed. This groundbreaking work has had a profound impact on sustainable design.
  • Discussion: How does the theme of art and its consequences relate to modern society's obsession with image and appearance?

3. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, by Janine M. Benyus

  • "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger."
  • "Biomimicry" introduces the concept of drawing inspiration from nature to solve engineering challenges. By studying nature's designs and strategies, engineers can develop innovative and sustainable solutions.
  • Discussion: How do the themes of love and revenge in "Biomimicry" resonate with contemporary society?

4. Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson

  • "Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it."
  • Published in 1962, "Silent Spring" is a groundbreaking work that highlighted the environmental dangers of pesticides. It played a pivotal role in the environmental movement and led to significant changes in pesticide regulations.
  • Discussion: How do the themes of surveillance and control in "Silent Spring" relate to contemporary issues of privacy and freedom?

5. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

  • "Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape."
  • This influential book argues that businesses can become more profitable while also fostering environmental sustainability. It introduces the concept of "natural capitalism" as a pathway to a more sustainable future.
  • Discussion: How does Pip's journey of self-discovery in "Natural Capitalism" mirror the challenges young people face in finding their identity today?

6. The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, by Jeff Goodell

  • "Not a word passes between us, not because we have nothing to say, but because we don’t have to say anything."
  • "The Water Will Come" explores the impact of rising sea levels due to climate change and the engineering challenges of adapting to a changing world. It's a compelling read for those interested in sustainable infrastructure.
  • Discussion: How does "The Water Will Come" shed light on the impact of cultural and political upheaval on individuals and communities, both in the past and present?

7. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, by Kate Raworth

  • "Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be."
  • In "Doughnut Economics," Kate Raworth challenges traditional economic thinking and advocates for an economic model that respects planetary boundaries and social equity. It's a thought-provoking book for engineers interested in sustainable development.
  • Discussion: In what ways do the social dynamics and matchmaking endeavours in "Doughnut Economics" still resonate with modern relationships and societal expectations?

8. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken

  • "The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time."
  • "Drawdown" presents a comprehensive plan to combat global warming through a range of practical solutions. It's a valuable resource for engineers and policymakers working towards a sustainable future.
  • Discussion: How does "Drawdown" inspire aspiring engineers to address the challenges of climate change?

9. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert

  • "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
  • In "The Sixth Extinction," Elizabeth Kolbert explores the ongoing mass extinction event caused by human activities. It's a sobering but essential read for anyone interested in the intersection of engineering and environmental conservation.
  • Discussion: How does the exploration of empathy and understanding in "The Sixth Extinction" relate to the contemporary issues of environmental preservation and sustainability?

10. The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

  • "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though."
  • "The Upcycle" builds on the ideas presented in "Cradle to Cradle" and explores how design can contribute to a world of abundance and sustainability. It challenges the notion of simply sustaining and encourages "upcycling" resources.
  • Discussion: How can the concept of "upcycling" reshape sustainable engineering and resource management?


Oxford Summer Courses invites you to immerse yourself in the world of Sustainable Engineering. In this blog post, we present a meticulously curated list of 10 classic books that will ignite your passion for sustainable engineering and deepen your understanding of its critical role in shaping a sustainable future. Join us on this transformative journey, where you'll explore sustainable engineering concepts, engage in meaningful discussions, and gain valuable insights into creating a more sustainable world.


Apply now to study Sustainable Engineering at Oxford Summer Courses and be part of a community dedicated to making a difference. Apply here.

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Ignite your passion for sustainable engineering at Oxford Summer Courses. Immerse yourself in a carefully selected list of books that delve into sustainable engineering fundamentals, eco-friendly design concepts, and innovative solutions for a greener future. Gain valuable insights from experts in the field and embark on a transformative journey to enhance your knowledge of sustainable engineering.

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