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The Green Collar Economy and Other Fall Books
Alex Steffen, 27 Oct 08
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It's been a rich season for books, including many I want to review. I've fallen so far behind in my work, though, that I figured it would be better to say something about the eight best than nothing at all about each of them individually. So, here are this fall's most worldchanging books, in one paragraph apiece.

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems

by Van Jones

The Green Collar Economy might be the most important American environmental book of the year. This is understandable, because the challenge of linking environmentalism and social equity is a critical one, and Jones is the issue's most passionate and charismatic spokesperson; but this is also unfortunate, because Green Collar Economy is not a terribly good book. Instead, it's a mish-mash of rhetoric, example projects and policy proposals of various scale. What's lacking is a clear vision of the possible and a disciplined argument to support turning the possible into the practiced. That said, building a green economy capable of lifting all boats remains the most important job facing America, and even an imperfect book making the case for tackling that job as a social justice imperative is a welcome addition to the debate. It's not the book I hoped Van Jones would write, but it's still worldchanging.

Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business

by Joel Makower

I've been following Joel's work for several years now (he is an occasional contributor to this website), and so I thought I knew pretty much everything he'd have to say in a book. Strategies for the Green Economy surprised me, though, offering not only an excellent overview of the state of green business in the U.S., but a number of sharp, useful insights into business strategy in this peculiar moment when we know big changes are coming, but we don't yet know precisely what they'll look like. Indeed, my only real criticisms would be that Joel seems a bit too focused on American companies (to the extent of somewhat ignoring the wave of innovation rolling through European businesses) and spends too little time anticipating disruptive changes in the ways we'll make and sell things in the future -- but then again, that's not really the book he set out to write. As it stands, if you want to get caught up to speed on green business, this is the book you need.

The ISIS Agreement: How Sustainability Can Improve Organizational Performance and Transform the World

by Alan AtKisson

Alan is a good friend and a Worldchanging writer, so it's pretty hard for me to be balanced about his work, but in my experience, balanced reactions are not what Alan's work inspires. I gave or lent a copy of his first book, Believing Cassandra, to at least 50 friends, and almost all of them told me they either loved his blend of big-picture thinking and personal narrative, or stopped reading it after a chapter or two. I'm one of his fans, so bear that in mind when I say that The Isis Agreement is a great explanation of Alan's work as a sustainability consultant, the tools he uses with his clients and the adventures he's had along the way. But it's a geek's book. If you're the kind of sustainability geek who wants to learn how to lead groups of people to breakthrough understandings of the problems we face, and new answers for fixing them, you should run and get this book today. If not, well, there are seven other great books in this post.

Architecture of Change: Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment

by Kristin Feireiss and Lukas Feireiss

This big, lavishly illustrated compendium of architectural projects and buildings that embrace sustainability is too expensive for the casual reader, but it's so beautiful and future-forward that I recommend anyone trying to envision a sustainable future seek it out, if only from their public library. I spent a very happy evening paging through this, learning, imagining and just looking at a future that's here, but yet to be distributed. Architecture of Change might just be an instant classic.

Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future

by Cory Doctorow

Strictly speaking, this is not a book I've yet read. It only arrived recently, and managing editor Julia Levitt's been hogging it ever since. But since I've read most of Cory's arguments in this book in other forms in various places, I feel perfectly entitled to pronounce upon it. Cory's work on intellectual property and the commons is popular and important. He may well be the leading information activist in the world; he almost certainly is one of the most famous. (We've featured his work on this site and in our book, just to disclose, and Cory is a friend.) Cory just got married and has a new baby, so you should buy this book to wish the couple well, but since Cory walks his talk, you don't need to buy it: you can find everything in it, essentially, for free online. And that, really, is Cory's biggest point: free culture, thriving within but not bound by intellectual property markets, ultimately produces the widest debate, which in turn produces the most rapid innovation. And rapid innovation is something the world most desperately needs.

Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves

by Andrew Szasz

This gutsy little book will kick the tush of any "green living" guide on the shelf, laying out in clear language and almost obvious examples the ways in which Americans (especially wealthy Americans) have retreated from the goal of actually solving problems like pollution and unsafe foods and tried to weave around themselves a protective cocoon of lifestyle products and choices -- what Szasz calls "inverted quarantines" (because instead of separating and containing contagious sick people to protect a healthy public, we try to isolate ourselves by purchasing things that will shield us from harm everyone else is suffering). The result, of course, has been both a more dangerous world and more anxious consumers. It's an obvious point that you'll almost never hear made in debates about sustainable living.

Things I have learned in my life so far

by Stefan Sagmeister

Continuing the light nepotism of this post, I have to recommend Stefan's new memoir/portfolio/manifesto, Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far. It's a fun collection of booklets, each highlighting a project he did to illustrate one of the lesson's he's taken about how to live ("Trying to look good limits my life." "Having guts always works out for me."). If you liked the design of our own book, you'll love this.

The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

by James Gustave Speth

Gus Speth is a long-time, practicing visionary on sustainability, and his new book is no disappointment. He makes cogent, well-documented arguments for an environmental movement focused on moving us away from the economy that's brought us to the edge of disaster and towards a new prosperity that limits its use of resources, promotes human well-being as much as monetary wealth, and restructures corporations and markets to produce a bright green future. Bridge at the End of the World ought to be read by the staffs of every environmental NGO, from CEO to canvasser, because Speth is right that the first step towards change is changing environmentalism itself.

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Great set of books, Alex, and a great format for thumbnail reviews. More please!

Posted by: Ted on 27 Oct 08

I believe he (Obama) needs to display “wisdom” and focus on the big 3. One may have to go down and the rise of a green player to replace the fallen may need to be his biggest move! If I was an advisor to President Obama, I would encourage him to not bailout anyone-else (excluding the middle class) and focus on transitioning from the traditional economic giants to investing in the new green giants! One of my own favorite quotes is:

“I happen to deeply agree with the wisdom of Tom Friedman (that we cannot consume of way out of this mess and “Have you ever been to a revolution where nobody gets hurt?”). The fact is that the current economic conditions will cause a lot of companies to close their doors (websites too), and they will die off altogether due to lack of understanding the competitive (innovative) landscape. Just look at Detroit and the Big 3 for example! Those that will fight to stay alive will need to figure out — What’s Next?

I believe that the New Green Economy will include the Rise of Green Real Estate Markets paired with the continued success of Cleantech, Clean Energy Markets, and large scale shifts toward Clean Transportation, and the Greening of the IT Industries (plus a fourth quarter of record investment!!), which will lead to a boom in “American Made” Green Collar Jobs and the creation of new wealth. The trick is: “who will get it right??” Execution makes all the difference for most of these opportunities and green investors need to pay more attention to the items that management claim they can achieve.” - Yeves Perez, Founder of - Nov 2008

See more on talk on Fast Company:

Posted by: EcoConnoisseur on 7 Nov 08



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