“What are you reading?”


I’m a voracious reader of nonfiction, especially content related to sustainable design, but still I dread the question, “What are you reading these days?” as it seems so judgmental, so loaded. Do you know what I mean? It’s especially daunting when you occasionally get to hangout with visionaries and thought leaders — people who write the books that perhaps you should be reading.

So what am I reading?  I am guilty of reading numerous books at once, depending on how/when/where they come into my life. Here what’s in my current stack of books, in alphabetical order, to avoid implied judgement:           

The Age of Thrivability: Vital Perspectives and Practices for a Better World
by Michelle Holliday

The Age of Thrivability is a promising new era that awaits us, if only enough of us choose to align with life actively and intentionally in our work and in our communities.  The journey into thrivability requires a shift in both perspective and practice. The good news is: there are plenty of signposts pointing the way — and there are even more pioneers blazing a trail, with approaches that are both more joyful and more effective.

Because of my work in leadership for sustainability, including the development and teaching of our MA in Sustainable Design course Creative Leadership, I had heard about Michelle and her work several times before. I finally got to meet her at the International Living Future Institute’s LF’18 conference and discovered that I loved not only her thinking, but also her way of presenting her thinking to the world. It’s not a very big book, but it calmly and gently tackles difficult topics that you may not realize you need to know about, and leaves you feeling wiser and hopeful. As the subtitle indicates, it provides vital perspectives and practices for those seeking to make ours a better world.


All In: The Future of Business Leadership 
by David Grayson, Chris Coulter, and Mark Lee

To have a fighting chance of enduring success, businesses can no longer be half-hearted or tentative about sustainability. They now have to go All In.  Written by three leading thinkers in the field of sustainability – David Grayson, Chris Coulter and Mark Lee – All In identifies the essential attributes of high-impact corporate sustainability leadership and describes how companies can combine and apply those characteristics for future success. All In provides corporate leaders with the inspiration and guidance they need to fully embrace the opportunities and challenges of sustainability leadership. This book presents a roadmap for tens of thousands of businesses globally who have yet to embed sustainability in their corporate strategies. All In outlines an approach to leadership critical to future business success and ensuring a better world for all.

I got to interview David Grayson in lead-up to his presentation at the Sustainable Brands’ SB18 conference (see Your Magic Wand?). I was supposed to stick to a list of questions, but found David’s journey, thinking, and current work so compelling that we got far off track.  Here the subtitle hints at, but does not make explicit, that the future of business IS sustainability. This book is great not only for leaders (and future leaders) but also for those that still cannot quite see that — and how — business and sustainability can be synergistic.

Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design
by Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson

What happens when you combine the best global design practices with Brazilian heart, Western philosophical insight and timeless Eastern spiritual wisdom? A powerful antidote to the excesses of those business cultures which only value exponential growth at any cost, and which have lost sight of what humanity and being human really means.

Simon is a brilliant practitioner, compelling teacher, and prolific writer who I met years ago while forming the BCI network. His pioneering thinking in sustainability is expressed in his first book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter.  Customer Experiences with Soul translates the philosophy of Holonomics into an accessible, practical approach that can be applied to customer experience design.


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

Drawdown maps, measures, models, and describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. For each solution, we describe its history, the carbon impact it provides, the relative cost and savings, the path to adoption, and how it works. The goal of the research that informs Drawdown is to determine if we can reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within thirty years. All solutions modeled are already in place, well understood, analyzed based on peer-reviewed science, and are expanding around the world.

If you’re reading this, you know who Paul Hawken is and have heard of Drawdown.  As a “pragmatic progressive” and “rational radical”, I love when visionaries come up with unglamorous, nuts-n-bolts, let’s-get-this-done solutions. This project and book provides 100 answers the big question of our day: What do we need to do in order to arrest and reverse global warming?


Frugal Innovation: How to Do More with Less 
by Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu

Driven by tighter budgets and dwindling natural resources, along with new technologies and environmentally conscious consumers, Western companies are now seeking new ways to appeal to their customers. This award-winning book by innovation thinkers, Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu, lays out the key principles, perspectives and techniques of frugal innovation—the art of doing more, and better, with less.  With an estimated trillion-dollar global market for frugal products and potentially huge cost savings to be gained, frugal innovation is revolutionizing business and reshaping management thinking.

While doing research for a project I was working on this summer, I came across this article: Before we reinvent the economy, we must reinvent ourselves: A sustainable economy won’t mean much if we are still driven by a desire for unceasing consumption and mired in unhappiness and alienation”, by Navi Radjou.  I wasn’t going to read it when I saw that it was in Fast Company, a magazine I eschew because of its ceaseless promotion of superlative capitalism; however, the title and subtitle were so aligned with my thinking that I read it. Given my aforementioned voracious reading, I’m rarely blown away by what I read — but this blew me away. Right away I felt compelled to contact Navi, learn more about his thinking and his work, and get his thoughts on my book (Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation).  He generously shared his time and sent me copies of his current two books and told be that this article was a preview of his upcoming book Conscious Society: Reinventing How We Consume, Work, Relate and Live. This will most definitely be on my stack in 2019!


Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design
edited by Rachel Beth Egenhoefer

The Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design considers the design, not only of artifacts, but of structures, systems, and interactions that bear our decisions and identities in the context of sustaining our shared planet. In addressing issues of design for global impact, behavior change, systems and strategy, ethics and values, this handbook presents a unique and powerful design perspective.

This is a 539-page hardcover reference/text book, but I decided to read it cover-to-cover as a few of our MA in Sustainable Design faculty contributed to it (me included) and I wanted to see how others in the field present the concepts underlying sustainable design.  I’m only a few chapters in and am already finding the chapter authors compelling. No book can really cover this whole topic; however, this one will give you a good foundation, especially if this topic is new for you.


If you want to read more AND to learn the theory, application, and practice of sustainable design, please explore our MA in Sustainable Design program.  You’re welcome to join one of our upcoming informational webinars, where you can chat with current or former students.

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]