Book Reviews

From time to time, we’ll post reviews of books that shine a light on great ideas for green building and design as well as the benefits of a greener lifestyle. If you have ideas for books that you’d like us to discuss, please send an email to

Book Review: Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

A passage in the introduction aptly sums up the premise of Cradle to Cradle: “All the ants on the planet, taken together have a biomass greater than that of humans. Ants have been incredibly industrious for millions of years. Yet their productiveness nourishes plants, animals and soil. Human industry has been in full swing for little over a century, yet it has brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature doesn’t have a design problem. People do.” The architect and chemist challenge the “cradle to grave” concept that reducing, reusing and recycling alone will minimize damage to the planet. Drawing on their experience in redesigning everything from carpeting to corporate campuses, McDonough and Braungart make an exciting and practical case for putting eco-effectiveness into practice using nature as a model.

As always, feel free to send me (Rob Nicely) an email at

Book Review: BIOMIMICRY: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus

To adopt more sustainable practices, we must first understand how to do things sustainably. To the casual observer, the paradigm “reduce, reuse, recycle” implies squeezing more life out of resources, and may smack a bit of desperation. In her book, Janine Benyus gives us a full, carefully detailed view of how we will live sustainably in the future. It explores new ideas that render abundance without drawing down our stores of natural resources. It demonstrates that it’s possible to work in harmony with natural systems and their unalterable limits. In chapters with titles like, How Will We Feed Ourselves? How Will We Make Things? and How Will We Conduct Business? Benyus paints a vivid picture of why there is no need to fear the coming transition. After reading her book, I look forward to seeing her vision turned into action. There’s a lot more information on the site of the organization she co-founded… and as always, feel free to send me (Rob Nicely) an email at

Book Review: Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose—Doing Business by Respecting the Earth by Ray C. Anderson

In 1973, Ray Anderson founded Interface, a company that manufactured carpet tiles. He was inspired by European producers that made carpet tiles for flooring in response to the growing trend of offices without walls (think cubicles). Ray recognized the inherent flexibility and cost savings for companies that expanded or frequently modified workspaces and introduced the innovative product to American office buildings.

The venture was beyond successful. After a time, Anderson came to question whether making tiles comprised almost entirely of petroleum products that simply complied with existing environmental laws, would be sufficient in the future. When potential customers began to question the company’s environmental policies and after reading Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce, he had an epiphany. He thought, “In the future they will put people who do what I do in jail.”

He immediately assembled a working group and tasked it with turning Interface into an environmentally friendly company. This book is the story of a journey that got underway in 1994. Since then, Interface has made astounding strides toward its goal—to manufacture in a way that’s not only less destructive to the planet, but is also restorative.

This book is a real revelation for anyone who thinks, “Sure, it would be great if we could do business without hurting the environment, but in real life that could never happen.” While the U.S. chose not to adopt the Kyoto Accords—deeming the required 7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions onerous and not economically viable—Interface cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by 70%. Interface managed to increase profitability, not in spite of, but as a direct result of its new, less polluting production methods. Anderson shows how, in an industry about as unsustainable as it gets, a company can make its products “benign by design.”

He was a leader and an innovator in doing business the right way until his death in 2011, but his legacy will continue to influence and inspire for generations. To see an interview with Ray about the book, go to YouTube and search for “Ray Anderson on Confessions of a Radical Industrialist” or try this link: Ray Anderson on “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist”.

Book Review: Creating the Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka
One of many in her “Not So Big House” series, this book explores strategies for creating, livable, beautiful spaces without wasting materials on square footage you’ll never use. She employs an example she dubs the “furniture museum”—a formal living room that’s routinely ignored in favor of the kitchen and family room. This book, and the series, are musts for anyone who’s interested in spaces, and a style of living, that embrace a “less is more” philosophy without sacrificing comfort, elegance and functionality. More info at

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