4 Books To Kick-Start Your Eco-Friendly Lifestyle

Beautiful and accessible, they're full of information and practical tips.

green lifestyle books
Books to help you live a more eco-friendly, waste-free life.

K Martinko

Spring has sprung with several great books on green living. Whether you're new to the world of sustainability or wanting a quick refresher on how to do things better, these books are a valuable resource. Each has a slightly different approach to maintaining an eco-friendly home and life, but all are helpful and informative in their own way. 

1. "The Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living" (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021) by Sarah Lozanova

This short, compact book would be useful to anyone building or renovating a home and wanting a general overview of how to do it with minimal impact. It contains seven chapters that cover topics like energy efficiency, water conservation, passive solar heat, building materials, air quality, choosing where to live, and even borrowing money from local credit unions to finance home purchases, as this "creates a symbiotic relationship between lender, borrower, and the larger community." 

Author Sarah Lozanova is a sustainability consultant and environmental journalist in Maine, and she believes in the power of small steps to effect real change over time. The book contains numerous little projects, from building garden beds to preserving home-grown produce to conserving water by putting a brick in a toilet tank or switching out shower heads. There are beautiful watercolor illustrations throughout the short, concise chapters, as well as instructions for DIY projects.

It's a quick and easy read, easily finished in an hour or two, and it gives readers a good sense of what they want to explore further. (Note: Treehugger received an advance copy. It will be released in April 2021.)

2. "An Almost Zero Waste Life: Learning How to Embrace Less to Live More" (Rock Point, 2020) by Megean Weldon

This is a basic how-to guide for zero waste living. It offers suggestions for paring down waste in every area of life, from food prep and grocery shopping, to beauty routines and clothing, to kids, pets, and holidays. As someone who's written about all of these things, I can attest to the fact that Weldon covers pretty much everything. 

She had some good new suggestions, too, such as "taking pictures of your bulk [food] section so that you can reference the photos later for when you are meal planning," and melting down crayons bits to make new ones for children.

The book is jam-packed with information in short, easily-digestible paragraphs, and the chapters are accompanied by cute graphics and stylized minimalist photography. This, however, is a pet peeve of mine; zero waste experts urge people to make do with what they have, and yet no book shows a real-life version of this. The photos always look fancy and expensive. 

One thing that jumped out at me was the total absence of brand names. In urging people to choose bamboo toothbrushes and package-free cosmetics and plastic-free floss, Weldon never mentions a single company. This may be strategic – companies come and go and such references could potentially make the book feel obsolete – but it could leave the reader still wondering where to start.

3. "The Eco-Hero Handbook: Simple Solutions to Tackle Eco-Anxiety" (Ivy Press, 2021) by Tessa Wardley

This small, square yellow book is an interesting one. It addresses the issue of eco-anxiety, that feeling of impending doom and gloom to which anyone concerned about the environmental crisis can relate. It does so by dedicating a one-page answer to a commonly-asked question and, hopefully, empowering the reader to feel like they can take action. From the introduction: "This book is a starting point for ideas that will help you take some control and make a contributing to solving the challenges of climate change and loss of biodiversity."

These questions range from "Is my water usage affecting the planet and nature?" to "How can I be an eco-conscious tourist?" to "Which foods are responsible for the worst deforestation?" The answers are the same length, regardless of the complexity of the question, which feels a bit odd at times; but they are solidly researched and well-cited responses, with resources for follow-up. 

Six chapters include the indoors (plastics and recycling, energy use, air quality, clothing), the outdoors (gardening, wildlife, pet waste), transport (aviation, electric vehicles), holidays (eco-tourism and overtourism, packing), work (temperature, paper waste, coffee breaks), food and shopping (meat and dairy, food waste, online shopping). It concludes with a set of simple rules to follow "if all else fails": 

  • Use less and enjoy it more
  • Find out about supply chains and support ones that are environmentally aware
  • Use the option with the smallest carbon footprint
  • Choose the option that results in the least waste, and make choices that support your local community and enable the natural world to be more resilient

4. "Sustainable Home: Practical projects, tips and advice for maintaining a more eco-friendly household" (White Lion Publishing, 2018) by Christine Liu

This beautiful book could sit on your coffee table, with its gorgeous minimalist photography. Author Christine Liu is a sustainability blogger whose own home and DIY projects are featured in the book. She divides the house into areas (living, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, outdoors) and goes through all the steps and swaps you can make to avoid waste, reduce clutter, and adopt more eco-friendly practices.

While some of the advice is practical and easily attainable (buy more houseplants to improve air quality, sleep on natural fiber bedsheets, shop package-free at the grocery store), much of it also feels aspirational. Liu sets the bar so high, and so perfectly, that it's hard to imagine achieving that. I, for one, with three young kids at home, gawked at her photos in amazement. Real life doesn't look like that for me, though I do consider myself to be quite low-waste.

Liu's takeaway message is worthwhile, however, and she offers good advice for anyone who feels daunted by the climate crisis. She writes, "I've been asked many times, 'Christine, does it really matter if I make a change to live more sustainably? There [are] too many people in the world; why do my actions really matter?' And I response, I think about my own life. I think about the lives of other sustainably bloggers, activists, and professionals. Do the changes in my life, and in their lives, matter? To that I would have to say, 'Absolutely.'"