Top 21 Impact and ESG Investing Books You Should Read

If you are looking to invest with impact, here is the list of the top 21 books on impact and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing.

SustainFi August 3, 2021

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Impact: Reshaping Capitalism To Drive Real Change by Sir Ronald Cohen

Sir Ronald Cohen, the British founder of Apax Partners, a successful private equity firm, is one of the world’s best-known impact investors. In Impact, Cohen describes his two-decade-long impact investing journey, arguing that impact investments can drive much-needed social and environmental change. The book is filled with case studies of impact entrepreneurs, investors, and philanthropists from all over the world. It’s a great read if you want to learn about the origins of impact investing. All royalties from the sale of the book go to impact charities.

Investing To Save the Planet: How Your Money Can Make a Difference by Alice Ross

Investing To Save the Planet provides an easily readable introduction to sustainable investing. The Financial Times journalist Alice Ross describes ESG funds, pensions, and alternative investments. Up until now, many impact investing books have targeted professional investors, so it’s refreshing to see a book for regular people. Ross explains the origins of ESG investing, clarifies the jargon, and helps identify “greenwashing.” Although the book is aimed at British readers, it is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to invest sustainably. Chapters end with actionable “what should I do?” takeaways.

Activate Your Money: Invest To Grow Your Wealth and Build a Better World by Janine Firpo

Janine Firpo is an impact investor who supports women-led businesses. She has previously worked for the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her new book, Activate Your Money, is a women-centric introduction to socially responsible investing. Having decided to align her finances with her values, Firpo guides readers through impact investing options across asset classes. She also recommends that women start collaborative impact investment clubs. The book is a much-needed reference for both male and female investors.

Making Money Moral: How a New Wave of Visionaries Is Linking Purpose and Profit by Judith Rodin and Saadia Madsbjerg

In Making Money Moral, Judith Rodin and Saadia Madsbjerg explore the growth of the impact investing movement. The first woman president of the University of Pennsylvania, Rodin subsequently worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, as did Madsbjerg. The book highlights impact investing case studies and innovations, such as gender equality funds and “blue bonds,” a new asset class that helps solve water-related challenges. Rodin and Madsbjerg also feature interviews with impact investing thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors. 

Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change by Morgan Simon

Morgan Simon is the founder of the impact investor network Toniic as well as the Founding Partner of Candide Group. She has written Real Impact to explain the world of impact investing and her journey within it. Simon highlights the problems she sees in the impact investing world, the charity world, and the conventional finance world. Then, she proposes a framework to help investors ask the right questions. The book is inspiring and easy to read. 

Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit by Alex Edmans

In Grow the Pie, Alex Edmans, a finance professor at the London Business School, argues that profits don’t have to be sacrificed for social outcomes. Instead of “splitting the pie,” responsible businesses should grow the pie. And while companies should serve society, they also have a duty to shareholders to generate profits. Moreover, companies that treat employees and other stakeholders well outperform financially. Grow the Pie is a thought-provoking read backed up by data and research. 

How To Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates

Bill Gates needs no introduction. In How To Avoid a Climate Disaster, the founder of Microsoft describes his climate journey and work investigating climate change. The book draws on experts in multiple fields to identify the top carbon-emitting activities and explains why we need to work towards the net-zero goal. Finally, Gates proposes a blueprint for achieving his goal of zero carbon emissions.

Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good by Ann Mei Chang

Ann Mei Chang has an impressive background as a tech executive in Silicon Valley and the Chief Innovation Officer at USAID. In Lean Impact, she draws on Eric Ries’ bestseller, The Lean Startup, which emphasizes building a minimum viable product and iterating. The book explains how to use the lean startup method in social development. Chang writes well and uses vivid examples from countries around the world. 

Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference by Antony Bugg-Levine and Jed Emerson 

Published in 2011, Impact Investing was one of the first books about the then-emerging impact investing field. However, it remains relevant today. Bugg-Levine and Emerson explain how profits and impact can be complementary and examine the growth of impact investing. They provide multiple examples of profitable businesses with a mission, such as Patagonia, and discuss the growth of the B Corp movement. The book focuses on impact investing through private equity and venture capital.

Investing With Impact: Why Finance is a Force for Good by Jeremy Balkin

In Investing With Impact, banking expert Jeremy Balkin argues that the financial services industry is not inherently evil. In fact, it can be a force for good. Companies are more effective than governments in driving social change, and millennials, in particular, are motivated by improving society. He argues that impact investing can generate profits while benefiting the world and proposes a six-factor model to measure social impact.

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Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman — Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual by Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing tells the inspiring story of building Patagonia, a highly profitable yet socially responsible business. Patagonia founder Chouinard describes his childhood passion for the outdoors, the origins of Patagonia, and how he integrated his values into the brand. He also adds a section on Patagonia’s core values and explains the benefits of thinking long-term. Let My People Go Surfing is a great read for any aspiring entrepreneur.

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus is the founder of Grameen Bank, often described as a bank for the poor. Yunus has pioneered the microlending movement, which gave rise to companies like Kiva. In Building Social Business, Yunus argues that the poor often need small amounts of capital to start businesses that would lift them out of poverty. But with no banks to lend to them, they are at the mercy of loan sharks and can’t escape the never-ending cycle of poverty. Microlending lets the poor create viable businesses that do not rely on donations and are sustainable. The book explains the concept of social businesses and how to put it into practice.

Lean Startups for Social Change: The Revolutionary Path to Big Impact by Michel Gelobter

Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup has inspired many authors and entrepreneurs. In Lean Startups for Social Change, serial entrepreneur Gelobter explains how nonprofits and social enterprises can implement the lean startup model. He emphasizes the value of small experiments, getting real-world feedback, keeping what works, and discarding the rest. He also offers several real-world examples of adapting lean startup techniques to the unique challenges faced by social change companies.

The Clean Money Revolution by Joel Solomon

In The Clean Money Revolution, entrepreneur and impact investor Joel Solomon argues that money can be a powerful tool for good in the world. He explains his “mission-based” approach to investing. The book is also a memoir full of personal anecdotes, describing Solomon’s fascinating life and investments in successful brands like Stonyfield Farms. 

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

On the surface, The Water Will Come is not a book about impact investing. However, it’s a must-read for anyone who cares about climate change, which is already having a massive impact on investments. The Water Will Come explains the relationship between climate change and rising sea levels and highlights the urgency of addressing these issues. It’s a lively read, helped by frontline reporting from Goodell, a well-known journalist. 

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

If you liked Let My People Go Surfing, you should check out Start Something That Matters. The author, Blake Mycoskie, is the founder of Toms, the One-for-One shoe company that donates a pair of shoes for each pair purchased. Toms also donates a third of its profits to the “grassroots good.” In the book, Mycoskie tells the story of a trip through Argentina, during which he met children too poor to afford shoes. That trip was the reason why he started Toms. He also shares his business advice and the principles that helped him on his way. Start Something That Matters is another good read for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The Impact Investor: Lessons in Leadership and Strategy for Collaborative Capitalism by Cathy Clark, Jed Emerson, and Ben Thornley

Published in 2014, The Impact Investor is one of the earlier introductions to investing with impact. The authors have great pedigrees in the impact investing space. The book is still relevant and explains what impact investing is with examples and case studies. However, the book doesn’t target the general reader; it is a valuable resource for professional investors and wealth advisors.

Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism by Jeff Gramm

Most books about Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing emphasize the “E” or the “S” in ESG. Dear Chairman is a much-needed resource on the “G” in ESG. Jeff Gramm is a hedge fund manager and a Columbia Business School Professor. In his book, Gramm describes the history of shareholder activism and some of the biggest shareholder battles in history. Some may think that the subject is dry, but Gramm’s writing is entertaining. This book is an excellent read for anyone trying to understand the relationship between companies and shareholders.

Make an impact with your money

Build custom ESG portfolios for free

Fees

$0

$125 for M1 Plus

Minimum

$100

Open a green bank account

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/month

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$5

Better Business: How the B Corp Movement Is Remaking Capitalism by Christopher Marquis

B Corporations, overseen by the nonprofit B Lab, are for-profit businesses with the dual mission of balancing profit and purpose. B Lab was founded in 2006 by a group of friends; it has since grown to over 3,500 certified B Corps in over 70 countries. In Better Business, Marquis explains the rise of B Corporations, featuring interviews with the B Lab founders.

Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

Written by a co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, with the Conscious Capitalism co-founder Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism is a defense of capitalism as a force for good. The authors argue that capitalism can create prosperity and lift people out of poverty. They also describe the four tenets on which their vision of conscious capitalism is based.

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus 

Banker to the Poor is another book by Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and Nobel Prize winner. This book describes how Yunus founded Grameen Bank believing that access to credit is a human right. It’s an inspiring memoir and a definitive history of the microlending movement as told by the man who started it. 


🔔 Prefer listening to reading? Here are the top impact investing podcasts.

🔔 Prefer tweets to books? Here are the top 50 impact investing Twitter accounts.