The Art of Sustainability Spring Book List

Tales from my table.

Please hold, we are experiencing a global pandemic…

The Art of Sustainability was on the shelf for about a month while I put my “home-school teacher” hat on and our family got used to a whole new routine. But, it’s Earth Day 2020 and I wanted to share something positive and engaging as part of the March-April Engage! art theme on The Art of Sustainability Instragram feed.

As outward activities are off the table, and after a day of juggling teaching, consulting, and a bit of art here and there, I find myself ready to reach for a good book (OK, if I’m not video chatting with friends, or out enjoying the sporadic sun of a Seattle spring). But I am definitely reading more than I did before the “stay at home” orders came through, and thus offer you this list of engaging reads fresh from my end table:

Design by Nature: Creating Layered, Lived-In Spaces, by Erica Tanov

I picked this book up at one of my favorite bookstores, the James Bookseller in Port Townsend, on my last out-of-town outing before the Seattle shut-down. This book pretty much sums up what I’d like my home style to be. We are slowly remodeling and updating a 1908 Craftsman house that we moved into 2 weeks before becoming parents. So my space has glimmers of hope, but is a long way from “finished”. I find browsing through the pages very calming and inspiring. I appreciate the tales of second hand finds, the artful curation of objects and the organic, cozy, bohemian but modern vibe. I aspire to be minimalist when it comes to possessions but not necessarily when it comes to art and design, plus with a young child and the fact that we are all working and schooling at home right now, these pages offer a much more attainable aesthetic.

A World of Three Zeroes: The New Economy of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions, by Muhammad Yunus

Mr. Yunnus won the Nobel Peace Prize, so that piqued my interest in learning what he might envision as a positive path forward. Of course the current pandemic may change things, or just make it even more pressing as we recover from the crisis. Two major themes emerge: the role of businesses in adopting social benefit metrics in their missions, and micro-banking that emphasizes small loans for individuals and small businesses. The book covers policy changes needed, but here in the U.S. it might just have to start directly with businesses of all sizes to lead the way since government currently cannot move forward. I appreciated the emphasis on solutions, some of which relate to actions we can take ourselves: vote, shop locally, support businesses that support your values.

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, by Phillip Ball

As an artist, I enjoy making things. I also want what I make to reflect my values and interests. The materials I use are also important. As an oil painter, I’ve been making changes in my materials to be more eco and health friendly. Learning more about the pigments used in art materials, their history and how they’re made is fascinating. It will also help me continue to green my studio practice. More to come on that in future at my fine art site.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The interlocking fables of The Overstory (winner of 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction) each feature a tree in some fashion. In a n almost mystical world slow and interconnected with ours, some of the tales are uplifting, some a bit dark. The tales intertwine in later sections of the book, much like the extensive networks below our forests. I’m still reading this one, so will update this section once I finish. Suffice it to say, now is the perfect time to lose yourself in the trees.

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

I worry a lot about where we’re heading as a society. When I discovered this book, I knew I had to read it. The matsusake is the most valuable fungus on the planet, so that alone made me curious. It only grows in human disturbed forests; these little morsels thrive in and help restore damaged ecosystems. The commerce and culture of the international matsusake trade along with lessons for environmental renewal from a mushroom provided an interesting and suspenseful narrative for a non-fiction work.

Support local bookshops, books available at, on the first The Art of Sustainability booklist!

(Disclaimer: The Art of Sustainability will earn a commission on purchases made via this link. Purchases from The Bookshop also support participating independent, local bookstores.)


From renewing the old to inventing the new, artists and designers are creating the materials of our future.

We’ve defined the problem, oh, how we have defined the problems of climate change, habitat loss, plastic-filled oceans, and so forth. Yes, we humans are altering the planet in ways that don’t look promising for our future, or our kids futures for sure. It’s a big call to action. See some of my earlier posts to dig further into the art and actions for climate, plastic pollution or endangered species.

However, sometimes it all seems abstract – 2 degrees celsius global temperature rise – and far away – 2030. How about things you can touch, right now, that are cool to look at, fun to use, feed the soul, and don’t create trash we can’t figure out what to do with? YES! The future is here, or at least the first tiny bits of it. What was once trash is now redefined as “raw material”, and renewable isn’t just for energy, it encompasses ingredients for daily living that grow rapidly (such as bamboo or corn).

Sustainable Materials for a Sustainable Future

I went on a search for new green materials, particularly plant- or waste-based low-carbon options. I found two that are almost poetic in their simplicity, resourcefulness and luster!

Shell Homage: Rania Elkalla

German designer Rania Elkalla created Shell Homage, a new bio-plastic from organic waste – egg shells and nut shells. The resulting material can be used to fabricate a variety of industries from art and interior design to consumable goods and jewelry. The material is also biodegradable so could help eliminate the plastic pollution problem. See more on YouTube here.

What was once trash is now redefined as “raw material”, and renewable isn’t just for energy, it encompasses ingredients for daily living that grow rapidly (such as bamboo or corn).

Fernando Laposse – Tomomxtle

The Totomoxtle veneer panels are made from corn husks with warm variegated tones. The whole process of farming, harvesting and creating the art and furniture with this material helps preserve heritage corn varieties and boost the economic outlook for the farmers in Tonahuixtla, a small village of Mixtec farmers and herders in the state of Puebla. This is a win on so many levels, good for people, planet and prosperity. This is what we need more of. Great design and art have the power to transform us, our communities, our world.

A low-carbon future also means using less raw materials, and using and reusing them wisely. This set of art and design touches on mining for materials in the waste ends and disposable detritus of our society.

Nick Lopez Studio

Nick Lopez turns reclaimed wood scraps into sinuous sculptures and furniture that are truly greater than the sum of their parts.

En Pieza

Given the plastic pollution problem, turning disposable office stationary items into glowing light fixtures sounds like a great idea. Volivik is the elegant offering from Lucs Muñoz at Spanish design studio En Pieza. Constructed of 347 Bic pens – the elegant eco chic chandelier maintains the expected reflections and sparkle of crystal. Reused clips are used in the structure also.

DO|SU Studio

Averting global climate change will require materials with even more carbon cutting potential – on much larger scales. Art can help build acceptance and excitement for changes in industry, building and transportation. The high tech-low tech materials of DO|SU Studio are some I hope gain ground! Architect Doris Sung seeks to make “passive architecture active”. Sung is developing smart materials, such as thermal reactive metals, that allow building walls or other features to self-manage air flow, shading, or even assembly, in response to temperature changes. See some of Sung’s kenetic and sculptural building materials here.

See more MATeRIAL art & design at The Art of Sustainability on Instagram.

These are just a few highlights to wet the appetite – for new green materials that can thread through our everyday lives. Let’s unleash the powers of our big human brains, all that renewable energy called creativity and imagination. Let’s make the Anthropocene a turning point, not the end. In a future where the world went on a carbon diet, was it dwelling on what we gave up that made us change, or did we use some of these new materials and methods as inspiration to chart new courses? I’m banking on the latter, and look forward to using my time, energy, and creativity to create, support or promote new eco art, design, travel, food, buildings, transit, and more.

Joy to the World

Take a holiday from the “end of the world” as we know it, and explore art that shines a light on solutions for a sustainable future.

Sustainable Solutions

2019 included the launch of The Art of Sustainability, and began my curation of a plethora of amazing eco-inspired art. But the news and the messages throughout the year also often contained too much “doom and gloom” for the holidays. So for the Christmas-Channukah-New Year-New Decade holiday season, I decided it was time for a positivity infusion. The Art of Sustainability December 2019 and January 2020 feed focused on art celebrating solutions for our sustainable future. Project Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Edited by Paul Hawken served as my prompt to seek out art exploring the strategies highlighted in the book. Like wine and cheese, for almost every top sustainability strategy, there’s art to go along with it, from Wind Turbines to Trains, and Educating Girls to Forest Protection. OK, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen art about Refrigerant Management (yet)*.

Let’s assume we ARE going to have a future, a bright green, shiny, amazing one; how did we get there? Maybe we tried some of the ideas highlighted in these artful visions.

The heartening thing is that these works shed light on just a few of the types of solutions that we need to create a sustainable future, and that are available right now.

To view all the art from December and January, visit The Art of Sustainability Instagram page (no account needed to view).

Take Heart

The heartening thing is that these works shed light on just a few of the types of solutions that we need to create a sustainable future. The technologies, materials, and methods for our planetary salvation exist, with more are coming online every day. The key challenge is us. To save ourselves, both individually and collectively, we must act in ways that are good for each other and the planet (and by “good for the planet” I mean good for allowing our planet to maintain the temperature range, biodiversity, and clean air and water that we as humans depend on for living), and we must do so quickly. A powerful motivator for change, as it turns out, is storytelling. Rather than tales of woe, however, we need visions of a world we want to see, across all art media. Through art, what seems impossible can be made relatable, and paths to possibility can be glimpsed. Yes, we can do it! We must do it.

*If you have seen art about Refrigerant Management, I’d love to see it! Drop me a line at teresa [at]