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23 Sustainability Documentaries You’ll Be Glad You Still Have Time to Watch

From fashion to food to inconvenient truths, people are tackling climate change in a number of ways. And they’re worthy of a Netflix night.

It can be tricky get your head around the multiple ways climate change is affecting our planet, and how our behaviour is contributing. The beauty of these documentaries is that they help you get educated, entertained, and they may even spruce up your diet and wardrobe.

There’s something here for everyone and every mood – upbeat and inspiring, hard-hitting and unflinching, investigative and illuminating. Some feature Hollywood actors and former US Presidents, wildlife are the stars in others, several are made on tiny budgets by indie directors. However, all will get you informed about the consequences of climate change and the need for more sustainability.

So, watch these and go green from your screen.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

1. 2040 (2019)

Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau wants us to imagine what the world would be like in 19 years of we used existing technology to tackle climate change today. Taking the form of a “visual letter” to his 4-year-old daughter, Gameau takes us on a global tour to meet those effecting positive change now. From renewable energy, regenerative farming, marine permaculture, and electric, shared transportation, the end result is a hugely optimistic and watchable film.   

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

2. Our Planet (2020)

Legendary broadcaster and environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough’s beautifully shot series explores how our planet’s habitats are being destroyed by rising temperatures, sea levels, and ocean pollution. Whilst the visuals of landscapes and wildlife are stunning – and sometimes distressing – the success of this series rests on thoughtful communication. Attenborough’s narration makes it clear how everything is connected, from food chains to weather patterns, and how upsetting the equilibrium is affecting us all. 

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

3. The True Cost (2015)

Watch this graphic and moving documentary and you’ll never look at your fast fashion apparel in the same way. The True Cost illuminates the shocking reality of who really pays the price for our cheap, throwaway clothing. Highlighting environmental impact, labour rights abuses, and the link between cotton and cancer, it’s a game-changer.

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

4&5.  An Inconvenient Truth (2006) & An Inconvenient Sequel (2017)

Although former US Vice President Al Gore’s two films have been made 10 years apart, both are worth a watch. 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth is a fact-based argument for tackling the climate emergency as a moral and ethical issue. Using data, Gore highlights the link between rising temperatures and extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, Gore’s updates in 2017’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, are just as sobering, as he travels to Florida to see first hand the effects of climate change. 

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

6. Riverblue (2017)

Did you know that roughly 93 billion cubic metres of water are used every year in the fashion industry? Water which could meet the needs of 5 million people living in poverty. Narrated by Jason Priestly, Riverblue illustrates how fabric dyeing creates toxic wastewater that is pumped back into our water systems. A fascinating look at how the fashion industry needs to take ownership of its impact, Riverblue also offers solutions for a sustainable future.

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

7. Fire in Paradise (2019)

This Netflix documentary uses the small town of Paradise, California, as a microcosm to illustrate the huge and devastating effect of climate change. Directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, this film takes is a blow-by-blow account of the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, California, which killed 85 people and caused $16.5 billion in damages. Mixing interviews with courageous volunteers and firefighters, news coverage and phone footage, Fire in Paradise shows in harrowing detail the impact of climate change on everyday lives and people. 

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

8. Chasing Coral (2017)

When vibrantly coloured corals turn white, you know you are in trouble. When stressed by temperatures changes, these underwater climate barometers expel algae that live within their tissues, causing them to lose their colour. Directed by Chasing Ice’s Jeff Orlowski, this documentary follows a multi-faceted team of divers, photographers, and marine biologists trying to stop the destruction of the world’s coral reefs. Featuring the Florida Keys, American Samoa, the Bahamas, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, among others, brace yourself for the time lapse the film concludes with. 

Watch it here.

vegan documentaries

9. Cowspiracy (2014)

Filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” takes on the massive livestock industry to expose what few of us were aware of. Animal agriculture – particularly on an industrial level – is catastrophic for the climate and natural resource usage. Andersen’s frustration is not only with those in the livestock business but with environmental groups who focus only on fossil fuels. Thought-provoking, Cowspiracy will make you think twice before you pick up another burger. 

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

10. Slowing Down Fast Fashion (2016)

You may be more used to seeing Alex James — Britpop band bassist — salivating over stilton or chowing down on some cheddar. But the rockstar turned cheesemaker is also a staunch sustainability supporter. In this documentary, James explores our “need” to buy new clothes when we have already a closet-full. Plus, he explores the human and climate costs.

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

11. Minimalism (2016)

A deceptively simple doc which will stay with you long after watching, contemplating how our predilection for excess contributes to the destruction of our planet — and our sanity. The filmmakers take us into the lives of expert minimalists to see how a lighter life might make us happier. Fun and inspirational, less is definitely more.

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

12. Before the Flood (2016)

Don’t be put off by the celebrity presenter. Leonardo DiCaprio may be a Hollywood actor but he’s also a UN Messenger of Peace. Using his star power for good, Before the Flood takes the viewer on a journey to learn alongside DiCaprio,  “The truth is, the more I’ve learned about this issue and everything that contributes to the problem, the more I realise how much I don’t know,” he says. Featuring interviews with former President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and Elon Musk as well as Arctic explorers, marine ecologists, and astronauts, Before the Flood is a good starter film for those on a sustainability journey. 

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

13. This Changes Everything (2015)

Directed by Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein’s nonfiction book, this doc was shot in five continents over four years. From First Nations communities around the Alberta Tar Sands to anti-gold mine protesters in Halkidiki, Greece, This Changes Everything shows how governments aren’t protecting – in fact, are even promising false benefits – to the local communities surrounding fossil fuel plants. Ultimately hopeful, this film believes that change will come from grass-roots not governments. 

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

14. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018)

Welcome to the Plastic Age. In 2016, international scientists declared the end of the Holocene epoch. Instead, they announced the arrival of the Anthropocene epoch, in which humans now determines the planet’s natural systems. Narrated by Alicia Vikander, this film examines how we have “re-engineered” our planet irrevocably.

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

15. Food, Inc. (2008)

Not for the faint-hearted, Food, Inc. reveals the unchallenged hegemony of American industrial food production. With supermarkets and multinational companies controlling food systems, it’s no wonder the agenda is “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper”. A shocking must-see.

Watch it here. 

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

16. Paris to Pittsburgh (2018)

A wonderful “David and Goliath” type doc by National Geographic filmmaker Sidney Beaumont and documentarian Michael Bonfiglio. When former President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement in 2017, the citizens of Pittsburgh took to the streets. The result was a national movement in multiple cities around America that refused to forget Paris, too.

Watch it here.

The Top 24 Sustainability Documentaries

17. Seaspiracy (2021)

From the co-creator of Cowspiracy, comes Seaspiracy. With many viewers vowing to stop eating fish after witnessing the environmental devastation caused by human behaviour, this doc does not pull any punches. Needless to say, there has already been considerable counter-reaction from groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council. However, controversy aside, Seaspiracy at least is shining a light on an oft-overlooked strand of the food industry and the vital role the oceans play in carbon sequestration. 

Watch it here.

vegan documentaries

18. Earthlings (2005)

This hard-hitting American documentary film examines how humans use animals as pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and for scientific research. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix and featuring music by Moby, director Shaun Monson uses hidden cameras to reveal unflinching footage of puppy mills as well as the horrifying day-to-day practices of industries that rely on animals. 

Watch it here.

Sustainability Documentaries

19. The Machinists (2012)

By focusing on the lives of three women who work in a garment factory in Bangladesh as well as the boss of a trade union trying to gain traction, The Machinists shows the very personal impact of our love of fast fashion. Globally, the clothing industry employs around 80 million people. Most of these are young women toiling in unsafe factories with little or no employment protection. This film illustrates very clearly how much cheap clothing actually costs the planet.

Watch it here.

Sustainability Documentaries

20. Udita (2015)

Like The Machinist, Udita follows the struggles on female garment workers in Asia. However, this film depicts the struggle of these women to organise themselves into a viable trade union. This in spite of beatings, sacking, and arrests. As the story unfolds, the tragedies of Tazreen and Rana Plaza are covered, as are the victories of these courageous workers when their trade union struggles start to achieve their goals.

Watch it here.

Sustainability Documentaries

21. The Condor and the Eagle (2019)

A fascinating insight into how the fossil fuel industry has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities. Through interviews with Indigenous leaders, activists, and organisers, the lack of consultation and care from exploitive fossil fuel companies is apparent. The good news? The Condor and the Eagle details how local groups are speaking to one another to find ways to resist development.

Watch it here.

Sustainability Documentaries

22. Plastic Paradise (2013)

According to the blurb for this doc, every single piece of plastic that has ever been created since the 19th century is still somewhere on our planet. So if it never goes away, where does it go? American journalist and filmmaker Angela Sun’s attempts to find out in Plastic Paradise. She travels to the Great Pacific garbage patch. This may sound like something from a kids’ tv show. In fact, it’s the Midway Atoll, one of the most remote places on earth. And yet it’s become ground zero for discarded plastics from all over the world. A frightening look at the flip side of our love affair with plastic.

Watch it here.

Sustainability Documentaries

23. More Than Honey (2013)

Little known fact – more than one third of our food production relies on pollination by honeybees. This puts into alarming context that, in the past five years, billions of honeybees have died but no one really knows why. If the bees keep dying, what does that mean for us? Swiss director Markus Imhoof investigates pesticides, antibiotics and monoculture, to try to understand why the queens and their workers are dying off.

Watch it here.

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