They say knowledge is power, and in a world going head-to-head with a climate crisis, arming yourself with all the latest information about the myriad environmental issues facing our planet is crucial. Not only can getting educated help make a difference in your own life, but it can also inspire you to step outside and take action at a turning point in history that needs more supporters than ever.
We’ve curated this list of the best sustainability documentaries and series on everything from declining bee populations to the plight of garment workers to the impact of plastics on our oceans; perfect if you’re starting on your sustainability journey or to supplement your continued learning. While most of these films dive deep into issues affecting the environment around us, remember that sustainability is intrinsically tied to the wellbeing of the human and non-human animals we share the planet with, so we have included a few highlights across those areas to paint a fuller picture.
Must-see sustainability documentaries for your watch list
No list of sustainability documentaries would be complete without David Attenborough, who superbly narrates the Emmy-award-winning environmental docuseries, Our Planet. Released in 2019, Our Planet explores the interconnectedness of nature and the changing climate. Both beautiful and motivating, Our Planet shows the astonishing diversity of life on earth and why we must work to safeguard its future.
Before The Flood
Join actor Leonardo DiCaprio on an insightful three-year journey around the world to uncover the devastating effects of climate change as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. From politicians to scientists to thought leaders, everyone is put into question in this impactful documentary highlighting the urgency of the growing climate crisis.
Groundbreaking documentary RIVERBLUE puts the destruction of our rivers by the fashion industry under the microscope. Narrated by clean water supporter Jason Priestley and following international river conservationist Mark Angelo, learn how the fashion industry is responsible for harsh chemical manufacturing processes and the irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste, how this impacts the environment and local communities, and the solutions that inspire hope for a sustainable future.
ReDress The Future
Climate justice activist Mikaela Loach presents this 2021 three-part documentary series exploring the innovations and ideas subverting the status quo that underlies an unsustainable fashion industry. ReDress The Future focuses on tangible solutions and seeks to challenge one of the most damaging industries in the world, offering a look into a more circular fashion future for the benefit of all.
Follow American journalist and filmmaker Angela Sun’s journey to uncover the Great Pacific garbage patch phenomenon in the independent documentary Plastic Paradise. Encountering a host of scientists, volunteers, influencers, and researchers along the way, Sun shows us that our mass consumption of and reliance on plastic is far more damaging and insidious than we think.
Riverwoods: An Untold Story
The 2022 feature-length documentary Riverwoods shines a light on declining wild salmon populations and explores what we can do to secure their future. Honing in on the state of Scottish riverbanks, which have faced mass deforestation in recent decades, the film exposes how crucial the survival of one species is to the survival of entire ecosystems. It explains why we must prevent further decline in salmon populations, not just in oceans but in rivers.
A Plastic Ocean
Millions of tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year and wreak havoc on delicate ecosystems that literally suffocate under its weight. As much as plastic’s durability may be helpful in day-to-day life, its propensity to linger long after most other materials are gone means our oceans are in crisis. A Plastic Ocean follows this impact through the lens of scientists and divers who have first-hand knowledge and leaves you feeling both a sense of responsibility and a glimmer of hope.
The True Cost
Arguably the most impactful documentary on the fashion industry ever released, 2015 film The True Cost is core viewing for anyone wanting to learn about the plight of garment workers. Answering the question “who really pays the price for our clothes?”, this film spans environmental impact, labour rights abuses, and even the human impacts of GMO cotton. It holds up a mirror to the Western world’s habit of overconsuming cheap, mass-produced fashion and has been a game changer in the industry since its release.
Down to Earth with Zac Efron
Netflix docuseries Down to Earth is based on wellness and sustainability and joins actor Zac Efron on his journey across the world in search of healthier ways of living for us and the planet. Learning about crucial wellbeing and environmental efforts from different cultures, Efron and his friend and health expert Darin Olien offer a glimmer of sunshine in a movement that can sometimes feel hopeless.
You might have heard of Cowspiracy, a popular sustainability-minded documentary that uncovers the ethical and environmental impacts of animal farming. Seaspiracy comes from the co-creator and dives quite literally into the alarming and largely unknown truths about the widespread destruction humanity is causing to our oceans. This eye-opening follow-up film solidifies the need to shift food consumption habits towards plant-based sources.
More Than Honey
Bees are essential to a healthy environment and economy, and they are dying at alarming rates across the globe owing to a combination of parasites, habitat loss, pesticides, stress, and more. The 2013 documentary More Than Honey charts the deaths of bee colonies from Europe to Australia to China and explains what we can do about it to preserve one tiny insect species with a massive impact on our world.
2022 feature-length documentary SLAY explores the question, “is it acceptable to kill animals for fashion?”. Covering the use of fur, leather, and wool in clothing and accessories, SLAY looks at the environmental, human, and of course, animal impacts of an industry infamous for exploitation and will make you think more deeply about what—or rather, who—makes up the items in your closet than ever before.
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