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Documentaries for the Sustainability Enthusiast

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

I don't know about you all, but this COVID-19 related quarantine has been both a blessing and a curse. I miss the outdoors and going to places like the movies, parks, gyms, etc without having to be six feet apart. However, it has been a blessing as well because it's allowed me to work ahead on things but to also take a step back and rest. Before this happened, I felt like I was constantly working. Now, I'm able to stop, breathe, and just live in the moment. I'm also able to catch up on all of the non-work related things I've been wanting to do like reading/listening to audiobooks (ya know), meditation, cleaning, and watching TV. However, I've become tired of just staring at a blank screen without processing what is happening or learning anything new. I craved learning! That's when I started watching documentaries. What I love about documentaries is that you're still able to relax and watch the TV, however, you're being given all of this beautiful, visually laid out information that will stick with you and keep your brain active. So what are you waiting for? Let's get to learning!

The Story of Stuff (General Sustainabilty)

The Story of Stuff is a documentary on YouTube about how our production and consumption habits affect global conditions. The purpose of this documentary is to show how items we produce and purchase drastically affect communities and the environment. If you're looking for a short (22 minute) but very important documentary on the detriments of over-consumption, definitely start your documentary binge watching session here!

The River and the Wall is a documentary that takes viewers along the Texas borderlands from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of this documentary is to show viewers the political impact a border wall could have on the natural environment. However, as the wilderness ends and the group is met with a much more populated Lower Rio Grande Valley, they are faced with the emotional and human aspect of the political impact.

Broken: Season 1, Episode 4: Recycling Sham (Environmental/Sustainability)

Broken is a docuseries on Netlfix that investigates how the gross negligence and deceit that comes with the production of popular consumer goods can result in serious outcomes. Episode 4 aka Recycling Sham discusses how single-use plastic products are not as easily recycled as marketing makes it seem. In this documentary, it is shown how much of the plastic waste ends up in landfills in Malaysia after China banned the import of plastic scrap in 2017. This documentary also discusses the implications these landfills have had and how Malaysia is trying to solve the issue. You can stream this entire series on Netflix.

Plastic China follows two families in China who work in a recycled waste factory. This documentary explores the implications of social inequality and how some choices that we make to survive can lead to irreparable damage.

Biosludge is a documentary on YouTube that investigates the science fraud by the EPA that would legalize mass pollution of school playgrouds, city parks, and farmland with contaminated industrial waste and human sewage.

True Cost is a documentary that discusses the implications of the fashion industry, especially "fast fashion". This documentary explores all aspects of the fast fashion industry from the production of these hot, in-season garments in sweat shops in developing countries, to the environmental pollution, contamination, and human rights negligence.

This documentary both produced by and starring the late chef Anthony Bourdain discusses the implications of the 1.3 million pounds of food waste. You'll also be able to follow along and see the individuals working hard to prevent it by transforming scraps into beautiful dishes.

A Plastic Ocean follows journalist Craig Leeson and free diver Tanya Streeter around the world to twenty locations over a period of four years to research the delicate state plastic pollution has left on our oceans. This documentary also discusses the solutions being placed to help reverse these consequences.

Chasing Ice follows the efforts of National Geographic photographer James Balog, a former skeptic of climate change, to document the effects of climate change by using time-lapse cameras to monitor the erosion of glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska.

Cowspiracy is a documentary film that explores the implications of the animal agriculture industry and how it affects global warming, water usage, and deforestation. You can find this documentary on Netflix.

After the Spill (Environmental)

After the Spill follows the state of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While both of these events had devastating impacts on the environment and economy, another issue has appeared; Louisiana itself is slowly disappearing.

Before the Flood (Environmental)

Before the Flood follows Leonardo DiCaprio around the globe exploring the impact of climate change.

The Islands and the Whales documents the lifestyle and tradition of the North Atlantic Faroe Islanders. These islanders have always been connected with nature and thankful of the food it provided. Since the land is unable to give much, the islanders relied on the seas. Soon, hunting whales and seabirds became tradition that provided food. However, the islanders soon begin to feel the effects of the polluted ocean and the danger is discovered to come from the whales themselves which have become contaminated from the outside world.

2040 (Environmental)

2040 is an Australian documentary directed by and starring Damon Gameau. Gameau imagines a future for his daughter where the effects of climate change have taken its toll. In this documentary, Gameau investigates various areas working to reverse these changes and provide solutions. This documentary will be released in the US later in 2020, however it is still available in other countries. Check out the list here.


Jan 28, 2023

Kiss the Ground is also a really great one on the Environmental front. Book and film!


Trista Strong
Trista Strong
Aug 06, 2021

Really loved this! I've been looking for a list like this for awhile!


Linda Dourte
Linda Dourte
Apr 14, 2021

fantastic list, thank you! Do you have a list of current books that address these topics, also? Hugs to you

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