Jul 192019
Sustainability and Environmental Documentaries

Keeping with the theme of plastic free July, I thought I’d recommend some sustainability and environmental documentaries to watch this summer. I hope you’ve already seen these documentaries, but if not, they cover the main environmental (and ethical) issues of our time. Some of the films are optimistic, offering plans for change. Others are stern warnings – calls of crises consistently ignored. Many of these films are on Netflix which, if you don’t already have, you can try it free for a month, or find a friend with a subscription and watch together. Some of these documentaries can also be rented or bought on Amazon, and libraries may have copies. You also might have luck finding pirated versions on YouTube.

For more on sustainability see: A Simple Action: Creating Dialogue on Sustainability and 50 Simple Ways to Live more Sustainably

The True Cost

This documentary will make you cry. It will haunt you. The True Cost is about ethics and the environment in the world of fast fashion. It covers the cotton industry, where farmers are getting cancer from pesticides and killing themselves from stress, and exploitation in factories. I will never buy new fast fashion again. I truly believe everyone should have to watch this film. Most of us kind of know about the poor ethics of the fashion industry, but this documentary demonstrates the true devastation and inhumanity of it all.

The True Cost

Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things

This US documentary focuses on hyper consumerism. We think (or are told to think) that stuff will bring us happiness. For more on this concept, check out The Story of Stuff. This documentary emphasises simple and deliberate living. The message is to love people and use things because the opposite will never work.

Plastic Pollution
A Plastic Ocean

There are lots of documentaries out there on YouTube and created by mainstream broadcasters about the plastics crisis. This one looks at the aquatic smog of micro plastics, rather than Attenborough’s coverage of macro plastics on Blue Planet II. A Plastic Ocean contains heart-breaking footage of damage to marine life and communities. This film introduces a concept called “social plastic” – micro economy recycling programmes and alternative recycling solutions. Therefore, reduce is still the most important “R” but this documentary recognises that recycling is still feasible if invested in and regulated properly.

A Plastic Ocean

Climate Change
Before the Flood

I have mad respect for Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve grown up watching his rise to stardom and admire that he has used his fame to shore up his environmental activism. At the time of filming this documentary, DiCaprio was a UN messenger of peace for climate change. DiCaprio is honest that he isn’t an expert and, the more he learns, the more he realises he doesn’t know. I also feel that he presents a realistic (and subsequently pessimistic) view of climate change, with the film at the time demonstrating how we weren’t doing enough to prevent a climate crisis [it’s already here].

Ice on Fire

This is DiCaprio’s most recent documentary, which came out about a month ago. This film might be tricky to source, but I found a version on YouTube. As predicted, DiCaprio [narrating] reiterates how we aren’t doing enough to slow the deterioration of the planet and the message is simple – listen to the scientists! We have an unprecedented opportunity to turn our fate of climate change around before the world sees mass migration of climate refugees due to flooding, extreme drought, and crop failure. We are already in the 6th mass extinction.

Ice on Fire

The first half of this documentary features scientists explaining what their research shows, from the melting of land ice on the poles, to the migration of organisms and ecological disruptions. More positively, the second half of this film looks at solutions. We need to switch to 100% renewable energy, and it was interesting to see some of the technology that we already possess, from bionic leaves to rocking boats to produce electricity. Optimistically, DiCaprio’s message is that it will soon be more profitable to rely on green energy, which will be the push economically-minded people need to create change, when they aren’t willing to be altruistic. My only criticism of this film is that it completely left out the agricultural industry and its contribution to methane production and deforestation.

An Inconvenient Sequel

I remember watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth when it came out and thinking that the situation was dire. But, life just carried on. The governments and the corporations have an amazing ability to lie to us and push these things under the rug. People seem to care more about celebrity gossip than impending doom. Gore’s headline calls for change quickly disappeared from the public consciousness (AGAIN). I’m actually reading the book version of An Inconvenient Truth at the moment, and it is infuriating to see that the facts, that were clearly outlined back in 2006 and again in the Sequel documentary in 2017, were accurate and if anything, under-represented the rates of change and subsequent repercussions.

Yet, the crisis has only just come to the forefront of the public consciousness in 2019, and it is still being quashed by government lies and false promises, fossil fuel industries claiming they are ‘helping’ and brands telling us their products are ‘fully recyclable’. They are paying lip-service to the issue and as, many people have pointed out, the wealthy carry on buying their way out of environmental disasters while the poor suffer the most.

An Inconvenient Sequel


Focusing on agriculture, soil erosion, and climate change, this US documentary looks at cooperatives initiating sustainable farming practices. They aim to support each other and look beyond the economics to legacy building for food security.


Cowspiracy is also worth watching as it exposes the ways in which environmental organisations are reluctant to point fingers at the farming industry as a leading cause in deforestation and CO2 emissions.

Bill Nye: Science Guy

For anyone who grew up watching Bill Nye’s children’s science show, this documentary is a must see. Nye returns as a ‘science statesman’ advocating for science and climate change, taking on climate deniers and creationists. While Bill Nye played a character in the 90s, his passion for making the world a better place remains authentic. Bill Nye

Have you watched these sustainability and environmental documentaries? If so, what do you think about them?

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