8 Must-See Documentaries About Sustainability

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written by:  Dalia Gopstein

editor's note:

These are a few inspiring documentaries that tell stories of great triumph and hope for the future.

Documentaries are one of my favorite ways to gain information on the environment and sustainability. It is a powerful tool to get specific and detailed messages across to an audience through the means of media. It helps us to connect with others’ stories without ever meeting and helps us understand concepts in a tangible way. I grew up watching nature documentaries late at night when I couldn’t sleep. I loved watching in awe at all the animals jumping, racing and crawling across the screen. There are many eye-opening and incredible documentaries in the world regarding sustainability, and here are my favorites that I would recommend to a friend.


Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“ I decided instead of eating others, to eat for others.”

Our Take:

This was one of the first documentaries I had ever seen about sustainability and by far my favorite. It is what finally convinced me to go vegetarian! This documentary follows Kip Anderson, who is on a mission to find out what industry or aspect of society is the largest polluter. The documentary breaks down how many politicians, individuals, and even some environmental groups are unwilling to discuss one of the biggest polluters: the agricultural industry. If most people on earth became vegan or even just stopped consuming red meat we would be in a significantly better place than we are today. What I love most about this is how it follows Kip in a story-telling manner and uses powerful visuals to get his point across. It is an incredibly powerful and informative documentary and I would recommend this to anyone.



Our Planet

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“This glacial ice together with the sea ice protects our planet by reflecting solar radiation away from the surface and so preventing the earth from overheating.”

Our Take:

This is your state-of-the-art intro to environmentally related documentaries. It is a documentary series covering different landscapes around the globe. It speaks about the changing climate due to global warming and how it’s impacting various wild animals. It is both shocking and sublime. The shots are sharp, exciting and epic. The narration makes you feel immensely connected to the rest of the world without having been there. It is narrated by David Attenborough and he does a phenomenal job at capturing the beauty and grace of these fierce animals. Seeing the fragile ecosystems around the globe negatively change due to human actions makes me want to take more action and motivates me to live more sustainably. This artwork beautifully balances the truth of climate change and the sheer power of these incredible animals.



Night On Earth

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“Concrete jungles hostile to wildlife but at night it’s a different story.”

Our Take:

This is just a good ol’ nature documentary that I watched only a few months ago and completely fell in love with. It is definitely the coolest nature documentary I have ever seen. It is all about a never before seen perspective on animals-- their behavior at night! Before now we didn’t have high quality enough cameras to capture these creatures’ movements at night. With the help of technology it is now a reality to observe these magnificent creatures. This is totally a binge-worthy documentary series. The second to last episodes, “Sleepless Cities” is by far the most interesting and mind-boggling episode in the series. It covers how wild animals are impacted by city lights, infrastructure and the presence of humans. It discusses how we need to protect these animals and ensure their safety. Overall, I adore this documentary series and can’t talk enough about it!



Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“We are still always scratching a coin for more.”

Our Take:

This is a very unique documentary that discusses how simplicity can make us happier. It goes into detail about how society has shaped our idea of success. Society views the perfect life as having as much money as possible and spending that money on any luxury item we can get our hands on. That is, however, not what is going to make us happy. “Minimalism” had me hooked from the beginning. I love its simple message of less is more. I also appreciate that the documentary mentions that the purpose is not to convert people to minimalism but to show that we have other options and a capacity to be happier in ways we might not have thought of prior to watching this documentary. There is really no other documentary I have seen on the internet that dives deeply into a topic such as minimalism and it really opened my eyes to the pressure of consumption that hovers over us all like a dark cloud. It was so refreshing to watch this documentary. It reminded me of the things that really matter to me like my friends and my health and well-being, and things that don’t matter like buying a new t-shirt because I liked the print while ignoring the 15 other t-shirts that I already own. Overall, this is a must see for every person interested in minimalism or not.



Return of the River

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime Video

Favorite Quote:

“There’s a reason every river has its people. Life depends on water… In this way people and fish are not so different.”

Our Take:

“Return of the River” explores an inspiring story of how the Klallam tribe restored the Elwha river and its ecosystem by breaking down the Glines Canyon Dam. The Klallam people relied heavily on the river for their main food source so when the dam was built it left them powerless and starving. Almost 100 years later, the Klallam people fought to get the dam removed and it was a success. It was something that had never been done before-- taking out a dam and restoring an ecosystem. It was both inspiring and thought-provoking as well as heart-warming. It helped me to take a step back and think about what these people must have been going through and see how beautiful their land is. I sometimes forget how important sense of place is to me and others. It reminded me that it is important to sometimes slow down my life and appreciate the nature around me. By the end of this documentary I was left with a sense of hope that we can restore our ecosystems if we put our mind and our hearts to it. It is rare to find such a success story especially amongst removing dams.



Climate Warriors

Where to Watch:

Hulu

Favorite Quote:

“What we pour into the ground we pour into our food. Literally.”

Our Take:

This documentary is one of the most impactful and moving documentaries I have seen in a long time. It follows a handful of different stories of “climate warriors” globally who are standing up and fighting for climate related issues in their communities. They touch on issues regarding soil, oil, legislation and much more. It jumps from story to story-- each independent from the others yet completely connected and still informative and moving. I could feel the passion oozing out of the makers of this documentary and the individuals on the screen. Each and every one of them were very passionate about what they were doing and understood the urgency of climate change and the resistance from many politicians and companies. They took action! This documentary instills an urgency in those who watch it and made me want to organize my own climate strike. Would highly recommend it for anyone looking to feel a bit more motivated and revitalized.



A Plastic Ocean

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“Plastic is wonderful because it is durable, and plastic is terrible because it is durable.”

Our Take:

This scenic documentary explores how the ocean is being impacted by plastic through the lens of scientists and divers. One diver in particular discusses how she has used her national title as record breaker for mens free-diving to advocate for the issue of plastic in the ocean. It includes very many incredibly powerful images of different aquatic species that have been negatively impacted by plastic in the ocean. It is moving and inspired me to continue to try and go plastic free-- or as plastic free as I can because to be honest being completely plastic free is very difficult. There are close-up and slow motion shots of common uses of plastic being used in everyday life and makes one realize how much plastic we use. Even in just a day we throw away so much plastic! “A Plastic Ocean” is a wonderful mix of impactful images and information. It hit a place in my heart where I care so much for the ocean and well-being of the species that live there and explored what they are going through in an effective way. The documentary is concluded with ways that people and companies have been tackling the issue of plastics in our world and leaves its audience with a sense of hope.



Period. End of Sentence

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“The thing is, when there’s patriarchy, it takes time to talk about something related to women.”

Our Take:

This is one short but mighty documentary packing a punch. In about a half hour, “Period. End of Sentence” follows a group of women in India who are selling sanitary pads that empower women through work and having easier and better access to these pads. They don’t have access to sanitary pads and therefore often drop out of school because of their period. This documentary focuses on a domestically produced sanitary pad that not only holds more liquid but is also made with 100% cotton which is much better for the environment than using bleaches and dyes and is significantly cheaper than its counterpart. It is also made by women so it gives them jobs and therefore empowers them and sustains themselves, their families and their communities financially. This documentary is probably one of my favorites. I could watch it again and again! It is uplifting and has an inspiring resolution. This is a must watch for everyone!


Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“ I decided instead of eating others, to eat for others.”

Our Take:

This was one of the first documentaries I had ever seen about sustainability and by far my favorite. It is what finally convinced me to go vegetarian! This documentary follows Kip Anderson, who is on a mission to find out what industry or aspect of society is the largest polluter. The documentary breaks down how many politicians, individuals, and even some environmental groups are unwilling to discuss one of the biggest polluters: the agricultural industry. If most people on earth became vegan or even just stopped consuming red meat we would be in a significantly better place than we are today. What I love most about this is how it follows Kip in a story-telling manner and uses powerful visuals to get his point across. It is an incredibly powerful and informative documentary and I would recommend this to anyone.


Our Planet

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“This glacial ice together with the sea ice protects our planet by reflecting solar radiation away from the surface and so preventing the earth from overheating.”

Our Take:

This is your state-of-the-art intro to environmentally related documentaries. It is a documentary series covering different landscapes around the globe. It speaks about the changing climate due to global warming and how it’s impacting various wild animals. It is both shocking and sublime. The shots are sharp, exciting and epic. The narration makes you feel immensely connected to the rest of the world without having been there. It is narrated by David Attenborough and he does a phenomenal job at capturing the beauty and grace of these fierce animals. Seeing the fragile ecosystems around the globe negatively change due to human actions makes me want to take more action and motivates me to live more sustainably. This artwork beautifully balances the truth of climate change and the sheer power of these incredible animals.


Night On Earth

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“Concrete jungles hostile to wildlife but at night it’s a different story.”

Our Take:

This is just a good ol’ nature documentary that I watched only a few months ago and completely fell in love with. It is definitely the coolest nature documentary I have ever seen. It is all about a never before seen perspective on animals-- their behavior at night! Before now we didn’t have high quality enough cameras to capture these creatures’ movements at night. With the help of technology it is now a reality to observe these magnificent creatures. This is totally a binge-worthy documentary series. The second to last episodes, “Sleepless Cities” is by far the most interesting and mind-boggling episode in the series. It covers how wild animals are impacted by city lights, infrastructure and the presence of humans. It discusses how we need to protect these animals and ensure their safety. Overall, I adore this documentary series and can’t talk enough about it!


Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“We are still always scratching a coin for more.”

Our Take:

This is a very unique documentary that discusses how simplicity can make us happier. It goes into detail about how society has shaped our idea of success. Society views the perfect life as having as much money as possible and spending that money on any luxury item we can get our hands on. That is, however, not what is going to make us happy. “Minimalism” had me hooked from the beginning. I love its simple message of less is more. I also appreciate that the documentary mentions that the purpose is not to convert people to minimalism but to show that we have other options and a capacity to be happier in ways we might not have thought of prior to watching this documentary. There is really no other documentary I have seen on the internet that dives deeply into a topic such as minimalism and it really opened my eyes to the pressure of consumption that hovers over us all like a dark cloud. It was so refreshing to watch this documentary. It reminded me of the things that really matter to me like my friends and my health and well-being, and things that don’t matter like buying a new t-shirt because I liked the print while ignoring the 15 other t-shirts that I already own. Overall, this is a must see for every person interested in minimalism or not.


Return of the River

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime Video

Favorite Quote:

“There’s a reason every river has its people. Life depends on water… In this way people and fish are not so different.”

Our Take:

“Return of the River” explores an inspiring story of how the Klallam tribe restored the Elwha river and its ecosystem by breaking down the Glines Canyon Dam. The Klallam people relied heavily on the river for their main food source so when the dam was built it left them powerless and starving. Almost 100 years later, the Klallam people fought to get the dam removed and it was a success. It was something that had never been done before-- taking out a dam and restoring an ecosystem. It was both inspiring and thought-provoking as well as heart-warming. It helped me to take a step back and think about what these people must have been going through and see how beautiful their land is. I sometimes forget how important sense of place is to me and others. It reminded me that it is important to sometimes slow down my life and appreciate the nature around me. By the end of this documentary I was left with a sense of hope that we can restore our ecosystems if we put our mind and our hearts to it. It is rare to find such a success story especially amongst removing dams.


Climate Warriors

Where to Watch:

Hulu

Favorite Quote:

“What we pour into the ground we pour into our food. Literally.”

Our Take:

This documentary is one of the most impactful and moving documentaries I have seen in a long time. It follows a handful of different stories of “climate warriors” globally who are standing up and fighting for climate related issues in their communities. They touch on issues regarding soil, oil, legislation and much more. It jumps from story to story-- each independent from the others yet completely connected and still informative and moving. I could feel the passion oozing out of the makers of this documentary and the individuals on the screen. Each and every one of them were very passionate about what they were doing and understood the urgency of climate change and the resistance from many politicians and companies. They took action! This documentary instills an urgency in those who watch it and made me want to organize my own climate strike. Would highly recommend it for anyone looking to feel a bit more motivated and revitalized.


A Plastic Ocean

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“Plastic is wonderful because it is durable, and plastic is terrible because it is durable.”

Our Take:

This scenic documentary explores how the ocean is being impacted by plastic through the lens of scientists and divers. One diver in particular discusses how she has used her national title as record breaker for mens free-diving to advocate for the issue of plastic in the ocean. It includes very many incredibly powerful images of different aquatic species that have been negatively impacted by plastic in the ocean. It is moving and inspired me to continue to try and go plastic free-- or as plastic free as I can because to be honest being completely plastic free is very difficult. There are close-up and slow motion shots of common uses of plastic being used in everyday life and makes one realize how much plastic we use. Even in just a day we throw away so much plastic! “A Plastic Ocean” is a wonderful mix of impactful images and information. It hit a place in my heart where I care so much for the ocean and well-being of the species that live there and explored what they are going through in an effective way. The documentary is concluded with ways that people and companies have been tackling the issue of plastics in our world and leaves its audience with a sense of hope.


Period. End of Sentence

Where to Watch:

Netflix

Favorite Quote:

“The thing is, when there’s patriarchy, it takes time to talk about something related to women.”

Our Take:

This is one short but mighty documentary packing a punch. In about a half hour, “Period. End of Sentence” follows a group of women in India who are selling sanitary pads that empower women through work and having easier and better access to these pads. They don’t have access to sanitary pads and therefore often drop out of school because of their period. This documentary focuses on a domestically produced sanitary pad that not only holds more liquid but is also made with 100% cotton which is much better for the environment than using bleaches and dyes and is significantly cheaper than its counterpart. It is also made by women so it gives them jobs and therefore empowers them and sustains themselves, their families and their communities financially. This documentary is probably one of my favorites. I could watch it again and again! It is uplifting and has an inspiring resolution. This is a must watch for everyone!




written by:  Dalia Gopstein

editor's note:

These are a few inspiring documentaries that tell stories of great triumph and hope for the future.

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