From animals facing extinction to pollution to global warming, the world is changing — quickly. Some days you may feel like you’re the only one concerned with what is happening to the planet. But there are a host of scientists, environmentalists, authors, journalists, adventurers and Hollywood actors that share your mindset and went through the effort of getting it to the screen. Here are some top environmental documentaries to watch if you’re looking for a show that keeps sustainability in focus.
Before the Flood, 2016
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio in conjunction with National Geographic, Before the Flood follows DiCaprio as he talks with world leaders, politicians, scientists and religious figures to better understand the thinking around the climate crisis.
Chasing Coral, 2017
Coral is a barometer for the health of the planet. As a measure of this health, coral is showing that the earth is sick. This documentary follows scientists, divers and photographers underwater, where they investigate the reasons behind the detrimental disappearance of healthy coral around the globe.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, 2014
In a world where many people either deny climate change or talk in generalizations about the causes and solutions, this documentary puts a fine point on the pervasive damage that agriculture has on the planet, connecting it to global warming, water use, deforestation and ocean dead zones.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, 2017
No list of environmental documentaries would be complete without mentioning the climate change film that added fuel to the conversation, An Inconvenient Truth, which features Former American Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to inform and inspire climate policies around the globe. The story continues with An Inconvenient Sequel, following Gore on his environmental campaign, sharing poignant personal and public moments with activists across the planet.
The True Cost, 2015
The True Cost exposes another major contributor of pollution, waste and consumption — the fast fashion industry. This is a first-hand account of the human cost of clothing manufacturing, exposing low-wages and poor treatment of workers. It also highlights toxins added to the soil and waterways via plant growth (such as cotton) and throughout the manufacturing process (such as dyes). Director Andrew Morgan connects all of this to the driving force of the media, culture, societal norms and consumerism.
Chasing Ice, 2012
More Than Honey, 2012
In light of mass colony collapse, this documentary seeks to provide a better understanding of the importance of honey bees while looking for answers as to what is causing the decline in bee populations.
A Plastic Ocean, 2016
Adventurers Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter team up with an international team of scientists and researchers to reveal the astonishing amount of plastic waste consuming the ocean and coastlines, endangering animals and polluting the food chain. The images and reporting cover 20 locations over the course of four years.
Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, 2014
This film uncovers the nasty truth behind food waste, from farms to retail consumption. The lens follows filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer as they vow to sustain themselves for six months without buying groceries, instead relying on food that would otherwise be thrown out.
The Story of Stuff, 2007
The Story of Stuff appears to be a playful, 20-minute video that is actually a dart thrown directly into the bullseye of consumerism and capitalism. This powerful animation cuts straight to the point of the damaging effects of manufacturing, material sourcing, convenience and quick disposal of the “stuff” in our lives.
This docuseries, a Netflix original, highlights a range of topics, many of which pertain to the environment. Look for episodes titled, “The Future of Meat,” and “The World’s Water Crisis” to get started.
Where many documentaries are fatalistic, Tomorrow aims to focus on the positive. From French filmmakers Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, Tomorrow is a mostly uplifting journey around the planet, discovering people and communities focused on solutions through agriculture, energy, economy, education and government policy.
Plastic is a well-known environmental issue. In Tapped, directors Stephanie Soechtig and Jason Lindsey aim directly at the bottled water industry as a major contributor to the problem. They explore the financial and environmental impact of the industry, including material sources, manufacturing, and post-consumer waste.
No Impact Man, 2009
Following the journey of author Colin Beavan, No Impact Man provides a look inside his dedication to going green. The cameras follow Beavan as he disconnects from all modern conveniences including electricity, gas-powered transportation, shipped food and public waste disposal in an effort to experience a life without environment impact. What begins as a journey about minimalism leads to a discovery about happiness, relationships and balance.
How to Change the World, 2015
It’s happening all over the world — corporations moving into small communities and changing their ways of life. Patrimonio is an example of one community forever driven toward change as a resort and housing development, packaged commercially as a holistic yoga retreat, moves into town.