19 Of The Best Sustainability Documentaries To Watch For A Better World

Environmental Documentaries Are Inspiring People Worldwide By Making Eco Education Entertaining

Whether on land, in the air, or beneath the waves, environmental destruction and climate change plagues the planet—despite Earth’s best efforts to counteract it.

Unbelievably, the Amazon rainforest traps 1.5bn tons of carbon emissions annually. Kudos to the Amazon—but that’s only 4% of fossil fuel emissions. 

The ocean offers endless marine life viewing opportunities, sandy beaches, colorful coral reefs, and, most importantly, 50% of the oxygen we breathe.

If breathing isn’t reason enough, our oceans absorb 25% of our planet’s carbon emissions and are considered the largest “carbon sink.” If we’re not careful, we’re about to flush our carbon sink down the drain.

Rising sea levels, natural disasters, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, and global warming indicate our severe environmental mishandling.

If combatting a planet-wide warming issue has you a little hot under the collar, you’re not alone.

Environmental activists and scientists have turned to perhaps the best modern medium for spotlighting a crisis: film.

Through the best sustainability documentaries on Netflix, Hulu, or whatever your streaming platform of choice, sustainability-minded filmmakers are working hard to draw attention to our current climate crisis, air pollution, unsustainable food systems, and unethical business practices. 

What Is A Sustainability Documentary?

A documentary about sustainability primarily deals with one or more of the UN’s 5 Ps of sustainability.

What are these 5 areas of sustainability, you ask?

In alignment with the UN’s SDGs, they are: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

Focusing on the People, each person should be able to grow their family, enact change and ultimately, benefit from the positive outcomes of planet-saving initiatives.

Prosperity is a shift in thinking that fosters solidarity in each individual on a journey toward global sustainability.

Peace, justice, and fairness of law are synonymous with global citizens banding together to create a fair and just world.

Partnership, regardless of level of study, corporate or civil community members, international placement, and socioeconomic standing, is the idea of coming together to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. 

Are you noticing a trend? 

This hard-fought battle can’t be won alone. With each sector, country, and continent focused on sustainable development solutions, we can keep our planet green and giving. 

If you’re spinning off your own axis debating which climate crisis to champion, between coral bleaching, carbon emissions, global warming, and plastic-polluted oceans, these documentaries on sustainability detail them in an easy-to-digest and breathtaking form.


Exploring Documentaries About Sustainability

Food Sustainability Documentaries

Global Sustainability Documentaries

Climate & Environmental Documentaries

Wildlife Conservation Documentaries

Exploring Documentaries About Sustainability

A hot topic in sustainability, and rightfully so, is how we (and our planet) have outgrown our growing practices.

1. Kiss The Ground

As the well-known voice of Woody Harrelson declares in the trailer to Kiss the Ground, the answer to reversing climate change is “right under our feet, and it’s as old as dirt”. 

This 2020 food sustainability documentary focuses on regenerative farming and the impact barren farmland has on carbon once stored in the soil, highlighting a way forward with ways to increase biodiversity, the value of microorganisms, and how to harness the power of biosequestration.

If starting our own human seedlings on the sustainability track, Kiss the Ground can be viewed for free in the classroom, or you can find it among the best sustainability documentaries Netflix offers.

Watch: Kiss the Ground | Netflix

2. Biggest Little Farm

John and Molly of Apricot Lane Farms present organic farming meets regenerative agriculture through hard work, a dream, and their dog, in the 2018 documentary on sustainability from the lens of farming.

Following the successes, failures, innovative ideas, and sustainable solutions on their 200-acre organic farm in California, Biggest Little Farm gives a peek into a world industrial farming corporations would like to convince you is impossible. 

Following John and Molly across trials and triumphs, this film talks regenerative agriculture, produces pasture-raised meat, and grows organic (and is certified as such, along with biodynamic and regenerative organic) fruit and vegetables while fostering community.

It’s not all happy harvests for the pair, but it is one of the more charming, relatable, and uplifting documentaries to come out in recent years.

The Biggest Little Farm: The Return, a sequel, is available on Disney+. A series is in the works for the (sustainable) future in partnership with National Graphic. 

Watch: The Biggest Little Farm

3. The Need to GROW

The Need to GROW is a documentary with wide-ranging topics and one common goal: a sustainable food system.

Diving into localized food production, carbon mitigation with innovative technology (think: regenerating soil in 4–5 days, which would take nature 400 years), and the fight to make our staple food products healthier. 

This 2018 series strives to inspire people dedicated to sustainable environmental goals to come together regardless of position in the game. 

Watch: The Need To GROW

4. Sustainable

Unsatisfied with his 7th generation farm, which fell prey to Big Ag in years past, this on-the-nose named documentary explores Marty Travis’ investment in regenerative agriculture to revive his local Chicago food system. 

Inspired by a stronger, healthier food system for his son and future generations, Travis establishes connections with other growers to create a localized food supply system, with input from bakers and chefs in search of farm-fresh ingredients.

Sustainable reminds us it’s never too late to revolutionize food systems that were crippled during the industrial revolution.

Watch: Sustainable

5. Rotten

While any food from 2018 would be rank, this Netflix sustainability documentary series from the same year is anything but rotten. 

Rotten is a series that shows how some of the world’s largest crops and commodities are unsustainably harvested, generate food waste, are tied to crime, and are, in general, bad for your health due to poor production.

Like a handful of other Netflix sustainability documentaries, it encourages conscious consumers in a fast-paced, poorly-produced system.

Watch: Rotten

Exploring Documentaries About Sustainability

If you’re looking to learn more about sustainable business practices and the impact they can have, check out these eye-opening and thought-provoking documentaries that showcase innovative companies and individuals who are making a difference in the world through their commitment to sustainability.

6. Patagonia: Growing The Sustainable Company

Yvon Chouinard, founder, and owner of the popular outdoor apparel brand, Patagonia, discusses his philosophy on creating an eco-friendly company with green practices at its core.

Patagonia has certainly lived up to the film’s name and grown far more sustainable since the release of Patagonia: Growing The Sustainable Company in 2012, but the core CSR concepts the film focuses on are still as relevant as ever.

Even for the non-business-minded, this business sustainability documentary provides an insightful look into the connection between making, growing, and building products with low environmental impact. 

If you want to keep climbing, Patagonia’s YouTube channel develops short films and tons of different miniseries that take brand transparency, sustainability goals, and practices to new heights.

Watch: Patagonia: Growing The Sustainable Company

7. A Small Section of The World

A Small Section of The World follows a group of women in Costa Rica enacting real change and sustainable growth in their communities by building Asomobi, the country’s first women-run coffee mill. 

Produced by illycaffe and supported by the gourmet coffee company Illy, this part food, part corporate sustainability documentary highlights Illy’s commitment to sustainability in each step leading to your morning cup of coffee. 

Illy’s sustainability commitments extend beyond Costa Rica to their many plantations worldwide. 

Watch: A Small Section of The World

8. Slow Down Fast Fashion

If you’re invested in sustainable and ethical fashion, you’ll join the ranks of famous bassist turned cheesemaker, turned environmental advocate Alex James.

Slow Down Fast Fashion calls out the unsustainable fashion industry and its estimated 1 million tons of clothes that get tossed into landfills yearly. 

In discussions with activists, top brands, and designers, Alex James reveals society craves change and puts the onus back on the consumer to decipher the true cost of the clothes you buy.

Speaking of, continue your deep dive into fast fashion with the fashion sustainability documentary The True Cost.

Watch: Slow Down Fast Fashion

9. Seeding Change

What documentary talks about environmental awareness in each and every product we consume?

Seeding Change, which aims to do just what its title purports.

Watch as this documentary inspires consumers to “vote with their dollar” by supporting only companies (in the fashion industry and beyond) with sustainability at its core.

The film follows well-known brands of all sectors like Numi, Outerknown, Guayakí, Yerba Mate, and more in their attempts at making for-profit companies a sustainable choice for future generations.

Watch: Seeding Change

10. The Promise of Biomimicry

An extension of her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired By Nature, Janine Benyus combines sustainable environmental solutions and business creation in this 2020 film.

The Promise of Biomimicry delves into the natural world with all of its near-perfect design models and how entrepreneurs and large corporations can develop products that mimic grand design. 

In turn, the hope is more people will develop an appreciation for nature.

Watch: The Promise of Biomimicry

Exploring Documentaries About Sustainability

These documentaries take an all-encompassing look at our global status in terms of environmental stability, and whether we as a society are toeing the line toward a sustainable future.

11. Waterschool

Swarvorski’s Waterschool documentary follows five young women along major rivers—the Danube, Mississippi, Nile, Amazon, Ganges, and Yangtze—across five continents who discover the importance and interconnectedness of water. 

Highlighting the climate crisis and location-specific environmental problems like deforestation, melting glaciers, flooding, microplastics, rising water levels, and more. 

This 2018 film encourages education to guarantee future change.

Watch: Waterschool

12. 2040

A 2019 Australian documentary film dedicated to his young daughter Velvet, Damon Gameau’s 2040 demonstrates what the world could look like in 2040 if we focus on environmental sustainability and expand on what we have available today. 

This film dives into marine permaculture, microgrid renewable energy, regenerative farming solutions, and topsoil regeneration as a means of biting back at big AG. 

Broad in scope, it also considers how ridesharing transportation systems could reintroduce nature (not car parks) and drastically alter our cities. 

Director and host Damon Gameau speaks with many environmental minds in this uplifting story, described as “an exercise in fact-based dreaming”.

Watch: 2040

13. Years of Living Dangerously

If you’re familiar with the Avatar movies in all their green and blue, CGI glory, you won’t be shocked to discover their director, James Cameron (who champions several eco-causes), is the big name behind the little docuseries, Years Of Living Dangerously.

Released between 2014 and 2016, it talks with some of the big names in Environmental Sustainability and Hollywood—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Black, Matt Damon, to name a few.

With a focus on fighting climate change, environmental hazards, and global warming, the heavy topics are lightened by iconic film personalities, inventors, and innovators with lasting solutions. 

Watch: Years of Living Dangerously

Exploring Documentaries About Sustainability

Are you looking for the best climate change documentaries

Look no further; this list will have you picking plastic, sharing rides, and championing climate justice causes in no time.

14. Plastic Ocean

What began as a search for the Blue Whale turned into chasing plastic in our oceans for the director Craig Leeson.

Plastic Ocean literally dives deep into the sheer amount of plastic in our oceans (estimated 8 million tons added yearly), and details how those plastics affect our overall health.

The 2016 sea sustainability documentary was shot in over 20 locations, all with their own environmental disaster—like plastic found 1600m deep.

Despite the sinking feeling you may have while watching, the film does offer solutions to this plastic ocean problem to leave viewers feeling moderately hopeful as the screen fades to black.

Watch: Plastic Ocean

15. Unbreathable

Among even the best documentaries on sustainability, few cover air pollution. 

Unbreathable highlights the true cost of breathing in polluted air, affecting over half of Americans.

The film follows many communities in their fight for healthy air—and explains why you should, too.

Watch: Unbreathable

16. The Condor and The Eagle

The Condor and The Eagle is one of the best sustainability documentaries about climate justice—all with an angle of great respect for and acknowledgement of indigenous communities.

This 2019 documentary follows four Indigenous leaders, from the North (Canada) to the South (Peru and Ecuador), refusing oil mining on their protected lands. 

It documents the footwork of indigenous communities and their fight to preserve all living creatures on earth, its natural resources, and the environment. 

Watch: The Condor and The Eagle

17. Chasing Coral

If you’re surfing Netflix documentaries on sustainability, and you’ve already watched BlackFish and Seaspricacy, the sea sustainability documentary Chasing Coral should be the next to make waves in your perspective of ocean conservation.

Chasing Coral documents the journey of divers and ocean lovers as they determine sustainable solutions for our dying coral reefs. It details how we’ve run the boat ashore as a society that inflicts warming temperatures on these delicate ecosystems.

But the story doesn’t end there; the film also details the hope of preserving coral reefs if we alter our collective behavior. 

To move from the tropics to the arctic tundra, don’t miss its sister film, Chasing Ice.

Watch: Chasing Coral

Exploring Documentaries About Sustainability

If wildlife gives you the warm and fuzzies, here are the answers in film form that’ll ensure their existence (and our own) continues into the future.

18. Transmission

Documenting hot topic environmental issues like climate change, air pollution, the loss of coral reefs, and a plastic ocean, many sustainability documentaries often evoke a need for change on a large scale. 

Lest we not forget about smaller teams working on lesser-known sustainability issues with the same vigor and commitment.

Transmission follows veterinarian Dr. Helen Schwantje and a team of biologists as they monitor, treat, and document the infectious disease killing Big Horn Sheep in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada. 

This film shows how unification towards a common goal of conservation can create lasting change before it’s too late. 

Watch: Transmission

19. A Life on Our Planet

Joining other Netflix environmental documentaries, A Life On Our Planet is a trip around the globe guided by the beloved and soothing voice of David Attenborough—with a not-so-soothing message.

Dubbed David Attenborough’s “witness statement”, this stark contrast to the whimsical Planet Earth series details the habitat loss and overall environmental destruction he’s witnessed in his lifetime. 

The 2020 climate documentary reminds us of our responsibility to restore nature, reverse climate change and guarantee a sustainable future for all living creatures. 

Watch: A Life on Our Planet

Closing Thoughts On The Best Environmental Documentaries On Netflix & Beyond

In a world that’s polluted, full of plastic, and pushing toward global extinction, documentaries detailing as much can be a little overwhelming. 

Turning a blind eye to the environmental devastation our planet is subject to every single day creates short-term comfort, with severe long-term consequences. 

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. 

The best documentaries related to the sustainability movement offer projections, plans, and promise of a way forward to restore our one and only habitable planet.

Whether you champion coral reef restoration, air pollution prevention, or rewinding climate change, there is a sustainability documentary that will speak to you in this list. And many have ongoing initiatives and sustainability movements to increase the eco credibility of your own life well after the credits roll.

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