Sustainability may prove to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century. The degree to which we adapt to a warming planet and conserve what’s left has the potential to make or break humanity. But as documentaries like This Changes Everything (2019) demonstrate, the solutions are out there - we just have to look for them. Or look at them! This selection of our favourite movies about sustainability will take you from the depths of the ocean to the tops of the oldest trees, equipping you with the knowledge and the inspiration to join the sustainability movement.
Each choice has been selected based on factors like critical acclaim, storytelling, and visual beauty. Here’s our Top 5 must-see documentaries on sustainability.
The Oscar Winner
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
One of the most spellbinding documentaries you’ll ever see, My Octopus Teacher follows free-diver Craig Foster on an underwater exercise in empathy. Reaching across the human-nature divide, the film reveals that octopuses have a unique emotional sensitivity and are more intelligent than might be assumed. Expect compelling storytelling informed by animal tracking techniques.
Oscar-winning My Octopus Teacher closes with a call for a “gentle” approach to nature that recognises the vulnerability of our own survival. Required viewing for ocean lovers and sustainability enthusiasts alike. Available to watch on Netflix.
“Is it acceptable to kill animals for fashion?” is the provocative question at the heart of this aptly-titled documentary. It sounds as if the answer would be an obvious NO, but the director doesn’t shy away from both sides of the argument.
From the producers of world-famous Cowspiracy, this film is an important watch for anyone who wears clothing. Which is everyone. Guaranteed to change the way you think about fashion and sustainability, you can watch Slay free on ethical streaming site, waterbear.com.
Weighing in at 9.4 on IMDB at time of writing, Slay is the highest-rated movie on our must-see documentaries about sustainability watchlist.
The Essential Attenborough
David Attenborough: A Life on our planet (2020)
One of the most recognisable voices of our time, David Attenborough has narrated more than 100 nature documentaries over the course of his 96 years on Earth. This one stands as a “witness statement” of how much change he has seen in his lifetime as a result of human activities. As is fairly typical of the genre of sustainable documentaries, he then turns his attention towards the solutions, making this doc an accessible and action-provoking option.
The Wild Card
Fall and Winter (2013)
“We forgot that we have two mothers. The one that gave birth to us, and the one that we live on.” - Ernest Northrup in Fall and Winter
If you fancy going off the beaten track for your next sustainable film, look no further than Fall and Winter. This haunting independent documentary hears from a chorus of voices including Indigenous leaders, recovering academics, fishermen affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, ecological building experts, and people who are rethinking the way we farm. Beautifully shot and intelligently pieced together, expect to break through the narrow lanes of capitalism and set off on a journey through a rich forest of eco-friendly alternatives. The extent to which you use that experience beyond the final credits is up to you…
This well-intentioned documentary about sustainability takes a position that will resonate with many parents. Preoccupied about the future his daughter will inherit, filmmaker Damon Gameau sets out to find sustainable solutions to Climate Change. With the help of specialists, green thinkers, and a cast of young interviewees, he looks ahead to a brighter 2040. Some viewers may find this film a bit goofy, but it’s important to imagine better futures - and work towards them. 2040 has a 3.4 / 4 rating on Roger Ebert and a spotless Rotten Tomatoes record, so it’s definitely worth your time.
These films about sustainability were good enough to make our main list, but are so well-known you’ve probably watched them already!
- Kiss The Ground (2020) Woody Harrelson narrates this ode to sustainable farming.
- The Green Planet (2022) Get your chloro-fill of plant nerdery in this stunning series on the complex lives of our greenest relatives. David Attenborough narrates.
- Cowspiracy (2014) arguably the most influential eco doc of all time. Has turned at least one member of our team vegetarian.
- Seaspiracy (2021) The controversial sea-quel to Cowspiracy that sparked debate around whether fishing can ever be sustainable.
- An Inconvenient Truth (2009) Al Gore’s pioneering documentary on the climate crisis.
Useful Sources for must-see documentaries about sustainability: