The 7 Best Documentaries for Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Living
This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on February 6, 2023.
Okay, fam. Truth time.
I am typically not a documentary person ✌️
Okay that’s not totally true. I am a HIGHLY skeptical documentary viewer. And I have a lot of issues with most documentaries.
In particular, I really hate documentaries that lead with fear, or skew their entire message towards “this is the only solution to this massive problem and if you aren’t doing this one thing you’re a horrible person and the world is going to die because of you.”
Hell to the no. I ain’t about that life. Get outta here with that ish.
And because of that, I don’t actually watch many documentaries - especially the big ones everyone talks about as soon as it’s released (*ahem* looking at you, Seaspiracy… You can kindly take your incorrect and racist opinions and scurry all the way to the other side of the galaxy, pleaseandthankyou.)
So because of these, admittedly, incredibly strong opinions about the very nature of documentaries, you don’t hear me talk about ‘em all too often.
But on the flip side of all my issues with docs, there are absolutely some really spectacular documentaries that have had lasting, positive impacts on my life.
So I thought it might be time to share these documentaries with you, friend. ‘Cause even though some of these documentaries I haven’t seen in years, they still influence my life regularly, and I think these messages deserve to be shared - of course sans all guilt, shame, fear, and absolutism.
BLUE the Film
Where to watch: Rent on iTunes; Curiosity Stream (one month for $5)
Length: 1 hour 16 minutes
“BLUE is the story our generation need to hear. The industrialization that has occurred in the oceans over the last century, mirrors the events that triggered mass extinctions on land. Industrial scale fishing, habitat destruction, species loss and pollution have placed the ocean in peril. The very nature of the sea is being irretrievably altered. BLUE is a provocative journey into the ocean realm, witnessing this critical moment in time when the marine world is on a precipice. Our ocean has been the guardian of life on earth. Now it is our turn to be guardians for the ocean.”
Literally any time anyone asks me what sustainability documentaries I recommend, this is ALWAYS my go-to. I even hosted a screening and discussion panel about the film back in 2019 for World Oceans Day - that’s how much I love and believe in this documentary.
The thing that I love most about this documentary is that it doesn’t just talk about one ocean conservation issue - it touches on so many aspects from plastics to overfishing to ocean change to habitat destruction and protection.
It’s a stunning display of the beauty of our oceans and the many ways we can protect it, one small change at a time.
And not just personal change, but systemic change. How we can change the system from the bottom up and the top down and why we need everyone doing their little piece - what they can, when they can, where they can.
I know that with so many streaming services at our disposal, paying for a movie rental seems just ridiculous, but I wholeheartedly believe this one is worth the five bucks. Pinky promise.
(Or maybe I’ll host another screening… But I gotta have enough interest! So if you’re interested, lemme know!)
Watch the trailer for BLUE here.
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste
Where to watch: Hulu
Length: 1 hour 25 minutes
“An informative and entertaining documentary produced by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, "Wasted!" takes you around the world, showing the 1.3 billion tons of food that gets thrown out each year and the people fighting hardest to prevent it.”
If you eat, you should watch this documentary.
Wasted! is an absolutely brilliant approach to talking about the massive problem that is food waste in our world - and breaking down exactly what we should do about it.
With practical solutions beyond just “compost it,” Anthony Bourdain implores us all to look at food systems as a whole and what “waste” actually means.
The first R in the 6 R’s of Zero Waste is “Rethink,” and the last is “Rot” (or compost). Wasted! is the epitome of this hierarchy. Let’s start at the top; rethink what we consume - and WHY and HOW we consume it. Let’s reduce waste from the very start, and then use the waste we can’t avoid to actually make positive changes for the planet.
It’s all so freaking brilliant and inspiring and no matter how many times I watch it, I can never get enough.
Watch the trailer for Wasted! here.
The True Cost
Where to watch: Stream on YouTube; Rent on Vimeo ($7)
Length: 1 hour 32 minutes
“Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, and featuring interviews with the world’s leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva, The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes.”
If you wear clothes, you should watch this documentary.
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
But just because we have to wear clothes doesn’t mean we have to support toxic, dangerous, polluting, unethical practices - and we don’t have to spend a ton of money on “sustainable” fashion brands, either.
The True Cost pulls back the curtain on how our clothes are actually made and how we can make better choices - for people and for planet.
I haven’t seen anything else like it and it’s such an important conversation we need to have, especially being about something we use literally every single gosh dang day. Absolutely recommend.
Watch the trailer for The True Cost here.
Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
Where to watch: Rent on Google Play ($4)
Length: 1 hour 17 minutes
You can also watch The Minimalists: Less is Now on Netflix for more minimalism inspo.
Fun story - my brother and I both watched this documentary for the first time within days of each other, on opposite sides of the country, and then texted each other about it, completely unplanned. Clearly, it had an impact on both of us 😂
“How might your life be better with less? Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things examines the many flavors of minimalism by taking the audience inside the lives of minimalists from all walks of life—families, entrepreneurs, architects, artists, journalists, scientists, and even a former Wall Street broker—all of whom are striving to live a meaningful life with less.”
While zero waste and minimalism aren’t the same thing, there are many similarities and overlaps between the two.
I mean, let’s go back to those 6 R’s of Zero Waste again. #2 and #3 are Refuse and Reduce - both key pieces of minimalism.
I’ve talked about minimalism, decluttering, and how they intersect with zero waste and sustainable living before, and if you haven’t yet seen this documentary in conjunction with that post, I highly recommend you check it out.
Minimalism had me hooked from the very beginning. It’s honest, it’s refreshing, it’s a fantastic reminder that we need to put value back into the things we own.
“Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.”
Watch the trailer for Minimalism here.
Where to watch: Netflix
Length: 4-part series (58 minutes, 50 minutes, 53 minutes, 51 minutes)
“Explored through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air and earth – Cooked is an enlightening and compelling look at the evolution of what food means to us through the history of food preparation and its universal ability to connect us. Highlighting our primal human need to cook, the series urges a return to the kitchen to reclaim our lost traditions and to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection to the ingredients and cooking techniques that we use to nourish ourselves.”
Okay so it’s been a hot minute since I’ve watched Cooked, but now I’m thinking it’s about time I watch it again.
Broken up into four parts based on the natural elements, fire, air, water, and earth, Cooked shows us what’s what in the world of food.
Like, did you know that bread traditionally is made from only THREE ingredients, but most bread on grocery store shelves today have THIRTY different ingredients in them??? 🤯 It’s. WILD.
Although I missed the sourdough craze of 2020, when I watched Cooked several years ago, I immediately tried making my own bread. I’ve got lots to learn with bread texture, but the taste was absolutely DELISH.
We all gotta eat. Let’s make it real, let’s make it delicious, let’s make it sustainable.
Watch the trailer for Cooked here.
The Story of Plastic
Where to watch: Rent on Amazon, Apple TV, or Xfinity on Demand
Length: 1 hour 35 minutes
“The Story of Plastic is a searing exposé revealing the ugly truth behind plastic pollution and the false solution of plastic recycling. Different from every other plastic documentary you’ve seen, The Story of Plastic presents a cohesive timeline of how we got to our current global plastic pollution crisis and how the oil and gas industry has successfully manipulated the narrative around it. From the extraction of fossil fuels and plastic disposal to the global resistance fighting back, The Story of Plastic is a life-changing, Emmy-winning film depicting one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.”
The thing I love about The Story of Plastic compared to so many other documentaries about plastic and the recycling crisis is that it’s less focused on individuals and more focused on how we got here, what we can do about it, and why we need top-down change from government and industry, not just less plastic straws.
Even as someone who’s been living a zero waste lifestyle for six years, there were still so many moments during this documentary that rocked my world.
The Story of Stuff as a whole is such a great organization, and they completely knocked this documentary out of the park. Cannot recommend enough.
Watch the trailer for The Story of Plastic here.
Kiss the Ground
Where to watch: Netflix
Length: 1 hour 24 minutes
“Kiss the Ground, narrated by Woody Harrelson, is a full-length documentary shedding light on a “new, old approach” to farming called regenerative agriculture, a practice with the extraordinary ability to balance our climate and feed the world.”
So I just watched Kiss the Ground for the first time this morning, and I gotta say… I LOVED it.
(I’m also sensing a trend here that I really like sustainability documentaries focused around food…)
IMO, Kiss the Ground perfectly found the balance between giving us a real, honest, look at what’s happening in the world of agriculture and how it’s taking a toll on our climate, and showing us that there ARE solutions and there ARE people doing really cool sh*t and regenerative agriculture is a thing that’s actually WORKING and we CAN change our trajectory.
Honestly, it kinda made me want to start a farm.
Regenerative practices are so immensely important, especially when it comes to our food.
There are ways we can continue to grow food - including livestock - in healthy, sustainable, renewable ways. We just gotta do the dang thing.
I absolutely loved starting my day with this doc. And I will for sure be watching it again.
Watch the trailer for Kiss the Ground here.
So there ya have it, friend. Seven sustainability documentaries to watch that I actually recommend and enjoy. It’s a feat to get onto that list, lemme tell ya 😅
Now I wanna know, what do you think? Have you seen any of these? Love them? Hate them? Have any to add? Comment below and share all your eco-doc thoughts with me!
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