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Best Netflix Documentaries on Sustainability to Watch in 2020

Best Netflix Documentaries on Sustainability to Watch in 2020

Looking to explore the world and the challenges it’s facing without leaving your couch? Why not seek out a good documentary.

Sustainability documentaries allow us to discover nature’s wonders, accompany famous scientists, and witness history.

They’re also important conversation starters, giving us an up-close view of things like climate issues, consumerism, and food systems, and encouraging us to think about what needs to change.

Netflix has an amazing array of documentaries on sustainability dealing with the natural world, environmental issues, and overconsumption.

Check out the list below for some of the most eye-opening documentaries about sustainability. They’re sure to make you think differently, and they might just inspire you to take action.


Top Sustainability Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

See below for our updated recommendations for the best documentaries on sustainability available to watch on Netflix right now! Covering everything from plastic pollution, to water shortages and animal conservation – there’s something for everyone.

Want you take your learning offline too? Be sure to check out our list of the best books on sustainability.


OUR PLANET

From the same people that brought you Planet Earth, Our Planet is bursting with footage even more breathtaking and awe-inspiring thanks to the use of drones and other advances in filming technology.

Beyond just showing a variety of ecosystems inaccessible to most humans, this series also emphasizes how these fragile these places are and how humanity must do more to protect them.

Make sure to also check out Our Planet: Behind the Scenes to see what it takes to capture these remote places and get the perfect shot. 

BRAVE BLUE WORLD

Brave Blue World is a sustainability documentary about the world’s water crisis with serious star power. It features Matt Damon and Jaden Smith, who each have co-founded nonprofits related to water, as well as scientists and pioneers around the world who are tackling problems of water scarcity and sanitation.

This film is great for those looking for a documentary about water shortage that doesn’t shy away from the urgency of this problem but that has a hopeful tone.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET

Legendary naturalist David Attenborough has lived an extraordinary life in his 90+ years on this planet. In one of the latest and most powerful documentaries on climate change, he tells his story of encountering remarkable creatures but also witnessing the rapid destruction of their habitats.

Perfect for your climate change denying uncle (but important for everyone), this film is grave warning that if we don’t make dramatic changes soon, we’re headed for the next big extinction. 

MY OCTOPUS TEACHER

“What she taught me was to feel…that you’re part of this place, not a visitor. That’s a huge difference.” When filmmaker and photographer Craig Foster met a young octopus swimming near his home in South Africa, he decided to visit her every day for the next year.

What started as a whim soon becomes an obsession, and as he gains the trust of this intelligent creature, they form a connection that goes far beyond anything he’s experienced before. This moving film will take you on an emotional journey, so be sure to have tissues handy. 

CHASING CORAL

Coral reefs can live for thousands of years, but only under the right conditions. In this award-winning climate change documentary, a group of scientists, photographers, and divers set out to document the phenomenon of coral bleaching, which is killing off coral reefs at an unprecedented rate.

Chasing Coral will open your eyes to just how dire this issue is and how vital coral reefs are to both sea creatures and humans. 

THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE WATER

If you think Canada is an idyllic place of dense forests and good health coverage, you may want to think again.

Created by Ellen Paige and Ian Daniel, There’s Something in the Water reveals how, in Paige’s home province of Nova Scotia, environmental hazards disproportionately affect low income, often black and indigenous communities.

Exposing just how powerful and corrupt rich corporations and politicians are, this film is sure to spark discussion about the kinds of governments we need for a more healthy and sustainable future.

WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE

For some, the Amazon Rainforest is home; for others, it’s potential profit. Telling the story of indigenous activism in Peru, When Two Worlds Collide is a tale of people vs. power focused on the events surrounding the 2009 lethal clashes between protestors and police.

Its footage is shocking, but it’s one of the essential documentaries about environmental issues for those not wanting to turn a blind eye to environmental injustice.

MISSION BLUE

Renowned marine biologist and environmentalist Dr. Sylvia Earl puts it simply: “No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.”

This documentary on sustainability chronicles key moments in the career of this celebrity scientist and her quest to create a global network of protected marine sanctuaries – deemed Mission Blue.

With stunning underwater footage, this film will underscore just why the oceans are worth protecting. 

A PLASTIC OCEAN

An expedition to film blue whales ends up being overshadowed by – you guessed it – plastic. Shocked to see so much plastic in what should be a pristine ocean, an Australian journalist and world-record-breaking free diver decide to travel to twenty places around the world to investigate the extent of this problem.

If other sustainability movies haven’t persuaded you to go zero waste, A Plastic Ocean will give you that extra push.

WATERSCHOOL

You may know Swarovski for their jewelry and crystals, but did you know that they also have a water education initiative?

Waterschool follows six young women living along major rivers that have been inspired by Swarovski Water School’s program to become local leaders.

An uplifting story that shows the power of education and youth, this is a great sustainability documentary for educators and young people thinking about getting more involved in their communities. 

ISLANDS OF FAITH

Indonesia’s population is the fourth largest in the world and also one of the most devout. Islands of Faith takes you into seven different communities of this island nation, showing how religion informs their treatment of the environment.

From Hindus in Bali to Christians in West Papua, there’s a diversity of cultures and approaches to sustainability, but running through them all is the idea of humans as caretakers.

This film can bit a bit of a slow burn, but it’s great for those looking for a sustainable living documentary that foregrounds non-Western perspectives. 

TALES BY LIGHT

When it comes to bringing attention to issues and highlighting what’s worth protecting, photographers have an important role to play. Each episode of Tales By Light follows a different photographer as they capture creatures and cultures around the world.

With episodes showing the effects of the Western consumption on Bangladeshi children, quickly vanishing ocean diversity, and disappearing indigenous cultures, the third season especially highlights a need for more diverse approaches to sustainable development and conservation. 

ROTTEN

Is your avocado toast harming the planet? Rotten, a two-season sustainability documentary series produced by Netflix, will help you find out.

From common household foods like milk and chicken, to favorites like chocolate and avocados, each episode focuses on one food or beverage, explaining how it developed into a global industry. Along the way, the series unveils the fraud, corruption, and controversy that surrounds these foods by talking with producers, consumers, and industry experts.

If you’ve always wondered how your food is actually produced and how you can make more informed, sustainable choices, this series is for you. 

BROKEN

In a similar vein, Broken takes aim at the deception and lack of transparency in the production and marketing of consumer goods. Its first season addresses makeup, vaping, cheap furniture, and recycling, exposing how things so often marketed as safe, healthy, and eco friendly are actually harming both consumers and the environment.

This sustainability documentary series will make you forever skeptical of cheap prices and teach you how to be a smarter shopper. 

BILL NYE: THE SCIENCE GUY

Beloved for his live action science program from the 90s, Bill Nye the Science Guy is a household name who inspired a whole generation of scientists. While his mission in the 90s was to show kids how cool science is, these days he has a new mission: talking to adults and stopping the spread of anti-scientific thinking.

With plenty of his characteristic infectious passion, this film is for anyone who needs a good dose of positivity to get them excited about changing the world. 

THE IVORY GAME

The ivory trade is a dangerous game and sadly still a very profitable one. For this documentary, the directors, crew, and several subjects spent 16 months undercover, investigating the poaching of elephants and smuggling of ivory to China, ivory’s biggest market.

With plenty of deception and risk, this film is a thrill to watch, but it’s also a stark warning to governments that if they don’t do more to address this problem, elephants could be facing extinction within the next 15 years.

INSIDE BILL’S BRAIN: DECODING BILL GATES

Most people don’t think of Bill Gates as an environmentalist, but in his post-Microsoft career, he’s tackled some of the world’s biggest problems—from sanitation, to vaccination, to climate change.

This three-part documentary series tells his backstory but also focuses on the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is addressing huge global issues. Part 3, which explores the role that nuclear energy could play in climate solutions, will especially be interesting to those concerned about a sustainable future.

BIRDERS

Birds are fun to spot, but their presence is also an indication of a healthy ecosystem. Every year, various species of birds migrate from the US to Mexico, and this environmental documentary introduces viewers to people on both sides of the border that care about these birds and fight to protect the areas these species call home.

Not only for the avian obsessed, Birders is also for those wanting a US-Mexico border story that’s more about unity than division.

MINIMALISM

Could you be happier if you had less? This is the question Minimalism looks to answer as it examines our way of live and our obsession with always striving for more.

This sustainable living documentary interviews a range of people who have embraced the minimalism lifestyle and examines their reasons for doing so.

It’s an inspiring and entertaining watch that’ll have you re-evaluating what’s important in your own life.



Whether you’re looking to dive into coral reefs of Australia, find out the truth about avocados, or learn more about your childhood hero, this list of documentaries about sustainability and environmental issues has got you covered.

Not only will you come out of your down time more informed, but you’ll step away from your couch with a new understanding of what’s happening in the world and what you can do to help. 

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Land Wilson

Friday 4th of December 2020

This list is fantastic. Any way you can add the documentary Kiss the Ground? I think it is as important as Inconvenient True.

NIPUN

Sunday 19th of May 2019

thanks for this! Add plastic ocean to the list.

Stephanie Voytek

Tuesday 12th of February 2019

Bugs was a great one too!

Stephanie Voytek

Sunday 6th of January 2019

If you haven't already, I HIGHLY suggest watching "BuGs". It's no longer on Netflix, but I think it takes an amazing turn!!! IT questions what sustainability really means and I think EVERYONE should watch it!

Skie

Thursday 30th of August 2018

Sadly, some of these documentaries are no longer on netflix:( any other suggesTed documentaries you’ve seen on netflix?

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