21 Must-Watch Documentaries on Sustainability, Health and Living an Eco-Friendly Lifestyle

Byron and Tammy watching Netflix in front of the fire

Why have we put together a list of sustainable documentaries? Well, because we believe that the best thing to do when you don’t understand or aren’t aware of a crisis is to educate yourself. That is exactly what we decided to do at the beginning of the year.

A sustainable lifestyle may be something you have never heard of before or you have never really considered it for yourself. We were completely unaware ourselves until we saw it first hand. Now we realize it’s time to change and take action.

We realise educating yourself can seem like a challenge, I mean, where do you even start? Do I read a book, what book, what do I even Google? Luckily for us, sustainable documentaries are a great way for us to learn, all you have to do is cosy up on the couch and hit play.

We have put together a list of sustainable documentaries that had a big impact on us and led us down the road to changing our lives. Maybe not all of them are completely sustainable or about living an eco-friendly lifestyle, but we think they form a bigger part of the picture. From climate change to ethical consumerism, to animal welfare, to eating sustainably. We hope you enjoy!

We watched these sustainable documentaries on multiple platforms, but you will find most on Netflix and YouTube, the others you will have to support the documentary by renting or buying the film and streaming it on Google Play, iTunes or Amazon.


Let’s Talk Sustainability: Becoming Eco-Friendly and the Effects of Climate Change.

Byron and Tammy sitting on a jetty and taking in the view over the Vaal river

1) Down to Earth with Zac Effron

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

This is a series of sustainable documentaries with Zac Efron, yes, the heartthrob from High School Musical who captured every teen’s heart in my generation. Well, now he is a heartthrob man exploring what a healthy and sustainable lifestyle means to people around the world with his best friend/mentor Darin Olien. This is a great series to start with because it addresses certain issues in a more lighthearted way, where you can relate to Zac, Darin and his crew. They go to Iceland to see how they are creating and harnessing renewable energy, they explore the blue zones of Sardinia and even go to the amazon jungle to explore ayahuasca. I was also excited to see Deliciously Ella make a feature!


Now it’s time to really start delving deep into the problem. We saw how Zac and his crew discovered how people are trying to change, but why is that so important?

Let’s take a look…


2) Chasing Ice

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

This documentary really left me speechless. It was my first look into climate change and the effects that it has already had on the earth. It follows James Balog, a Nature photographer, and his crew as they bring awareness to the issue.

They go around the Artic taking time-lapse photography to prove how climate change is destroying glaciers. You get to physically see glaciers that have been around for decades just suddenly disappear in the blink of an eye – it is very scary.


3) Before the Flood

Available = You can stream it on platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

Before the Flood follows Leonardo DiCaprio, actor and UN Messenger of Peace, as he meets up with different scientists, activists and politicians to discuss what is happening in the world right now with regards to climate change and what we need to do to fight it.

They explore how the Arctic and Greenland are disappearing, how 50% of coral reefs have been lost, the effects of animal agriculture, and how despite having scientific proof, politicians have turned a blind eye due to corporate influence and money.


4) This Changes Everything

Available = You can stream it on platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

This documentary is a little different. Naomi Klein addresses climate change from a more selfish viewpoint, a viewpoint that doesn’t really address the earth and its creatures but makes humans the most important party. Which is also valid because it takes a look at capitalism and how certain groups of people are suffering while others profit.


What About The Fight To Protect Our Oceans and Wildlife?


5) A Plastic Ocean

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

Unfortunately, we live in a world dominated by plastic right now; with production not decreasing but increasing! Plastic bottles, plastic grocery bags, earbuds, straws, you name it.

This documentary was supposed to capture the beauty of the blue whale, one of the biggest animals on the planet, but this quickly became something more when Craig Leeson was confronted with massive loads of plastic debris floating in the ocean. This documentary debunks the myth that everything can be recycled. It shows the damage of never decomposing plastics and how they are ending up in the marine life and in our food.


6) Mission Blue

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

The whole goal of Mission Blue is to protect the ocean and to restore it to its former glory. You follow Sylvia Earle, a leading female oceanographer, marine biologist, and environmentalist on her struggle to spread awareness. She believes that the ocean is dying and she talks about the huge amounts of oil that is being released into the Gulf of Mexico.


7) Chasing Coral

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

Have you ever heard of coral bleaching? Basically, it’s when the water temperature dramatically changes and becomes too warm (or too cold), it turns the coral white and essentially the colourful coral that once housed many different species of fish is now a barren wasteland of coral skeletons.

Follow the team as they run tests and religiously photograph coral for months on end to capture the dramatic changes.


8) 50 Minutes to Save the World

Available = YouTube

This is a great take on saving the ocean and its coral reef done by some big YouTube names. It touches on coral bleaching, pesticides from crops entering the ocean, plastic laying around on the beach and in the ocean. It also takes a brief look at what life might look for us in 2050 if we decide to do nothing about these issues.


9) Racing Extinction

Available = You can stream it on platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

This documentary talks about the impending extinction that our planet is currently facing. Through illegal fishing and hunting to the CO₂ created by fossil fuels and agriculture. Species are going extinct before our eyes. We need to do something about it. They encourage people to start with just one thing – one thing that can make a difference and promote change.


10) The Cove

Available = You can stream it on platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

The Cove was probably one of the first wildlife/sustainable documentaries I ever watched. It’s about the mass dolphin fishing and slaughters in Japan. This was absolutely brutal to watch. We have grown up seeing Dolphins as these angels that have protected humans in the ocean for years, intelligent mammals who are in some ways way more intelligent than us. Now they are being slaughtered and sold as “circus animals” for marine parks and as meat.


Let’s Look At How We Eat.

Why Should You Consider Becoming Vegan?

How The Things We Eat Affect Our Bodies And The Environment.


11) Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

Cowspiracy is one of the sustainable documentaries that calls out or exposes the damage animal agriculture has on our environment, and the animals themselves. The belief is that animal agriculture is the leading source of greenhouse gases, deforestation, and water usage.

I fully believe a plant-based lifestyle is more sustainable, I (Tammy) transitioned over to a vegan, plant-based lifestyle about 7 months ago now. I think it is just so scary that there is so little information on the subject.

However, that’s what this whole thing is about: where is the information? The documentary was produced and supported by Hollywood sensation and UN Messenger of Peace, Leonardo di Caprio, whom I trust when it comes to standing up for the environment.

This reminds me of a documentary I watched about the great migration in the Serengeti. One of the biggest issues they are facing is the growth in cattle farming and the grazing of land and people killing wildlife so that they can graze their cattle.

I recommend that if you watch Cowspiracy, you also watch the vegan films below, it really fills out the questions asked in Cowspiracy.


12) Vegan 2017, 2018, 2019

Available = YouTube

The Future is Vegan.

There is proof that animal agriculture contributes more than half of our greenhouse gases. Doctors also prove why a plant-based diet is much better for our overall health, debunking the myth that we have been told about getting our protein from animals along the way. Not to mention the appalling cruelty and disregard for animals that this documentary looks into.

If you have ever thought about veganism and aren’t sure, give these a watch.


13) The Game Changers

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

This is one of the most positive and encouraging sustainable plant-based documentaries that I’ve ever watched. It documents different athletes who are plant-based and how it drastically improved their performance, health and life in general. The Game Changers gives you the facts and encourages you to consider it for yourself, however at the end of the day, it is your own choice. It just makes you aware of the benefits.

I also find it interesting that the movie was produced by James Cameron and Jackie Chan, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in the film.


14) Just Eat It

Available = YouTube

This is a fascinating look into food waste. From food wasted by big supermarkets to food wasted by us in our everyday lives.

Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin, a Canadian couple, decide to conduct an experiment. The goal: to live off of food waste for 6 months straight! And no, not half-eaten, decaying food, whole food items that have been thrown away because of not meeting perfection standards or being tossed out because the date is soon to expire. The question is how does this type of food waste harm our environment? LANDFILLS! (Not to mention starving families.)


15) What the Health

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

What the Health is another documentary by Kip Andersen, the creator of Cowspiracy. Now, I’m not really a fan of how Kip puts his sustainable documentaries together, as they can seem a little too dramatic and feel a bit aggressive, but I do think the message in the documentary is very important. It encourages people to switch to a plant-based diet, why it has massive health and environmental benefits.


Does Consumerism Have A Role To Play? What About Fast Fashion And The Accumulation Of Things We Don’t Need?


16) The True Cost

Available = You can stream it on platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

This documentary looks at the fashion industry and the effects that fast fashion has on, not only the environment, but the people who suffer every day in worker factories to make that fast fashion happen.

It talks about how fashion has changed from a seasonal affair to a new weekly fad, making the demand for clothing skyrocket.

It makes you think about consuming less and consuming smarter as factories collapse, workers are paid $10 a month, their rivers become polluted with toxic chemicals and villages suffer from jaundice, cancer and birth deformities. This is all so that we can buy fast fashion, quicker and cheaper. This is really a tear-jerker.


17) Minimalism

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

This documentary makes you feel sick about our need for quick, mass consumption. We wait in lines through the night, fight with people we don’t know to lay our hands on something we use twice, and never again. Now I don’t think shopping or consumerism is a bad thing, and maybe it’s not necessary to go completely minimalistic, but this is definitely eye-opening and makes you ask the question, ‘do I really need this and if I support this brand, am I aiding my fight for a better environment?’


18) Tiny House Nation

Available = Netflix (South Africa ✔)

This one is a little more lighthearted than the rest. It is a fun design show based around tiny houses; houses built to minimise what people own and more cost-effective living options. They create some really cute living spaces and I’m always amazed at how they manage to do so much with such a small space.


What About Tourism? Our Beloved Industry, What Effects Do We Leave On Our Planet?


19) Crowded Out: The Story of Overtourism

Available = YouTube

Overtourism is a huge problem. If you have ever visited a popular destination, you will know about it. Tour companies lining people up for an exhibit or attraction, but only allowing them in for what seems like 2 minutes because it’s so busy and fast-paced. It’s crowded, uncomfortable, and nonconducive to the locals, who are starting to lose their culture and lifestyle.

But, what do we do? We want to travel and see other cultures, I mean that’s the whole point. So let’s talk about that more in detail.


20) How to Save Tourism from Itself

Available = YouTube

This speech is more about the tourism industry itself, but they do touch on the fact that if we keep mistreating the earth, soon there will be nothing for people to see. How do we stop overtourism and mass destruction to popular destinations? It’s time for the tourism industry to change and do business differently.


There are SO many examples out there, telling us why it is imperative to change. How much longer are we going to pretend and ignore the issues presented to us. Educate yourself, be aware and stand up for the planet and its inhabitants. There will be a lot of “haters” along the way, but be kind and caring, not judgmental, this is what the whole movement is about: caring!

I know what you are thinking… Well, flip that was hectic, heavy and uncomfortable. How can little me do something?

I have attached our article on sustainable living down below. We have started to implement small steps to change, sure maybe they seem pointless and like you won’t make a difference, but you will and it is a good place to start. You can’t change the world without taking the first step.

Go Read: Go Green This Year: 20 Changes We Have Made To Live A More Sustainable Lifestyle


21.) Other Documentaries We Think Are Worth Watching.


How to Change The World

This documents the beginning of the environmental activist group Greenpeace. A group that started in the 1970s in an attempt to stop a nuclear test called Amchitka. It failed but started a huge movement, one that is still followed today.

Fire in Paradise

This addresses the wildfires in Paradise, California. It is absolutely chilling to see what people went through. They literally lost everything and will be haunted for life. The fires that have been happening are unprecedented, nothing like they have ever seen before, could it be due to climate change?

Tapped

Tapped takes a deep look at the water bottle industries. Where they get their water from, what chemicals can be found in plastic water bottles and what happens to those water bottles when you throw them away (where exactly is “away”?).

The Ivory Game

I think living in South Africa we are all very aware of the ivory trade. We have grown up with these majestic animals and understand their ways, how intelligent and caring they are. To see them being poached is absolutely heartbreaking. What’s worse, it’s for no reason.

We hope that you enjoyed watching some or even all of these sustainable documentaries and that it proved to be somewhat inspirational, educational and helpful. If you only take away one thing from this post, we hope that it’s the awareness that change needs to come about.

We do not share these things to be judgemental, or condescending but to highlight that we have to care. Care about people, care about our planet and care about the animals we have been blessed with. This is our journey too and all we ask is that you join us in imperfectly making changes the best we can!


Did you watch some of these? Which were your favourite? Do you have any sustainable documentaries you believe we should add to this list? Let’s chat below!

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All opinions and views expressed in this article are our own. This article does not serve as medical or scientifical advice, but rather provides a safe space from which personal learning journies can begin.

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