NOTE: A few more have been added thanks to your suggestions so we are now at 125. Have I missed any? Send me a quick email with your suggestions.
Documentaries have the power to help us dive, often deep, into a world we wouldn’t usually have the chance to. There are so many strong documentaries around the world covering a whole range of topics from different perspectives, some well balanced, others quite controversial, but all with an important message. Some will make you fall in love with the planet while others will make you mad.
Here is a regularly updated list of sustainability related documentaries, organised roughly by SDG. I say roughly because most go across multiple SDGs. Please keep that in mind.
Note that many of these movies are available in other languages but unfortunately this list does not include so many of the impressive documentaries that are not available in English. This is really just the tip of the iceberg, so to say.
SDG 2: Zero Hunger
- Forks Over Knives (2011):Documentary looking at the possibility of people changing their diets from animal based to plant based.
- In Defence of Food(2015): This documentary follows three meat and cheese loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks.
- The End of Meat(2017): This documentary exposes the brutal impact of meat consumption, while also exploring what a shift to a more compassionate diet can look like.
- Sustainable (2016):This documentary unpacks the food supply chin from the perspective of those at the start: farmers.
- Ten Billion (2015): This documentary looks at the future of our planet and climate change and overpopulation.
- Dominion (2018): Australian documentary that exposes the dark underbelly of modern animal agriculture.
SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being
- Fire in the Blood(2012) This film looks at the Western pharmaceutical industry’s aggressive blocking of access to low-cost AIDS drugs for the countries of Africa in the years after 1996.
- Prescription Thugs(2015): This documentary looks at the opioid epidemic raging across the U.S.
- Rosetta(1999) This movie, which won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes film festival, follows the life and challenges of a young, poor Belgian teenager living on a trailer park with her alcoholic mother.
- Super Size Me(2004): Director eats only McDonald’s for an entire month in an attempt to establish the damage fast food does to our bodies.
- Take Your Pills(2018): This documentary looks at the $13 billion industry of stimulants which are used not only to treat children with ADHD, but to fuel students, athletes and professionals.
- Médecine Man(2007): Documentary that shares the amazing life and achievements of a ‘fixed Native American medicine man.
- Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak(2020): This docuseries was actually released right before COVID-19 started and profiles the men and women on the front lines of the battle against influenza and the steps they are taking to stop the next global outbreak.
SDG 4: Quality Education
- Idiocracy(2006): Not a documentary but a movie that follows a man who wakes up 500 years in the future and realises he is the smartest person on earth.
- Ivory Tower(2014): This educational film explores the high cost of college education and whether it is worth it or not.
- He Named Me Malala(2012): This documentary looks at the life of Malala Yousafzai who was shot for her advocacy on behalf of girls’ education in Pakistan.
SDG 5: Gender Equality
- A Girl in the River(2015): Recounts the story of a young woman who survived an attempted murder at the hands of her father for falling in love with the wrong person. Explores the topic of “honour killings”.
- Audrie & Daisy(2016): Documentary about the ramifications of sexual assault.
- Behind the Wheel: Egypt’s Women Drivers (2016): This documentary explores the stories of Egyptian women who spend their days behind the wheels of everything from a rickshaw to a 36-tone truck.
- Girl Rising(2013): Filmed in 9 countries on 4 continents, this documentary is about nine different girls who each have a story about overcoming societal and cultural barriers.
- Ladies First(2017): This film tells the story of a female athletes born in rural India, where women’s rights are severely limited, who went on to become one of the best female archers in the world at just 18 years old.
- Made in Cambodia(2017): This movie follows three Parsons fashion design students from NYC as they embark on a journey to Cambodia to experience the day-to-day lives of the invisible women behind our fashion.
- Miss Representation(2011): Film that looks into the problematic and reductive ways the media portrays women.
- One Child Nation(2019): This documentary explores China’s One Child Policy and interviews people about how they were affected.
- Knock Down the House(2019): Behind the scenes view of the campaigns of four women with no political experience or corporate money campaigning in the US elections.
- End of Sentence.(2017): This is a short documentary showing that a period should be the end of a sentence, not the end of a girl’s education. It won an Oscar in 2018.
- Good Morning Pakistan(2018): This film follows women working in one of the most dangerous and conservatives areas of Pakistan.
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- NOVA: Poisoned Water(2017): This documentary looks at the water crisis in Flint Michigan and unravels a disturbing truth about the vulnerabilities of water systems across the country.
- Water and Power: A California Heist(2017): A documentary on how small farmers and everyday citizens are facing drought because of California’s convoluted water system.
SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
- Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution(2017): This documentary looks at the future of sustainable, renewable energy. Frackman (2015): Australian documentary on a former construction workers turned anti-fracking activist.
- Gasland(2010): Documentary focusing on communities in the US where natural gas drilling activity was a concern.
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
- A Decent Factory(2005): This older documentary explores outsourcing and the working conditions at Chinese factories.
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
- Dark Money(2018): Explores how dark money floods elections in the United States.
- The True Cost(2015): Pulls back the curtain on the fashion industry to give viewers an honest look at the human and environmental costs of producing clothing.
- The Third Industrial Revolution: A Radical New Sharing Economy(2017): A road map to usher in a new era of sustainable development proposed by social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin.
- The Promise of Biomimicry(2020): This short, 20 minute movie looks at nature inspired design and biomimicry.
- The Age of Consequences(2016): This documentary focuses on how resource scarcity, water stress, food shortages and extreme weather events have created friction and instability and acted as a catalyst for global conflicts.
- The American Factory(2019): A Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio and early days of hope and optimistic give way to setbacks.
- Thank you for Smoking(2005): Satirical black comedy film that follows the efforts of Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman who lobbies on behalf of cigarettes while trying to be a role model to his 12 year old.
- The 4thRevolution: Energy Autonomy (2010): This documentary is about renewable energy and how to reconstruct the economy to enable society to obtain 100% of its energy from renewable sources.
- Search for the Super Battery(2017): Looks at energy storage and how it may help provide an environmentally friendly future.
- Honeyland (2019): A movie about a beekeeper in North Macedonia who uses ancient techniques, but whose life is changed when a new family moves in nearby, bringing modern technology with them.
SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities
- Crip Camp(2020): This documentary looks into a summer camp that revolutionized the disability movement.
- When the River Runs Dry(2020): Documentary that dives into the story behind one of Australia’s worst environmental disasters and the impacts it has on Indigenous and non Indigenous peoples.
- The Wolfpack(2015): The story about six brothers confined to a new York apartment for their entire lives and what happens when one gets out.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Divided Cities(2019): A series produced by The Guardian looking at five cities that reflect big global divisions in surprising and troubling ways.
- Under the Sun(2015): This film explores the life of a girl and her family in North Korea.
- Urbanized (2011): This film is a crash course in urban design and the challenges and opportunities cities will face when populations increase.
- Tomorrow(2015): A French documentary about creative solutions to environmental and social challenges around the world.
SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
- Art and Craft(2014): This documentary explores the lucrative game of art forgery and looks at what we call art.
- Bag It(2010): This documentary looks at our reliance on plastic bags, where they end up, and the impact they have on our planet.
- Blood in the mobile(2010): Documentary that looks at conflict minerals bought from Congo and used in cell phones.
- Burt’s Buzz(2013): This documentary dives into the story of Burt Shavitz, a reclusive beekeeper who started eco company Burt’s Bees.
- Closing the Loop(2018): Feature length documentary film on the circular economy, available in multiple languages.
- Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret(2014): This documentary looks at how factory farming is decimating the planet’s natural resources, and why this crisis has been largely ignored by major environmental groups.
- Earthlings(2005): Documentary that exposes the suffering enduring by animals at factory farms, research labs, puppy mills and more.
- Garbage Warrior(2007): This film documents eco architecture.
- No Impact Man(2009): Documentary that follows a NYC based family as they abandon their high consumption 5th Avenue lifestyle and try to live a year while making no net environmental impact.
- Minimalism: A documentary about the Important Things explores the true value of things as it looks into the growing lifestyle of living with less.
- Plastic China(2016): This documentary focuses on Yi-Jie, an unschooled 11 year old girl whose family works and lives in a typical plastic waste household recycling workshop.
- Plastic Paradise(2013): This documentary looks at the great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- Rotten(2018): A six part documentary series on Netflix that looks at corruption, waste and danger behind the food we eat.
- Just Eat It! (2014):This show explores how Americans throw away nearly half of all the food they pay for in the trash every year.
- Manufactured Landscapes(2006): This feature length documentary looks at the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky as he explores the subtle beauty amid the waste generated by slap heaps, dumps and factories.
- WALL-E(2008): While this may not seem like a movie about sustainability, it has a powerful message about possibilities and consequences if society continues on its present course.
- The Art of Downsizing (2020): Documentary that follows three seniors as they are making that big change in their life of moving to a smaller place and what they keep and what they let go.
- The Biggest Little Farm(2018): A couple are followed through their successes and failures as they work to develop a sustainable farm on 200 acres outside of Los Angeles.
- The Clean Bin Project(2010): A Canadian couple challenge each other to go a year without producing waste.
- The Game Changers(2018): This movie focuses on plant-based eating and a quest to find out the truth about meat.
- Wasted! The Story of Food Waste(2017): This documentary explores both a broken food system and possible solutions to our 21st century issue of food waste.
- Waste Land(2010): Explores the life of contadores, men and women who pick through refuse to create art out of recycled materials in the world’s largest garbage landfill in Brazil.
- The River and the Wall(2019): Explores the environmental impact that a wall would have if it went up along the Mexican/US border.
- The Story of Stuff(2007): Short animated documentary on the lifecycle of material goods. Several other Story of videos were also produced.
- To the ends of the Earth(2016): Follows concerned citizens living at the frontiers of extreme oil and gas extraction.
- The First Monday in May(2016): This documentary looks at the organisation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and explores how institutions can keep up with changing times.
SDG 13: Climate Action
- An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power(2017): Award winning documentary by Former American Vice President Al Gore that focuses on climate policy.
- An Inconvenient Truth(2006): The original movie that educates people about global warming.
- Before the Flood(2016): Leonardo DiCaprio travels the world, documenting the impact of climate change and talking to experts along the way.
- Years of Living Dangerously(2014): A series that features firsthand accounts from people who have been affected by climate change.
- 2040(2019): Explores the solutions to climate change rather than the problems.
- True North(2018): Documentary looks at remote Arctic locations in order to ascertain how climate change is affecting local populations and ecosystems.
- The Island President (2017): A documentary that take you through the extensive efforts of then president of the Maldives to protect the island from the effects of climate change.
- Ice on Fire(2019): This documentary explores the potential for mass extinction as a result of Arctic methane gasses seeping into the air as the icecaps melt.
- I am Greta (2020): Documentary on teenage climate activist and her crusade around climate change.
SDG 14: Life Below Water
- A Plastic Ocean(2016): A documentary looking at the startling amount of plastic pollution present in the world’s oceans.
- Artifishal(2019): This documentary explores the impact of over fishing and how our taste for seafood is devastating wildlife.
- Blue(2017): A provocative journey into the ocean realm highlights a critical moment in time when the marine world is on a precipice.
- Chasing Coral (2017): This film follows a group of divers, scientists and photographers around the world as they seek to learn more about ocean coral and their role as part of the planet’s delicate ecosystem.
- Chasing Ice(2012): Documentary that explores the planet’s rapidly melting glaciers.
- Drowning in Plastic(2018): Wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin explores pristine and isolated coastal environments to highlight how a plastic bottle can be utterly destructive for fragile ecosystems.
- Rubber Jellyfish (2018): The story of how helium balloons negatively impact the environment.
- Oceans (2009): This movie is a celebration of oceans, covering the vital relationship that the oceans play in the health of the planet.
- Rancher Farmer Fisherman(2017): This documentary showcases conservation heroes from around the world.
- Riverblue(2017): Canadian conservationist heads out on a three year river journey around the world to document the damage caused to the world’s water supplies by the fashion industry.
- The Memory of Fish(2016): This is a documentary that focuses on the story of one man the wild salmon he loves, and his fight to free a river.
- Defend, Conserve, Protect (2019): pits marine conservation group Sea Sheaprrd against the Japanese whaling fleet.
- Sea of Shadows(2019): Undercover journalists, environmentalists and scientists team up with the Mexican navy to save the last remaining vaquitas (a species of porpoise) in the Gulf of California being driven to extinction from Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers among other threats.
- The Cove(2009): This documentary looks at dolphin hunting practices in Japan and was awarded the 2019 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
SDG 15: Life on Land
- A Beautiful Planet(2016): A collaboration between IMAX and NASA that showcases the view of earth from the perspective of those on board the International Space Station.
- Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018): This movie explores the impact that humans have had on the planet, the conclusion of 10 years’ research finding the world is irreversibly changed.
- Crude (2009): This documentary looks into a major environmental disaster in the Amazon that involves the oil industry in Ecuador (which is still ongoing).
- Fools & Dreamers: Regenerating a Native Forest:A 30-minute documentary about the Hinewai Nature Reserve in New Zealand and innovative forest regeneration techniques used there.
- Free Solo(2017): A man’s quest to climb a 3,000 foot granite wall in Yosemite, US and the emotional decisions he faces.
- Kifaru(2019): A documentary about people caring for Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world.
- More than honey(2012): Beekeepers, scientists and others discuss the world’s declining bee population and what it may mean for modern society.
- The Pollinators (2019): Tells the story of bees that make America’s food supply possible.
- Hostile Planet(2019): A six-part nature series from National Geographic’s.
- Okja(2017): A South Korean-American film about a girl who raises a genetically modified superpig.
- Our Planet(2019): An original nature docuseries on Netflix narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
- Treeline(2019): A movie all about trees.
- The Ivory Game(2016): The film examines the ivory trade, which has become a global concern, pitting governments and environmental preservationalists against poachers and Chinese ivory merchants.
- The Last Animals (2017): A Photojournalists exposes the epidemic of poachers who are killing the endangered northern white rhino.
- Into the Wild(2007): Documentary that follows a young man who abandoned the comfort of modern civilisation to live off the land.
- Patrimonio (2018): Movie that explores how rampant, unsustainable development is destroying communities, ecosystems and long held ways of life all over the world, and how it can be stopped.
- Planetary(2015): This is a wakeup call, a cross continental, cinematic journey that explores our cosmic origins and out future as a species.
- Seven Worlds, One Planet(2019): A series of 7 episodes, narrated by Attenborough, that bring viewers across the 7 continents.
- Virunga(2014): A documentary that tells the story of one of Africa’s most famous, and most threatened, national wildlife areas, Virunga National Park.
SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
- Children of Syria(2016): Documentary about the over 6.7 million refugees that have fled violence in Syria, but with a particular focus on the youngest.
- Dirty Money(2018): This TV show explores corruption, corporate fraud and the way banks, companies and individuals contribute to illicit activities around the world.
- Enron (2001): Documentary examines the scandal that shook the business world and the economy when Enron Corporation went belly up.
- 13th (2016): This intense documentary looks at criminalization of African Americans and the prison problem in the US.
- The Edge of Democracy(2019): Political documentary and personal memoir collide in this exploration into the complex truth behind the unravelling of two Brazilian presidencies.
- The Act of Killing(2012): Filmmaker exposes the horrifying mass executions of accused communists in Indonesia and those who are celebrated in their country for perpetrating the crime.
- Standing Tall (2016): This is the story of five women from Asia, Africa and Latin America who tell their own stories of resilience amidst violence and inequality.
- Human Flow (2017): Chinese director Ai Weiwei sets out to depict the plight of the more than 65 million people who have been forced to escape their home around the world because of famine, climate change and war.
- Change the World (2015): Documentary about the story behind Greenpeace.