My Top 5 Sustainability Documentaries

Sustainability sounds like a huge endeavor. It sounds as though it could be unmanageable or too much to take on. Even though I’m working towards more a more sustainable lifestyle, even I feel overwhelmed at times. When people ask me, “Why do you do it?” I find that sometimes I can’t explain it other than a feeling of purpose. But that doesn’t fully express my reasoning. While looking through my DVD queue on Netflix, I found some answers that give my thoughts more clarity. Looking up documentaries on sustainable-related topics brought up more results than I expected. If there’s a few that really illustrate my thoughts, it’s these five films:

The True Cost

I had heard loads about The True Cost when it came out in 2015, but I hadn’t made the time to watch it. Now that I’ve seen it, I understand why it’s become a well-known documentary within the sustainable fashion community. It’s not just because it focuses on the environmental and ethical impact of fashion, it’s also because the documentary is effective. It covers all of the areas of sustainability in fashion and why it matters. People often ask me why I care about fashion and how it is manufactured, and this documentary explains it all. Fashion is the second-most polluter in the world and it has devastating effects on others. Advocating for fashion to be more sustainable does not mean everything needs to be made from organic cotton. What it means is that we need to think about how we manufacture, consume, and dispose of fashion, and filmmaker Andrew Morgan does an excellent job of showing the full scale of the fashion industry’s impact.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

I first heard about Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things from a classmate who ironically watched it when wrapping Christmas gifts. While I don’t think minimalism is the only or best way to sustainable living, this documentary had some good points about over-consumption. While taking on my own version of the 100 Thing Challenge, the biggest takeaway is that when I give items away, I also need to think about why I acquired them in the first place. What this documentary does well is examining our relationship to things and why we consume more and how it affects us. Although I don’t think I’ll be downsizing to a tiny house or a few wardrobe items anytime soon, one of the main takeaways from this documentary is that you don’t have to immediately throw out everything in your life. Everyone’s journey towards well-being is different, and understanding how to improve our lives is much more beneficial than feeling guilty for not reducing everything we own to a few items.

Born into Brothels

While sustainability is usually associated with eco-friendly practices, I also think it’s tied to the sustainable living and well-being of everyone around the world. That’s why I felt it necessary to include documentaries that uncover the lifestyle of others who are overlooked or forgotten. Born into Brothels shows the stories of a photographer who strives to get young children of sex workers in India out of brothels and into schools. Because I’ve been reading Half the Sky, I was drawn to this documentary and could resonate with Zana Briski’s triumphs, frustrations, and moments of discourage as she works towards ending the cycle of poverty and abuse for these children. It’s easier said than done.

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Ever since high school biology, I have been fascinated with these islands and Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World fed my curiosity even more. What intrigued me about this documentary is that it took the focus of the Galapagos beyond the theory of evolution. From the history of Charles Darwin to the present day, this documentary told the story of the islands and how its unusual and unique inhabitants have evolved with the Galapagos. One of the important messages for me is how humans and the growing population have changed the island and what is being done to preserve it. The documentary was honest about conservation and showed how some steps are not always easy. I was torn thinking about the decisions made to eradicate the goat population that is destroying and devouring the native plant life. Protecting native plants is important to me, but eliminating goats was a solution that was hard to swallow. It’s a reminder to me that as the human population expands and grows, it comes with tough choices. Perhaps it’s OK to not see everything in the world. Maybe some things are better left undiscovered and unvisited.

Before the Flood

Carefully crafted and compelling, Before the Flood is one movie that shows how the environment is repeatedly tied up and intertwined in politics and economics. It may not seem credible to have Hollywood movie star Leonardo DiCaprio talking about the environment, but this documentary shows that climate change is an issue that affects everyone, it doesn’t matter where you live, your status, or your background. What this film made me realize is that every action we take has an impact, even if we think it’s a small decision that has no importance. While it sounds overwhelming and depressing to think about we affect the environment, what’s empowering and inspiring is how the end of the movie shows what we can do to make choices that lead to positive results.

I’ve included each of these films not only for the insights they’ve given me but also because they answer questions I’ve had when asked about why I support sustainability or think about where my clothing comes from and how it is made. We often phrase this issue as preserving and saving the environment. What we don’t seem to understand is that the natural world will continue, what will end is humanity. Perhaps this is the conversation we need to start having when it comes to the environment and the choices we make.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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