Want a fun way to increase your knowledge of how environmental issues impact your line of work? Looking for a career that could become your life’s passion? Believe it or not, your Netflix queue might be your biggest ally.
Below are 10 films that every sustainability professional and green job seeker should see. Not only are they beautiful, moving, and, at times funny, they also provide useful business context to the toughest environmental challenges. These films take a step beyond just creating awareness of an issue to presenting the friction between different perspectives with a pragmatic or economic lens.
So next time you’re looking for a night of Netflix, consider upgrading to one of these flicks. It could just move your green career forward.
1. Chasing Ice
This visually breathtaking film illustrates the impact of global warming on arctic glaciers. James Balog, a former scientist turned National Geographic photographer, is on a mission to document the rate at which these ice forms are disappearing, compressing years of movement into seconds. For environmental professionals, this film is a lesson on how to use emotional connections—not just scientific facts—to effect change.
This is the funny story of a man and his wife, two-year-old daughter, and dog who go off-grid for one year in New York City in order to minimize their environmental impact. Is it even possible? The film shows how city infrastructure makes it possible—or a pain in the ass—to minimize your daily footprint as a consumer and shows gaps where new solutions are needed in the marketplace for good living (and where career opportunities are present).
The film that spawned the U.S. dialogue on the practice of hydraulic fracturing known as fracking, Gasland features residents living in communities where the practice occurs, representatives of natural gas companies, and testimony from Congressional hearings. Though natural gas had been upheld as a clean source of energy, certainly cleaner than coal, the massive scale of fracking is now calling into question its impacts on everything from drinking water safety to the creation of new earthquake zones. The original film was so popular, there is now a sequel—Gasland II.
What a difference a decade makes. It’s hard to imagine such drama over electric vehicles in an age where the Tesla Model S is the new aspirational car. This film details General Motors’ plan to put the kibosh on its own electric-car R&D—and take back its electric cars from satisfied California drivers who want to keep them. It’s an interesting look back at the economics of oil and how car companies and consumers think about the environment. To me, this film highlights how much mindsets toward the petroleum infrastructure have changed over the last 10 years and is a lesson on how big companies can change their tunes.
5. Food Inc.
Food Inc. profiles the impacts of agribusiness on the balance of social, political, and environmental systems in the U.S. Going beyond just issues of animal cruelty, the film explores the entire food ecosystem from chicken farms to U.S. farm policy to corporate agriculture giants like Purdue and Monsanto, and how retailers like Walmart impact whole economies. Food and agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. How does it affect your industry?
Probably the most popular movie on this list, Blackfish puts ocean mammal captivity under the microscope. The interesting outcome of this issue from a business perspective is the concept of “eco tourism”—how it’s defined and the risks and benefits associated with the travel and entertainment industries through resulting boycotts and regulations. The Cove is another related documentary for those interested in the environmental impacts of dolphin fishing.
This animated short film by Annie Leonard explains where all of our stuff comes from. It’s kind of like Schoolhouse Rock for adults looking to learn about the economics of industrialized consumerism. It’s a bit of preaching to the choir but also a helpful visual breakdown of a daunting topic. This seminal work has morphed into its own series and is also a book. (Story of Solutions is the latest in the series.) Anyone who works for a company that makes “stuff” should see this clip.
Everyone remembers the line about plastics from The Graduate. But what happens when our love of chemicals goes out of control? This is a rare examination of the 800,000 toxic substances in our everyday lives, the impacts on our bodies and the environment, and the ways consumers can limit exposure. As I mentioned in a previous article, chemicals of concern in consumer products are going to be the next major issue of our time, providing lots of opportunities for companies and job seekers alike.
Depending on who you ask, this was either the most important or the most damning film for the environmental movement. It laid out the case for global warming in scientific terms and became a template for the modern documentary. Definitely a must-see for anyone interested in the environment, politics, or working in the field of energy—and absolutely a lesson for anyone in communications or advocacy on the politics of change.
“Global warming is an issue of ‘how’ we live, the water crisis is an issue of ‘if’ we live.” Blue Gold takes a look at the future of water and suggests that wars will increasingly be fought over water instead of oil. Sam Bozzo’s documentary is based on the book Blue Gold: The Right to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. Watching this film, it dawned on me that it may become illegal to capture your own rainwater in the future as many French-based companies race to own the planet’s water. My bet is that water will provide a huge set of job opportunities in the next five to 10 years, so get a head start by checking out this film.
If you work in sustainability or if you are looking to get into the field, chances are your colleagues have seen these movies. They may even reference them in the workplace. If they haven’t, you can be the awesome person in their network who recommended their new favorite documentary. Most importantly, these films can teach you not what to think, but how to think as a professional—looking at issues and opportunities from every angle.
Photo of remote courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsGoing Green , Movies , Break Room , Syndication , Career Paths , Trending Topics , TV & Movies , Exploring Career Paths , The Real Green by Emily Chan
Emily Chan is a sustainability strategist based in San Francisco with ten years of experience in non-profit management, corporate strategy, and consulting. She advises executives at Fortune 500s in the tech, utility, and consumer products sectors on sustainability and is an Advisory Board member at SXSWEco.More from this Author