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12 eye-opening sustainability videos from 2016

Watch the phenomenal strides made towards the future of long-term business, social and environmental sustainability.

Sustainability has been complicated in 2016. We’ve witnessed rising global temperatures, the acceptance of the Paris Agreement, the elevation of Native American voices and the rise of resilience in cities. Social impact has become embedded into more business strategies while companies accumulated and assimilated more data through the Internet of Things.

At its best, media informs and simplifies the changing world, but a surplus of information does not always help. Digital media has had a complex year, with both traditional and "fake" news blamed for deepening political divisions in the U.S.

Each of these 12 videos, on the other hand, tells a sustainability story clearly and creatively in 15 minutes or less. This assortment from a mix of corporate and nonprofit voices offers lessons in effective messaging, as well as a snapshot of the state of sustainability over the past year.

1. The Refuge

For hundreds of generations, the Gwich’in people of Alaska and northern Canada have relied on the caribou migrating from the Arctic Refuge. The caribou, and the refuge, are at the heart of their culture and diet. This Patagonia-produced documentary opens with footage of American politicians and businesspeople lobbying for oil extraction in the region — a battle they have now been fighting against conservationists for 30 years.

“The Arctic Plane is really nothing,” the lobbyists proclaim. “It is not the heart.” The documentary then takes us to the stunning, pristine refuge and follows the story of two Gwich’in women who are fighting for the survival of their people, the caribou and the designation of the Arctic Refuge coastal plane as protected wilderness.

2. A Love Story

This animated short is Chipotle’s follow-up to the beloved — and controversial — “The Scarecrow”, which critics brushed off as corporate hypocrisy by the fast food giant. “A Love Story” is a similar parable about the dangers of unsustainable businesses that grow too quickly, chasing profits over principles.

In it, two kids, Evie and Ivan, open rival juice stands (hers, lemonade and his, orange juice) on a small-town street. The stands evolve into massive chains, Lemon Land and Mister Orange, that bid to outdo each another with menu offerings pumped full of toxic ingredients, like sparkles. Eventually, they realize they’ve lost control of their visions and together open a small, fresh food cart. The video is worth watching just for the cover of “I Want It That Way” by the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

3. Nature is Speaking: Joan Chen Is Sky

Conservation International’s stunning “Nature is Speaking” video series uses dramatic celebrity voice-overs to anthropomorphize the powerful natural forces we take for granted. It warns us that people need nature; nature doesn’t need people.

The series continues with Joan Chen as Sky, the protective blanket that gives people breath and offers protection from the sun’s  rays. But she is also delicate, and the polluting effects of human industry are causing her tailspin into severe storms and heat. So look up.

4. True Business Sustainability

How do you make the economics principles of business sustainability interesting? The University of St. Gallen figured it out with its Little Green Bags series, which breaks down how to do business with environmental, social and governance benefits.  

Here, we learn about the four kind of sustainable businesses: 0.0, or business purely for monetary gain. The 1.0 approach sees social and ecological concerns as a means to an end. 2.0 reduces environmental harm as part of the business strategy. Some businesses take the 3.0 approach, where business goes back to its roots of finding solutions to social problems.  

5. The Key to Fighting Climate Change and Mortality? More Walkable Cities

Walkable cities are part of Mark Mykleby and Joel Makower’s New Grand Strategy for the U.S., and Grist’s video backs up the benefits with research. By 2050, much of the global population will live in cities. And cities contribute to more than 70 percent of global emissions.

Biophilic cities designed for walking will decrease obesity, increase employees productivity and happiness, create a thriving social atmosphere, diminish socio-economic divides and cut pollution. I’m lacing up my sneakers.

6. Grow Food

Are you ready for a dance break? In this video by Appetite for Change, a troupe of talented teenage musicians from Minneapolis rap about the intersection of food equity, personal health and inner-city life. It’s not just pure entertainment; with more than 200,000 views, the video gets real about diabetes and poor diets as the real killer in urban food deserts. See if you can't stop humming "whipping in the kitchen" while going to fix a (healthy) snack.

7. Unravel – The Incredible Cross-Cultural Story of Clothes Recycling

This Films for Action documentary unravels the other side of the global supply chain. The film traces heaps of clothes that Westerners throw away as it travels to the industrial Kutch District in India’s interior. Garment recyclers turn the clothing back into threads. Having little exposure to Western culture besides piles of junk fabric, the clothes fill workers spin an interesting picture of life and overconsumption across the world. Westerners, they say, are in complete control of their own lives — so what kind of choices are we going to make?

8. Deforestation Film

In this Wes Anderson-style video by fashion design house Stella McCartney, towering model Kass Carmen explores a quaint toy town while discussing the impact of viscose production on deforestation, habitat loss and carbon emissions (the equivalent of 48,000 football pitches of trees are logged for viscose production annually). This is why the designer works with Canopy Planet to make sure our closets don’t contribute to climate change. 

9. SDGs: Improve Life All Around the Globe

A list of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can read like the periodic table of elements: all unique, interlocking and necessary parts for a sustainable world. Working in a language that transcends, this hip-hop video illustrates the value of each SDG, unanimously adopted by all 193 U.N. member states, in two minutes. Watch and learn to protect human health and the environment because whatever bed we make, we’re going to have to lie in it.

10. A small country with big ideas to get rid of fossil fuels

The U.S. is on the precipice of undoing its plans to transition away from fossil fuels. Climate advocate Monica Araya provides an example of an entire nation that made the decision in the 1950s to make that major shift: Now, Costa Rica is nearly 100 percent powered by various forms of renewable energy. And guess what? Investing in parks and forests only boosted the country’s economy. There’s still a lot to do, but it has made progress, and we can too. 

11. The Future of Autonomous Vehicles

Love them or fear them, autonomous vehicles are already driving themselves around San Francisco, with plans to roll into Boston soon. Robin Chase, former Zipcar CEO and founder of Buzzcar, educates us about the pros (great transportation) and cons (no jobs for taxi drivers) on the future that’s speeding our way.

12. Bolala Forest Fable

Created by Free Range Studios for the Dogwood Alliance, this beautifully animated fable tells the story of the Bolala, a mythical beast that will deliver the world from deforestation. Unfortunately, the Bolala doesn’t exist, so it’s up to us to protect our forests before it’s too late.

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