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Pod's green earth: 14 sustainability podcasts you need to know

Whether you're a fan of podcasts or sustainability, these shows are for you.

It’s been a few years since GreenBiz’s last podcast roundups (here and here), but that doesn’t mean that new green shows haven’t been consistently sprouting up.

In fact, if it seems as if everywhere you look there’s another podcast, you’re not wrong. As of 2018 there are more than 525,000 active podcasts, with over 18.5 million episodes total, according to Variety. Audiences are growing, too, with about 51 percent of Americans having listened to podcasts at least once and 32 percent tuning in to at least one in the last month, according to Edison Research.

Full disclosure here: I might be a bit biased, as an avid listener in my free time as well as a contributor to GreenBiz’s two weekly podcasts: GreenBiz 350 the weekly podcast about the people and companies behind the headlines in sustainable business and clean technology — and Center Stage, the best of live interviews conducted on stage at GreenBiz and VERGE conferences.

But I have been impressed and excited by the quality of podcasts from all corners of the media ecosystem recently, especially those that tackle tough issues, such as the impacts of climate change, what resilience looks like or how capitalism and sustainability are often at odds.

Whether you’re looking to brush up on sustainability knowledge, learn something new or delve into a specific niche, there’s a show for you. Here are some to check out, grouped into a few categories based on what you might be looking for.

Explanatory episodic

These podcasts mostly can be listened to episode by episode — you don't need to follow the shows from the beginning. Each show assumes varying levels of knowledge from its listeners, so that's something to listen for.

1. Sustainability Defined

This podcast is a great access point for any topic under the umbrella of sustainability. Each episode breaks down one part within the extremely broad field of "sustainability" through an educational lens. This is a great podcast to fill a gap of knowledge you might have.

2. Think: Sustainability

This radio show-cum-podcast gets a bit more in the weeds with sustainability topics by taking deeper dives through more intersectional lenses, assuming a more substantial degree of knowledge of the listener than Sustainability Defined. That said, it's ridiculously interesting to listen to both Sydney, Australia-based host Jake Morcom and a variety of expert guests.

3. Sourcing Matters

This podcast examines how we source food and why that matters. With a diversity of guests, each episode examines a different issue, from food waste to organics to fisheries, through a sustainable lens, and you get to think about how much really goes into what's on your plate. Chief host Aaron Niederhelman is a fishmonger and CEO of OneHealthAg, which aims to "modernize the meat supply." Recent guests include Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator; and Marc Oshima, co-founder of AeroFarms.

4. Climate One

The Climate One podcasts are cool because they convene the diverse guests and audience in person at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, so you can tell that the conversation really gets going in-person, before, during and after the recording. The show usually features decision-makers on its given topic, which makes for in-depth conversations. Think of the mayors of Miami and Houston on extreme weather, or climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe on climate conversations.

5. Stanford Social Innovation Review

The weekly show asks Stanford University academics and community members to solve a social problem. Their perspectives, a mix of personal and professional, are illuminating. Although these episodes aren't always about sustainability, many intersections are discussed. Sample episodes: "How big indicators can help solve global problems" and "Embracing emerging technology for social change."

Casts of characters

These shows usually have a regular set of hosts discussing a topic, reviewing the news or chatting with a new guest. I appreciate feeling like I'm getting to know the people talking into my ear(buds).

6. Columbia Energy Exchange

For a weekly series on new global energy developments, Columbia University's Center of Global Energy Policy is a good bet. The show features salient topics and eloquent hosts as well as incredible guests, and often has a fascinating global and intersectional perspective. 

7. Greentech Media's The Energy Gang

This long-running, well-known weekly show also talks energy, but each member of the regular crew has a unique background and perspective. They tackle current events and recent research, and you'll learn something new every episode.

8. Autonocast

It's really fun to listen to people incredibly passionate about something talk about it. This podcast explores the ins-and-outs of mobility, from ride-hailing trends to city relationships to equity in communities to  you guessed it  autonomous vehicles. The show itself is a bit wonky, but perfect if you're an urban design professional or enthusiast.

9. Sustainababble

If you wanted to combine an improv comedy podcast with a well-researched sustainability podcast, you're in luck. The hosts of your friendly neighborhood sustainability podcast, "Ol and Dave," tackle current environmental news to get behind the greenwashing and PR. And they do it in a conversational, accessible, British-accented style. 

Sustainability series

The following podcasts are essentially season-long deep dives into a subject. Each episodes is either in chronological order or a different take on the topic.

10. Bioneers

If you want sustainable stories told with empathy and compassion that you might not hear in more mainstream settings, this podcast is for you. Think of this show as the sustainability version of NPR-affiliated radio show "This American Life" (in a good way) — there's a depth to the storytelling, and the focus on solutions makes for great listening.

11. The Response

A collaboration among Shareable, Post Carbon Institute, Transition US, Upstream Podcast and NewStories, this podcast does deep dives into how different communities respond to natural disasters. With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, it's an important topic. Luckily, the series treats the subject with sensitivity to tell the stories of the people on the ground, many of which were ignored by more mainstream media narratives.

12. Drilled

This podcast goes into the flip side of the sustainability movement: the climate denialism movement. The story is told in the style of extremely popular gritty true crime podcasts, so it's an intense show, but it's also a gripping listen that's well worth it.

13. Containers

It might not sound like the most exciting subject, but Atlantic journalist Alexis Madrigal's "audio documentary" is a fascinating look at the relatively recent history of international trade and capitalism as a whole. While not necessarily about sustainability, it gives important context as to how we got here.

14. The Guardian's 12-part series on climate change

This series follows the editor-in-chief of the Guardian as his team takes up the fight against climate change. It's a cool podcast because they're not just talking at you after the fact. Instead, they're talking in real time about how they can effect change in their personal lives and how they can leverage the power of the institution they're a part of, and what responsibility they have as being a part of an institution in the media. 

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