12 Must-See Green TV Shows

Suzanne Byrne by Suzanne Byrne | April 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments
topic: Green Living, Green Tech, Inspirational Media

Ed Begley Jr. and wife Rachelle Carson star in "Living with Ed"

Ed Begley Jr. and wife Rachelle Carson star in "Living with Ed"

You’ve been doing your part to go green — turning down your thermostat, sorting that recycling, driving less, composting. Now it’s your turn to take a break and watch what other people are doing to go green.

TV shows have changed, especially in the last couple years. Not only are shows spotlighting environmental storylines, but the production of the shows is greening up too: Scripts are being sent out digitally, hybrid cars are commonly used behind the scenes as well as on camera, and even sets are being crafted out of recycled materials. Heck, there’s now an entire green TV channel called Planet Green. Check out these eco-oriented TV shows in whose (carbon) footsteps we hope other shows follow …

1. Living with Ed [Planet Green]

Some suggest Al Gore is the ultimate green guru for bringing An Inconvenient Truth to the masses. I say it’s Ed Begley Jr. The actor has been walking the talk long before it became trendy, and it’s all documented in this reality series about going green. It’s sorta like the “Green Acres” of the green lifestyle, with Ed inflicting his dark-green compulsions on his lighter green wife, Rachael Carson.

The show has garnered the best kind of media attention: Ed and Rachelle are guests on Oprah today. Ed’s green eccentricities surely help out on that front (here’s a clip of Ed cooking an entire a meal using no power whatsoever).

But the show also follows how Ed and the family do more basic everyday things like keep an organic garden, compost, and cut utility bills. And in one segment with friend-of-Ed actor Bradley Witford, Ed shows why electric cars use energy more efficiently than gas-powered cars.

Besides peeks into Ed’s quirky green penchants like biking to the Oscars and the next day powering his toaster with said bicycle, production of the show is also completely green, and Ed personally makes sure it is. Described by one insider as “the most non-judgmental guy you could meet,” Ed is often spotted behind the scenes, compulsively collecting empty recyclables.

2. Carbon Cops [Sundance Channel]

This new series debuted on April 21. Hosts Lish Fejer and Sean Fitzgerald audit each family’s carbon footprint and challenge them to reduce their carbon emissions by half. Unlike on some shows, climate change related jargon and science are explained in plain English. I for one liked being spoken to (not at).

3. Eco Trip: The Real Cost of Living [Sundance Channel]

Another new series that hit the air on April 21. Featuring eco-adventurer David de Rothschild. Each week he’ll investigate items from chocolate to paper napkins and explain how they come to be, from sourcing ingredients/materials to manufacturing processes. He also follows products through to their end of useful life and explores how their demise can be rethought through greener ‘cradle-to-grave’ design innovation. Along the way he talks about environmental, social and health effects that stem from everyday products we make and use. You’ll look at some of your old favorites in a completely new light.

4. Alter Eco [Planet Green]

Also available on DVD

On HBO’s “Entourage,” Adrian Grenier plays a Hollywood “It” boy — but there’s a lot going on beyond those dreamy eyes. The actor and his, um, entourage of activists, experts and friends complete green makeover projects like greening a home or a nightclub, then wrap up the episode feasting on an organic meal. The sustainable living activist has taken his mission to “Entourage” as well, bringing his team there to implement some eco-initiatives. See? Not just a pretty face.

5. Renovation Nation [Planet Green]

Also available on DVD

With more people deciding to adapt to a green lifestyle, the more new cutting-edge ideas are being generated for green design and building. In “Renovation Nation,” Former “This Old House” host Steve Thomas travels around the country visiting those living sustainable lifestyles to teach them groundbreaking techniques in green building. Think rainwater recycling and solar hot water heaters. This is the kind of show that makes even the most unhandy people want to make home improvements.

6. Survivorman [Science Channel]

In perhaps the greenest program possible, Survivorman Les Stroud travels completely alone — with no TV crew — and must live off the land for seven days. No food, no water, no equipment. In a typical episode, the nature lover will live among black bears and grizzlies and build a shelter made of trash found on the beach. There’s something so primitive about watching him go about his work and the fact that his carbon footprint is so small will make you enjoy it even more.

7. Greensburg [Planet Green]

Also available on DVD

This Leonardo DiCaprio-produced series is about the rebuilding of Greenburg, Kansas, which was completely ripped apart by a deadly tornado in 2007. The show chronicles the ensuing decisionmaking drama as town officials and many residents band together to decree that, since they have to start over anyway, they’re going to do it green.

The show also follows the town’s human stories as local high schoolers learn about living off the grid, families and small-business owners grapple with the cost differential of rebuilding green vs. just rebuilding, and some townspeople don’t get on board with the whole green-this-town hoopla (“I just want a house,” one woman tells a gathering of friends). You can’t help but learn from this real-life lesson.

Gaiam Life’s interview with one of the Greensburg project’s architects includes tips on easy, affordable ways to green the home you’re in.

8. Wa$ted! [Planet Green]

Have a friend who refuses to recycle, always leaves the lights on and insists that little things like that aren’t going to kill the planet? Not only is it wasteful, but it’s disheartening. In this series, co-hosts Annabelle Gurwitch and Holter Graham help educate eco-criminals on how they can make a difference — and save money at the same time. It’s a lesson in the fact that you don’t have to do extreme or heroic things to go green … and that it has benefits for you, too.

9. Garbage Moguls [National Geographic]

This new reality series features the TerraCycle guys figuring out how to take everyday garbage — cookie wrappers, billboards — and turn them into useable products, like kites and messenger bags. It’s entertaining in the same way “Dirty Jobs” is, but less apt to trigger your gag reflex.

10. Big Ideas for a Small Planet [Sundance Channel]

Why does someone who weighs 170 lbs. need to drive a 2,000 lb. car? They don’t, and it’s just this type of question that’s explored in this series. Activists, eco-experts and even scientists talk about alternative transportation, water shortages, eco-fashion and other hot green topics. It’s the kind of show that leaves you saying: Why the heck did I decide to by that SUV?


Green-Behind-the-Scenes Honorable Mentions

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon [NBC]

The set of the newly Jimmy-Fallon-hosted “Late Night” is entirely eco-friendly. “Everything is recycled,” he says. “We are building everything with recycled metals and using all green lighting. We are starting (construction) from scratch and it is NBC’s policy that we make everything from the ground up entirely green. Everything.”

24 [Fox]

Jack Bauer isn’t just saving the world; he’s saving the planet. Fox recently announced that their hit show starring Kiefer Sutherland has become the first “carbon neutral” television series. They hired consultants to measure the carbon-dioxide output from the production and made a slew of other changes, from using 20 percent biodiesel fuel in trucks and generators to installing motion monitors in bathrooms and kitchens so lights are on only when in use.


  1. It’s a shame Planet Green doesn’t provide their content streaming online. They created a channel for people who don’t watch TV. For more green TV on the web, go to: http://www.spongetv.com

    Cozzy | October 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. I don’t disagree with you

    blooging | October 4th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  3. You should definitely consider Think Green as #11.
    Watch it: http://youtu.be/9PNXfyVMX6I

    Think Green | January 31st, 2012 | Comment Permalink

Post a Comment

If you want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!