WaterBear is the first interactive streaming platform dedicated to the future of our planet. Described as being “like Netflix for climate documentaries” by Vogue Magazine, WaterBear aims to get viewers to engage with the climate crisis through the art of storytelling. It features high-quality content by environmentalists all around the world in order to best communicate the crisis to as many people as possible. In doing so, it builds off of the momentum that documentaries such as David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet and Hulu’s I am Greta have gained over the past few years.
The name ‘WaterBear’ is derived from the Tardigrade (colloquially referred to as “water bears”), an eight-legged segmented micro-animal that can be found everywhere in the Earth’s biosphere (as well as WaterBear’s logo!). They are also thought to be the most resilient animals currently in existence, described as being able to “survive until the end of the Earth.” It is this resilience that I believe is at the very centre of WaterBear’s work: telling stories that are at the nexus of climate action, biodiversity, sustainability, community and diversity in order to best educate the next generation and safeguard the planet for as long as we remain on Earth.
WaterBear has an incredible range of videos on climate justice, circular economies, food security, climate history, and endangered species. Videos range from shorts (~10 minutes long) to feature-length documentaries. Many of the videos also have calls to action that pop up throughout the screening, in order to call upon viewers to give to the causes they are learning about. Calls to action can including joining campaigns from the likes of Greenpeace to protect the ocean, offsetting one’s own climate footprint, and signing up to receive e-mail updates on the work of WaterBear’s various partners to further your own learning.
I could not believe that the services WaterBear provides were completely free. As mentioned in my reviews of ThriftBooks and the GCSE Geography Course Guide, educational inequalities are rife both between and within countries, with countless amounts of people lacking the resources to be able to learn about the climate crisis. Having high-quality storytelling at the click of a button is a refreshing change to the usual sea of paywalls, expensive subscription fees and privileges granted only to those with access given by their higher-education institution.
While the content on WaterBear is completely free, it can only be accessed if you are streaming from one of the 39 countries in which it is available. A large majority of these are in Europe, particularly the Global North. I would have liked to see wider availability of WaterBear’s services around the globe. Having said this, on their website, WaterBear has stated that they are looking at increasing language availabilities on the site. From this, I would hope the geographic availability of the services WaterBear provides would also increase.
WaterBear is also in the process of becoming a certified B Corporation. B Corps are credited with providing the highest standards in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors. However, as an annual certification fee is required, it begs the question of to what extent the certification is an exercise in PR as compared to an award a company gets for doing good because of its inherent value, and how many equally sustainable businesses are being squeezed out because they cannot afford certification. As such, I would be cautious when using B Corp certification alone as a proxy for sustainability in this case.
The biggest question I had about WaterBear’s content surrounded funding. Where does a free-to-access streaming platform get its money from? The answer to that question is easy to find on WaterBear’s website and comes from a number of key sources.
First: WaterBear has brand sponsorships with sustainability-focused companies. For a fee, WaterBear allows such companies to share their “sustainability story” on the platform, the money for which would fund WaterBear’s operational costs and therefore facilitate further video creation. While the video content on WaterBear is incredible, as far as I could see on the website, they did not provide any sort of metric by which they judge who is an acceptable and unacceptable partner. I would have liked to see this.
WaterBear also partners with over 80 NGOs and 200 projects including Greenpeace, Lonely Whale, WWF, Conservation International, Sea Shepherd, Amazon Watch, Circle Economy, Jane Goodall Institute and African Parks. WaterBear produces content for the NGOs and partners, and the reach of these partners invariably drives more viewers to WaterBear. These individuals not only increase WaterBear’s presence in the field of video streaming but they have the option of donating directly to WaterBear. As a result of WaterBear’s interactivity, followers of the selected NGOs and projects who consequently learn about WaterBear also have the option of participating in a number of calls to action that pop up in the middle of a number of videos. These can include following companies on social media, joining campaigns, and offsetting emissions using websites designed just for this function.
WaterBear also streams its video content through Vimeo, which uses Akamai to deliver its content. Akamai recognises that edge computing uses a lot of energy: data centres are required to be constantly powered and cooled in order to help us connect with each other online instantaneously. Indeed, the online sector produces around 2% of the world's emissions, which is even more than the airline industry. As such, Akamai aims to provide its global edge network with 100% renewable energy by 2030. Further, Akamai offers products including Dynamic Site Accelerators, Image Managers and Cloudlets that increase a website’s overall efficiency, thus reducing the energy required to power it in the first place. It is clear that this choice to use Vimeo and Akamai was a deliberate one by WaterBear.
WaterBear’s CEO is Ellen Windemuth. Windemuth’s position as CEO is immediately pleasing due to the persistent gender inequality women face not just in the workplace, but also in the climate sphere. Indeed, in the 500 largest American companies based on revenue, only 6% of all CEOs are female. Likewise, women are more likely to face harsher consequences as a result of the climate crisis compared to their male counterparts and are also less likely to be at the table discussing climate policies. Windemuth previously founded Off the Fence, a similar platform to Water Bear, albeit with a slightly broader focus, which helped co-produce the Oscar-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher, praised for its exploration of humankind's relationship with non-human animals.
Of course, a part of who makes WaterBear are the partners that produce content for the site. As previously mentioned, these include Greenpeace, Lonely Whale, WWF, Conservation International, Sea Shepherd, Amazon Watch, Circle Economy, Jane Goodall Institute and African Parks, all key players within the climate and sustainability space.
In all, I believe WaterBear to be a fantastic resource for everyone wanting to learn more about sustainability, biodiversity and the climate crisis. While there are aspects where WaterBear could be improved, on the whole, the team have already expressed an interest in trying to ameliorate them. Considering that WaterBear was founded in 2020 (just last year), I would say that they are doing a good job at providing Earth-focused storytelling to everyone, and as such would recommend using their services!