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Inviting the BIG screen into the classroom: Nurturing sustainable perspectives towards through film education

by Busines Newswire
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Sustainability holds a significant role in the dynamic realm of the hospitality industry, both practically and academically. As such, educators are increasingly turning to unconventional mediums to enrich pedagogy for students and strategies trainings for industry professionals. Among these, the powerful impact of cinema stand out as a versatile tool.

Dr Amanda Ting, Senior Lecturer from the Centre for Organisational Change and Agility at Torrens University Australia explores the potential of how the marriage of cinema and education can foster a sustainable mindset. Thus, providing students and industry professionals a deeper understanding towards the need for sustainable human resource management (SHRM).

The magic of cinema

The potential for visual storytelling as an art form, has the unique ability to convey complex ideas through compelling narratives and vivid imagery. Films have immense capability to entice emotional dimensions and stimulate our senses that traditional learning materials or office-based trainings often lack. At times, it can be difficult to envision the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and economic factors that formulate a foundational understanding of the need to practice sustainably. Immersion through the world of cinema enables educators to assist learners in bridging the emotional and ethical aspects that influence a sustainable mindset, which in turn, shapes how sustainable practices are managed from a professional perspective. 

As authors McCormack, Martin, and Williams (2021) argued, ‘Films with strong environmental themes of subjects may help raise awareness of conservation issues, trigger empathy and concern for threatened species, and motivate behaviour change.’ 

Films inspire their audience to visualise the rising cost of global warming on civilisations, empathise the impacts of unethical treatment on employees, and grieve the loss of biodiversity. Although they might be lounging on their favourite spot on the couch, consuming visual storytelling take us on a journey that generates emotionally charged behavioural goals, enhancing transformational and perhaps illuminating pathways towards environmental outcomes.

Cinematic documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth, A Plastic Ocean, Before the Flood, Seaspiracy and The True Cost, create dialogues on climate change events, ethical sourcing, bridging the social contract, environmental governance, and fair labour practices. These films serve as powerful catalysts for discussions on how themes such as ‘human connection to the natural world’ intersect with pro-environmental behaviour.

With the popularity of international streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV, being common household subscriptions, barriers to accessing ‘watchlists’ to additional education content are eliminated. This access also ensures conversations are incorporating relevant ‘new releases’ of cinematic material, enhancing the bond to current events that visualise practices in action, providing tangible and relatable contexts.

Bridging education with real-world application

Whether in the classroom or training at the workplace, a key advantage of embedding visual media that are personalised to an individuals’ preference, acts as a mechanism to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Sustainable practices are not confined to theoretical frameworks; they manifest in the day-to-day operations of businesses through formulated individual or collective cognitive beliefs and behaviour. 

The tenets of human resource management are based on functional groups that facilitate collaboration and coordination across the diverse components of an organisation. Sustaining the ‘people’ bottom line of any company requires achieving positive social outcomes by placing appropriate emphasis on professional relations, taking measure to improve organisational resources, enhancing efficiency, fostering sustainable behaviours, having equitable processes in recruitment and remuneration, implementing ethical performance management systems, minimising workplace incidents, investing in employee growth, job performance etc.

Let’s take The Grand Budapest Hotel as an example. Although theatrically whimsical in nature, this movie captures the nobility of luxury hotels at their peak towards service and imbeds the outcomes of strong employee-bonds that can be accounted to sustainable HRM. Viewers meet Gustave, the ultimate concierge who is perceived by his guest as the embodiment of what the Grand Budapest Hotel stands for. Through a crisis, he stood by his protégé, Zero. Despite the risk to his reputation, this display provides insights to a character defining moment on how moral managers should protect their employees when challenges present and the decision-making process required to act. 

Growing as a hospitality brand requires sustainably managing diverse perspectives, fostering equitable systems in work environments, and practicing inclusivity. In The Office, we see Michael Scott’s (played by Steve Carell) ignorant approach to diversity and his lack of managerial awareness to what is acceptable or unacceptable to comment on in his treatment to staff. 

While it’s obvious The Office highly exaggerates with intent to amuse, these incidents do continue to occur. A post by Harvard Business Review in 2019 stated “evidence has shown that diversity training can backfire… and even when training is beneficial, the effects may not last after the program ends”. Given the nature of diversity in the hospitality workforce, cinematic portrays may offer windows of opportunity to observe various cultural and societal norms that may otherwise be limited to the external environments an individual is exposed to. 

One of the most crucial roles that HR professionals play is in change management. Human beings are creatures of comfort. People don’t like change, especially big transformational organisational changes like mergers, acquisition, and re-structures. This is where television series The Bear strikes home. Due to his brother’s death, Carmine inherits a restaurant along with soaring debt, and a toxic work environment. His employees aimlessly work together in the kitchen yet individually, not a collective whole. Plus, they despise him. So, Carmine implements the ‘French Brigade’, a hierarchal system relevant in culinary professions but too soon. This scene illustrates that ‘change’ in organisations with existing systems are expected to be met with resistance. It invites viewers to be empathetic that change requires time, human resource is relationship management. Going through the struggles and triumphs with these fictional characters heightens our awareness to the impacts of top-down decisions and listening to the employee ‘voice’.

Before recent conversations on sustainability joined centre stage, one classic remains relevant. The Corporation embarks viewers on a chronological journey of major events that influenced the birth of corporate social responsibility and the social contract. Through a collage of case studies, interviews and vignettes, this documentary critically spot-lights various forms of employee exploitation, personified corporations as criminals, and argued the importance of ethical corporate governance. Through this lens, individuals are guided to comprehend the reasons behind the evolution of sustainability initiatives in which contemporary corporations in this era conduct. It strikes as a focal point in developing HR perspectives that weigh the balance between profitability and social responsibility. 

Although it is arguable that media offer numerous educational benefits, it is crucial to acknowledge potential challenges include misinterpretation and oversimplification of complex issues. Some cinematic narratives may mislead the concept of ‘good’ behaviour’, sway ideologies through misinformation or even run the risk of reinforcing stereotypes. However, the drawback of these challenges can be mitigated. Curating a ‘sustainable mindset’ require individuals to contend their knowledge through differentiating the morality of right and wrong, whether through culturally diverse perspectives or individual belief systems. This in turn, encourages open dialogue to safely express diverse interpretations, question assumptions, and explore alternative perspectives that expands worldview. 

In the landscape of tertiary education and hospitality training, adopting film into SHRM proves to be a transformative approach. Compelling visual narratives can strengthen real-world application through empathy, stimulate critical thinking, encourage diverse viewpoints, and instil thought processes required to foster a sustainable mindset and effectively manage sustainable human resources as hospitality professionals. As the climate clock ticks on, and we evolve as a society, there is no harm expanding our toolkit on our journey towards a more socially-just and sustainably responsible future.