“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.” – James Cameron
I’ll do my best not to spoil the movie, however if you haven’t seen it, do so… today. How I view Avatar is a great example of how the MBA has changed the way I perceive and think about the world around me. Beyond the classes specifically devoted to topics of social responsibility and ethics, most every class in the SFU MBA program, from Finance to Graduate Marketing, addresses these important issues. Read on for a brief look at how the Ethics and Sustainability sections of SFU’s Full-time MBA effected my analysis of the movie.
With a quick search of the web you’ll find discussions, blog posts, and rant forums talking about the themes of the movie Avatar as they relate to the way we treat our own planet. This was, of course a very deliberate purpose of Writer / Director James Cameron during the 4 year epic process of creating Avatar. As spellbinding and incredibly overtaking the visual effects, cinematography, and romantic story was, I too couldn’t help leaving the theatre with the compelling urge to analyze the movie from an ethical and environmental perspective.
Having recently completed two of the SFU MBA’s key courses, Ethics and Sustainability, upon my release from the captivating graphics I began to consider a number of MBA cases I had studied. The message was so artistically powerful that even the coldest, blackest, oil mongering CEO would have no chance of avoiding it. During the movie I remember feeling gripped by how outrageously selfish and vicious our human species could be in the quest for profit and corporate conquest. Unfortunately, the “no mercy” treatment that the protagonist species in the movie “Avatar” experienced is frighteningly identical to the treatment of indigenous human populations on our own planet.
The two most specific and noteworthy cases I recall were studied in the Sustainability class, taught by Professor Carolyn Egri. Professor Egri has been publishing on the topic of environmental, corporate, and social sustainability / responsibility for more than 15 years and is a key lecturer in the full-time MBA. During her course we studied about eight cases that exposed positive or negative ethical and environmental practices of some of the largest global companies. The two cases that most closely relate to Avatar addressed Tech Camenco in Kyrgyzstan and Exxon’s Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project.
In both of these cases we learned about and discussion the issues and problems around a large global company and the desire of the leadership to look beyond fair treatment of the local population in search for share holder value. Similar to the mining company that invaded the fictional planet of Pandora, both of these companies used “greenwashing” techniques to hide the heinousness of their real intentions. In Avatar James Cameron makes it obvious how single minded and selfish a company that has the resources to overpower the indigenous population can be in the quest of profit. The movie truly exposes how broken the system of global resource mining and transportation is on our own planet. This issue was most pointedly exposed by the contrast between the natives of Pandora and human interaction with nature and the living beings that surround us. It is true, as humans we are ignorantly unaware of how important the environment and the species with which we share this earth are to our own sustained survival.
The question remains, instead of simply talking about and discussing the issue, how can we work to remedy it and help ourselves and the leaders of global organizations become more aware of the necessity for highly sustainable business practices? As hopeful future leaders of these very organizations it is absolutely critical that we become educated and equipped with the intellectual tools that will allow us to find the balance between our environment and shareholder value. I believe that after the MBA here at SFU I am much more aware of these issues and have developed a framework for how I might be a more sustainable leader. Most importantly, we learned that being ethical and sustainable does not necessarily come at the cost of profits. Indeed it is possible to create more value for your company by “doing the right thing”.
I look forward to your comments and feedback and will promptly reply to any questions. Feel free to discuss your own impressions of the movie Avatar and how you think it relates to business in any context.