AbstractsBusiness Management & Administration

Water management and accounting change: a study of food and beverage producing organisations

by Matthew Egan

Institution: University of Sydney
Year: 2012
Keywords: water management; water efficiency; water accounting; sustainability; FoR::150101 - Accounting Theory and Standards; FoR::150105 - Management Accounting; FoR::150106 - Sustainability Accounting and Reporting; FoR::050205 - Environmental Management
Record ID: 1041605
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2123/8743


Global fresh water sources are limited and threatened by competing demands. As populations rise, water management becomes a critical concern. Across Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, water resources became increasingly constrained into the early 2000s. A range of public policies were developed that focused largely on encouraging consumers to modify demand and carefully manage water consumption (as opposed to providing new sources of supply). Understanding why and how water consuming organisations might develop water management and accounting practices under these circumstances is a topical question for empirical investigation and will contribute to an understanding of potential solutions in other global contexts. To engage with these questions, semi-structured interviews were undertaken in 2008 and 2009 within seven case organisations in the food and beverage sector operating in the Sydney basin. The research questions explore how water management practices were changing at that time; the drivers of that change; and how accounting and accountants were being utilised to support those developments. Institutional theory is drawn on to make sense of the empirics and to make case specific contributions to the literature. A variety of water management practices and related accounting techniques were under development within all case organisations by 2009. As little as ten years earlier, the ‘institutionalised’ behaviour in many had been, as one interviewee explained it, “just pouring it [water] down the drain”. Many of the evident practices were therefore novel. To various degrees, all were now collecting data on water usage and discharge, reporting that data at both plant level and to the executive, and using that data to search for and rectify inefficiencies. Several were constructing expensive water specific infrastructure, including water treatment and recycling plants and rain water harvesting systems. These practices, together with associated accounting techniques, enabled improved water efficiency and were not therefore inconsistent with existing cost control objectives. One of the seven case organisations had also developed several distinct projects targeted to benefit community groups and the environment. None of the case organisations were philanthropic; even practices targeted at community groups were explained as also being good for the organisation through their ability to improve reputation. On the one hand therefore, none of the initiatives were about ‘doing good for the sake of doing good’ and so this study shows that corporate ‘sustainability’ efforts continue to be a “means to serve the corporation’s own interests” (Bakan, 2005 p 37). Conversely, the leading examples of water management and accounting practice were pervasive and exceptional, driven by concerns to both improve cost control and to be environmentally responsive by maximising water efficiency. In many cases, it was apparent that an expanding space was being conceived within the technical for novel institutionally driven…