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|Title:||Water management and accounting change: a study of food and beverage producing organisations|
|Publisher:||University of Sydney.|
Discipline of Accounting
|Abstract:||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 practices. Several factors motivated these changed practices. An increasing sense of scrutiny and criticism from community groups and regulators was a key driver. Interviewees were also increasingly recognising that water was critical to their long-term survival and so felt they needed to demonstrate good stewardship to support their licence to operate. As a management accountant in one of the case organisation’s explained, “continuity of water supply is far more important to us than the actual cost”. Pervasive water management and accounting change was only championed from executive level in two of the seven case organisations. In those two leading organisations, water management and accounting practices had become the responsibility of all staff, usage was regularly scrutinised, investigated and reported to the executive, and related practices were now integrated within the technical environment. In the other five case organisations, a limited range of isolated and fragile plant level practices were developing with limited executive support; other technical challenges presented more pressing causes for concern. The five case organisations that demonstrated limited initiatives, felt little sense of normative, mimetic or coercive pressure to seek homogeneity with the leading examples in the field. Pervasive water management and accounting change had not institutionalised across this organisational field in 2009. Several accounting techniques were being developed by accountants, environment managers, and engineers to support emerging water management goals. Water accounting techniques served a variety of purposes including: helping in the search for inefficiencies and waste; motivating staff; signalling accountability to the executive; and supporting legitimacy arguments. Prior to 2009, accountants were largely excluded from water management for fear that they might align environmentally responsive practices to a narrow focus on cost control. Water management was satisfactorily undertaken by others and so the utility of accountants was taking time to be realised. While pervasive water management and accounting change had not become an institutionalised practice across this broad organisational field by 2009, its importance was being increasingly well ‘theorised’ and so this study concludes that novel water management logics showed signs of progressing towards becoming institutionalised across a field of organisations by this time. The risk that pervasive water management and accounting change might ultimately wane as having just been a fad or a fashion across this field was declining. This study contributes to an understanding of the nature and drivers of environmental management and accounting change in the Australian context. While profit maximisation remained a paramount concern, it was apparent that an expanding conception of the technical was developing which provided space for novel and creative practices targeted to address environmental concerns. This study explains early institutionalisation in the context of water management and provides insights into the process of theorisation. We contribute to understanding the potential role of accounting and explain why accountants were largely absent from evident water management practice. Having established contacts in the case organisations, future research can explore how the institutionalisation of water management and accounting change either continues to unfold, or alternatively, how a developing range of institutional logics might ultimately be dismissed as having been no more than a fad or fashion.|
|Appears in Collections:||Sydney Digital Theses (Open Access)|
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