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Translating Risks And Opportunities: Examining Accounting Technologies For Corporate Engagement With Water.

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Shona Russell
University of St Andrews1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 7: Global challenges for water governance,

Water is integral to ecosystems, societies, economies, and cultures (Bijker 2013). Yet, global change processes are threatening the sustainability of freshwater ecosystems and causing impacts for human well-being, development and ecosystems. As we approach the boundaries of the planet's freshwater system (Rockstrom et al 2009), this paper examines the development, implementation and contribution of innovations to the organisational and societal use and management of water (Hepworth, 2012). As a matter of concern, arrangements for water governance are shifting with a growing emphasis on the importance of participatory and nested arrangements for decision-making concerning the availability, use and management of water. An emergent stream of work endeavours to support increased corporate engagement with water. This work incorporates partnerships between non-governmental organisations and corporations, guidelines for decision-making, risk assessment tools, and a veritable growth of water-related expertise (Hepworth 2012). Central to many of these efforts are accounting technologies that seek to translate scientific information into the language of risks and opportunities, characteristic of corporate decision-making. Accounting technologies to support the collection, interpretation and dissemination of information to support decision-making for water resource management. This paper traces the origins and emergence of corporate water initiatives; examines the practices by which water concerns are translated by accounting technologies; and discusses the implications of such translation to supporting water stewardship.

Methods and Materials

This paper draws on desk-based research of corporate water initiatives, particularly those that incorporate accounting technologies, published in academic, policy and practice-based literature. The review of documentary resources aims to, first, garner insights from cases that have sought to manage water-related impacts and dependencies; second, examine how accounting technologies translate water related issues into risks and opportunities; what aspects of water are made visible and understandable; and third, consider the extent to which such engagement addresses core concerns regarding the available, accessibility and affordability of freshwater for development, human wellbeing and ecosystems.

Results and Discussion

A number of accounting technologies have emerged to support efforts to understand impacts and dependencies, inform decision-making processes, understand relations between between water, energy and climate change; manage water-related risks; invest in upgrading and expanding water-related assets; and develop opportunities ensuring long-term operational viability or maintaining/improving the social license to operate (Egan 2009, Morrison et al 2010). Technologies include those focusing on internal water use of site-level operations; life cycle assessments, water footprints and other risks assessment tools that identify physical, financial and reputational water-related risks and opportunities (Morrison et al 2010). Increasingly corporate tools have been linked to similar tools that assess water risks in catchments and integrate data to support corporate decision-making, disclosure and engagement with water policy (Sojamo?). In these cases, accounting technologies aim to understand water-related impacts and dependencies at operational, corporate and catchment levels to meet internal and external needs.

Chalmers et al (2012) suggest that water accounting has now developed increased salience and is emerging as a discipline in itself, as well as having purchase with water-related policy and management practise. Despite the proliferation of water-related expertise and accounting technologies, evidence of corporate engagement is limited (CDP 2013). Individual companies and water-intensive sectors have undertaken efforts to reduce water impacts across quantity and quality across activities of production, distribution and sometimes even use by consumers (Lambooy 2011). Specific cases evidence their episodic rather than systematic engagement often in connection with pilot studies (SAB Miller & WWF 2009) or with particular hydrological conditions where water is deemed to be a critical issue such as in the case of drought (Egan 2014). Thus, it appears that translation is not wholly successful in rendering water-related risks and opportunities understandable and relevant to decision-making across throughout corporate activity. Instead, corporate engagement with water is likely to continue to be specific to specific catchments and sectors.


The paper concludes that development of accounting technologies appear to indicate tentative support for water stewardship. Initiatives endeavour to build capacity to manage water-related impacts and dependencies, by translating them into the language of risks and opportunities; calculated and assessed in similar ways to the management of financial resources. Given the inherent complexities of water resource management, further investigation of implementation of accounting technologies is required and to examine the implications that extend beyond the boundaries of corporations to support water stewardship for communities, economies and ecosystems. 1. Bijker, W., 2012. Do we live in water cultures? A methodological commentary. Social Studies of Science, 42(4), pp.624–627.
2. Carbon Disclosure Project 2013. CDP Global Water Report: Moving beyond business as usual. [Accessed 20 October 2014]
3. Chalmers, K., Godfrey, J.M. & Lynch, B., 2012. Regulatory theory insights into the past, present and future of general purpose water accounting standard setting. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25(6), pp.1001–1024.
3. Egan, M., 2014. Making water count: water accountability change within an Australian university. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 27(2), pp.259–282.
4. Hazelton, J., 2013. Accounting as a human right: the case of water information. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 26(2), pp.267–311.
5. Hepworth, N., 2012. Open for Business or Opening Pandora’s Box? A Constructive Critique of Corporate Engagement in Water Policy: An Introduction. Water Alternatives, 5(3), pp.543–562.
6. Lambooy, T., 2011. Corporate social responsibility: sustainable water use. Journal of Cleaner Production, 19(8), pp.852–866.
7. Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. De Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sörlin, P. K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falke, and J.F., 2009. Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society, 14(2).
8. SAB Miller & WWF 2009. Water Footprinting. Identifying and Addressing Water Risks in the Value Chain. [Accessed 20 October 2014]

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin