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23 October 2023 - 23 October 2023

2:30PM - 3:30PM

Durham University Business School

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Join us for an EFAG-hosted seminar with Dr Matthew Egan (University of Sydney Business School)

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Durham University Business School

Fostering evolving supply chain sustainability management practices in Australia’s water sector, through standardised technique and emergent metis 


This paper investigates developments within the urban water sector in Australia in the early 2020s, focused on understanding and responding to sustainability-related impacts within supply chains. Through semi-structured interviews, we review evolving practices within four water services organisations, and related technical solutions championed by a number of consulting firms. Drawing on arguments from ‘Seeing like a State’ by James C. Scott, we argue that, in the absence of commanding directives that technical solutions ought to be adopted, the water services organisations enjoyed space to slowly develop a range of alternative, diverse and organic approaches to engaging within their supply chains about sustainability, including some adaption of standardised techniques promoted by consultants. This emergent, complex and localised ‘metis’ was diverse, as it aimed at addressing different sustainability drivers within each organisation, and grappled with differing complexities of data deficiencies and challenges. This diversity of metis had met with only qualified success, as each organisation was working to turn around an overwhelming momentum of current unsustainable systems of production and capital allocation, within a system characterising by 'high modernism'. By contrast, complex technical life cycle assessment solutions championed by consultants, were largely running up against brick walls, because they had limited ability to engage with the complexity of local metis. Our insights suggest that standardised technical sustainability accounting solutions ought not to be forced or mandated. Beneficial impact of any such command-and-control approaches to sustainability accounting are likely to be thwarted by the unfathomable complexities of local practice, and deficiencies of related data. Rather, our insights suggest progress towards sustainability can only begin where space is offered to all elements of metis, to interact organically. We do not reject regulation of supply chain sustainability, but suggest the focus should be on outcomes and impact, rather than prescription of standardised techniques and processes.

About Dr Matthew Egan

Matthew is a Senior Lecturer within the Business School’s Discipline of Accounting. His research interests focus primarily on sustainability, and how accounting can contribute to addressing related questions. Specifically, his research has focused on diversity and inclusion, water management, water accounting, and financial accounting. Matthew's research interests stem primarily from practical challenges emerging in industry, and the innovations and developments that occur in response to those challenges. Recent research has exploring LGBTI+ diversity developments within the ‘Big 4’ professional services firms including perceptions of the value of related initiatives, insights into factors driving related change, and perceptions of how related change impact on staff and clients. Matthew takes all of this research into the classroom, in his teaching of units focused on both financial accounting and sustainability accounting.