Examining the complexities of the interconnection between the SDGs: the role of "accounting" for water

G07 Birmingham Business School University House
Wednesday 18 July 2018 (15:00-17:00)

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Speaker: Massimo Contrafatto – University of Bergamo


Questioning the role played by accounting in helping the achievement of less unsustainable forms of organizing and managing society and business, the aim of this study is to investigate ‘how’ and ‘under what conditions’ the Sustainable Development Goal No 6, “Clean Water and Sanitation”,  have been (or not) incorporated to guide organizational policy, management and action (Bebbington & Unerman, 2017). In particular, the focus will be on three related aspects: i) the scope and implication of the SDG No 6; ii) the complexities of the interconnection between Water and the other SDGs; iii) the role of (management and) accounting in “governing”, and “mediating” between, the programmatic discourse of SDGs and the day to day organizational exigencies.   


In this paper, we report on a field case study of a municipality in Albania that manages and distributes water for domestic and commercial purposes in the Northern region of the country. Data were collected through interviews with representatives of the organisations, observation in the field, analysis of the relevant documents (e.g. reports, accounts). In particular, the empirical analysis focuses on the management and control systems which were (or not) implemented in governing the water-related processes.  

Preliminary Findings

Our preliminary analysis shows that the adoption of effective policies and management systems designed to achieve the SDG No 6, was problematic and in many respects unsuccessful. In particular, two aspects seem to emerge. First, the difficulty to separate the Water goal from the others, such as for example, the goals related to Poverty (No 1), Innovation and Infrastructure (No 9), Inequalities (No 10) and Life on Land (No 15), which it is strongly connected to. Our analysis shows that this inter-connection between the SDGs made the attempts of achieving in isolation the water-related Goal controversial and ineffective. These interconnections need to be addressed before designing and implementing management systems which are able to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” (UN, 2017). Second, our analysis highlights the day to day complexities which emerge(d) in the attempt to “bridge” and “link” the organizational systems, practices and actions consistently with the the programmatic discourse and policies of the SDGs. We observe that, in our case study, the water-related accounting played a relevant role in this process of “bridging” because it allowed to “inter-mediate”, i.e. to find a common ground between the policies- and practice-related levels of analysis.