To read this content please select one of the options below:

Corporate water management systems and incentives to self-discipline

Linhan Zhang (Nanjing Audit University, Nanjing, China)
Qingliang Tang (School of Business, Western Sydney University, Parramatta, Australia)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 26 June 2019

Issue publication date: 9 July 2019




Water management is an emerging practice. This paper aims to propose a theoretical model of a corporate water management system (WMS) and empirically explores whether superior water management improves water use performance.


Our model of WMS consists of 10 structural elements. We draw on self-discipline theory to predict the results and use archival data from the Carbon Disclosure Project to measure and evaluate the overall quality and effectiveness of the water management of our sample companies.


Companies motivated to adopt self-discipline tend to proactively implement high-quality WMSs. However, further analyses suggest that water management without regulatory sanctions appears insufficient for reducing water usage, at least in the short term. Overall, this study reveals a clear and growing tendency for businesses to manage water risks and a corresponding momentum toward more rigid control of water consumption.

Research limitations/implications

Corporate participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project survey is voluntary. Thus, the data in this paper are subject to self-selection bias, and what the companies claim concerning their behavior may not reflect the reality of their business practices. In addition, the inferences drawn here are based on data from only large firms. Future researchers could investigate whether and how corporate WMS continued to develop or decline in recent years, and how such practices integrate with other aspects of management (including carbon and energy).

Practical implications

This paper responds to water scarcity by exploring how the development of corporate WMS is driven by self-discipline motivation. This study sets out an agenda for the future of water accounting and management which can be used to guide research and stimulate extension in practice. Governments and non-governmental organizations may utilize the results to guide and bind corporations to achieve sustainability.

Social implications

The efficient use of freshwater is essential for sustainability, but limited studies have addressed the issue. The current paper explores this important issue, and our findings suggest regulatory institution is necessary to effectively enhance water usage.


This paper represents an early attempt to model corporate water management practices. A WMS should facilitate resilience in water management, measurement of water performance, and comparability among firms. This study contributes to the conceptualization and empirical assessment of self-discipline in motivated water management and enhances the validity and applicability of the theory of self-disciplining in sustainability research.



Zhang, L. and Tang, Q. (2019), "Corporate water management systems and incentives to self-discipline", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 592-616.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles