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HARP Seminar, presented by Dr Matthew Egan: "Seeing sustainability within Australia’s water sector supply chain: reconciling emergent metis, with technologies championed by 'experts'"

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Event information
Date 16 October 2023
Time 13:00-14:00 (Timezone: Europe/London)
Price Free
Venue Henley Business School LG01
Event types:
Webinars Seminars



- Matthew Egan, Discipline of Accounting, Governance and Regulation, The University of Sydney Business School, The University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
- Fabian Sack, ISA, School of Physics, The University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
- Arunima Malik, Discipline of Accounting, Governance and Regulation, The University of Sydney Business School, The University of Sydney, NSW, Australia

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 top-down 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. 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, the complex technical top-down solutions championed by consultants, including life cycle assessment and input output analysis, were largely running up against brick walls, because they sought to impose complex techniques that had limited ability to engage with the complexity of local metis. While the assembling and scrutinising of this bottom-up metis can be excruciating and was largely unmappable, our insights suggest that top-down applications of technical sustainability accounting solutions ought not to be forced or mandated. Any such command-and-control approaches 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 within a field, to interact organically.

Matthew Egan

Short Bio on Presenter: Matthew Egan 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 explored 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.

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