Purpose – This paper aims to explore the potential for the labelling of the water footprint of products in an Australian context. It considers theoretical contribution and technical challenges of water labelling and in particular how non-fungible water extractions might be evaluated and communicated. Design/methodology/approach – The paper examines the theoretical contribution of labels drawing on the sustainability typology articulated by Hopwood et al. and more recent claims that access to product-level environmental information may constitute a consumer right. The paper also explores labelling empirically via an extensive literature review and ten interviews with water regulators and commercial water users. Findings – Water footprint reporting could make a significant contribution to public water literacy. Significant technical hurdles remain, however, in appropriately distinguishing differing impacts of water extractions as well as in relation to measurement, allocation and information overload. This suggests that labelling of complex products is currently infeasible but existing and emerging solutions to these issues suggest that labelling of simpler products is a realistic possibility. Research limitations/implications – Given the relatively small scope of interviews, the findings of this study might be triangulated with other research methods such as surveys and/or focus groups for the findings to be validated. Additionally, future research might focus on overcoming each of the challenges noted above for a particular product in order to bring water labelling closer to practical reality. Originality/value – Labelling schemes offer improved corporate supply-chain accountability yet have received little attention in the social and environmental accounting literature to date. This paper therefore seeks to make a theoretical and empirical contribution to this emerging field of labelling in the area of water, a key sustainability issue.
- Water footprint
- Water labelling