The wealth effect of corporate water actions: How past corporate responsibility and irresponsibility influence stock market reactions

Rafia Afrin, Ni Peng, Frances Bowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Ensuring access to clean water is one of the most important development and health challenges of the twenty-first century. Given the manifold impacts of business activities on water resources, corporate water actions should be of central concern to business ethics researchers. Yet so far we know too little about whether business activities that impact on water resources are noticed or how corporate water actions are valued by a firm’s stakeholders, including by financial markets. In response, we conduct an event study to investigate the shareholder wealth effect of reports of corporate water actions. We explore stock market reactions to water actions by S&P 500 firms from 2005 to 2017, showing that the market reacts positively to reports of responsible water actions and negatively to irresponsible actions. We further explain that these abnormal returns to water actions are associated with a firm’s past performance on ethical issues, arguing that the reputational effects from prior corporate social responsibility and irresponsibility influence market reactions. Our analysis provides evidence that there are diminishing marginal returns to responsible water actions for firms with records of past responsibility and an offsetting effect for those with past irresponsibility. Similarly, we demonstrate an insurance effect that limits punishment for irresponsible water actions for firms with responsible performance records and diminishing negative marginal returns for those already seen to be irresponsible. This study is the first to show that shareholders recognize market value in corporate water actions and are prepared to award or punish firms in stock markets based on their impacts on water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105–124
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Early online date15 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • Corporate social responsibility/irresponsibility (CSR/CSiR)
  • Financial returns
  • Shareholder wealth effect
  • Water

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