I recently wrote about how companies can identify the 58 sustainable investors and analysts that actually matter.

However, identifying the investors and analysts is the easy part.

(Most of the steps in the article can be undertaken by a junior IRO using:

  • SRI-Connect (free to register via here for the interest identification and contact)
  • LinkedIn (free to join for contact with any sustainable investors that are not registered with SRI-C) in conjunction with
  • Whatever ‘mainstream’ investor targeting process (varies) companies already use.

The harder part is generating the confidence to deprioritize investors, analysts and others that claim to be investment influencers but - in reality - are not.

(This is easier for investor relations officers for whom prioritization is a central part of their day job but harder for CSR / sustainability specialists who have trained themselves into an ‘every-stakeholder-matters’ mindset.)

So, to challenge thinking (and because I partly believe at least some of the ideas below), here are some filters that might help companies with this prioritization process.  As ever the process of learning is more important than the initial provocation – so don’t be shy about telling me where you think I am wrong.

How to de-prioritise

In trimming the list of sustainable investors and analysts that they focus on, companies might deprioritise:

  • Pretenders
  • Broad-canvas process engineers
  • Comparable data requestors
  • Proxies
  • Passive investors
  • Disconnected engagers
  • Private data requestors
  • Time bandits

I describe each characteristic below – using these principles to guide my arguments:

  • Efficiency and effectiveness for companies is critical to ensure that resources can be devoted to addressing sustainability issues rather than to artificial reporting processes around these
  • Companies absolutely 100% should absolutely 100% make comprehensive information on their sustainability exposures and management practices 100% available to any analyst or investor that wants to use these for bone fides investment purposes
  • Communications practices have changed massively over the past decade; sustainable investor communications practices should align with current and future practice not with those of the past.

De-prioritise or ignore altogether?

Importantly, companies should remain open to communication with all investors and should make themselves available in efficient ways (report publication, group webinars etc) to all investors and analysts that are interested in their sustainability practice and the use of this to make investment decisions.  What we are taking aim at here is investors, research providers or others who use practices that should be eliminated to make disproportionate claims upon a company’s time.

Whom to deprioritize

Caveat: I’m writing in a punchy, argumentative style to provoke discussion.  Expect to see me row back into nuance in any subsequent discussion – which – as ever – I welcome.


First, companies can dismiss those investors who don’t and are not realistically ever going to hold their stock (or are going to hold their stock in such a passive way that they are never really going to engage with information that you provide).  These ‘pretend’ investors should be politely directed to your annual sustainability results webinar.

Most commonly this practice occurs when investors sign onto collaborative engagement efforts focused on companies or asset classes that they simply don’t have exposure to.  However, it also extends to research providers who make research requests based on ‘investors’ interest’ … without identifying the specific investors that are interested.

Broad-canvas process engineers

Investors that ask you to “please improve your generic disclosure practice in accordance with Standard X or Protocol Y” rather than ask you for “specific numbers / info on this or that issue” are just being lazy.  If they can’t be bothered to articulate what information they need from you to make investment decisions themselves, it’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t notice whether you do or don’t provide it until the time comes to send the annual form letter again next year.  Direct them politely to your annual sustainability results webinar if they are actually interested in the specifics of your company.

Comparable data requestors

The need for / achievability of comparable sustainability metrics is an illusion that has been damaging sustainable investment for over 20 years now.  As it has become clear that vanishingly few useful investment decisions can be made by directly comparing one company with another on a single piece (or multiple combined pieces) of sustainability data (can anyone name one?), companies can largely classify ‘investors who ask for comparable data’ as ‘investors who don’t actually make investment decisions’.  Invite these investors to your annual sustainability results webinar so that they can understand why (in the words of Prince) “nothing compares to you”.


“Hi – I’m Investor A.  I’m here on my behalf and also on behalf of Investor B, Investor C and Investor D”.  Notwithstanding the discussion about concert-party action … Really?!

Can you even imagine the same practice in ‘mainstream’ investment?  Can you imagine Fidelity asking a company to increase its dividend on behalf of T Rowe Price?!

Now as this collaborative engagement is a common practice, it merits some consideration as to how companies should regard it.  I would suggest the following questions and answers provide a guide to efficient practice:

  • Should the company engage with Investor A?  Yes, if Investor A merits this based on their own holdings and intentions.  If not, no.
  • Should the company engage with Investor A if they represent beneficial owners of the stock who may not be asset managers (e.g. pension fund clients of Investor A)?  Yes.
  • Should the company engage with Investor A as a way of engaging with Investors B, C & D?  No.  If a company wants Investors B, C & D to understand their sustainable equity story, they need to communicate with Investors B, C & D directly.

Passive investors


Disconnected engagers

Asset managers – IMHO – have a legitimate reason to ‘engage’ when they can:

  • Articulate a clear line-of-sight between the sustainability issue under discussion and financial materiality and hence and investment decision or
  • Articulate a clear line-of-sight between the sustainability issue and a principled concern of theirs or of one or more of their clients

If an investor can’t point you to one of these, they are likely to be bandwagon-jumping.  Invite them to your sustainability results webinar.

Time bandits

If a company crashes a tanker or invents a cure for malaria, investors and analysts should reasonably expect an update or if a major piece of contextual information changes (e.g. the introduction of the US Inflation Reduction Act) investors can reasonably expect a prompt response from companies affected.  Other than in those instances, investors should reasonably be willing to take in information on a communications timetable established by the company (not when it is convenient for the investor) and should be happy with annual updates.  (It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that investors who ask for sustainability information from companies more frequently than that are spending more time campaigning than they are investing)

Private data requestors


If this information is financially-material, it should be disclosed to the market as a whole at the same time.

If it is not financially-material, it probably does not need disclosing.

So … who does that leave?

By filtering malpractitioners of the types described to your annual sustainability results webinar and giving them the opportunity to engage directly with the specifics of your business, its sustainability exposures, management strategy and response, you will free up time to spend with the investors who are already specifically interested in these aspects of your company.

… and they are the kind of investors that you – I would suggest – want to be dealing with … because they are the marginal investors who will drive your stock price up and down.


As ever, I'm keen to hear other (esp. opposing) views on this topic: Via SRI-Connect here or via LinkedIn here