Every shareholder engagement has its own strategy but basically it comes down to identifying the right company to engage, making your case to corporate management, and (if needed) building support among other shareowners. Our core strategies include:
Identifying companies for engagement:
There are many factors that help determine which companies to engage with. The first step of course is identifying which companies in your portfolio are involved with the issues you are concerned about (or conversely – identifying those companies involved with your issue and adding them to your portfolio).
If shareholders are already engaged on an issue or company it makes it easy for new participants to join in. The shareholder advocacy community is very collaborative and in most cases we can simply join an existing dialogue or co-file a resolution where someone else is already the “lead” shareholder. Being a co-filer usually requires less of a time commitment and provides the option of co-filing at a number of companies. Joining an existing engagement also allows for a gentle introduction to the process (for those new to shareholder advocacy), the issue, and the company.
Leaders vs. laggards
Companies, investors, and industry analysts are always trying to identify industry leaders vs. laggards. Engaging leaders usually involves collaborative dialogue that allows us to influence industry-wide best practices. Engaging laggards generally requires a shareholder resolution and pressure from other shareholders or media. In either case, getting one company to take a step forward often leads to others having to match or exceed it and initiates a race to the top. Developing or utilizing existing company benchmarks, scorecards, best practices, or industry reports can be a crucial factor in deciding which companies to engage with.
Some shareholders simply file at any company in their portfolio. Yet concentrating on companies in a specific sector results in a better understanding of that industry’s challenges and solutions. Companies compare themselves to their peer group and focusing on one sector is an excellent way to pit industry leaders vs. laggards.
Act in good faith
We believe that strong environmental, social and governance policies strengthen company management and protect long-term shareholder value. We view our role as helping to build a healthier company and strive for a good faith dialogue. In many cases shareholder advocates serve as free consultants to management by alerting them to potential risks, educating them about industry best practices, or identifying safer products or new markets to develop. Once we initiate communication the company’s response will determine how we will then proceed – either engaging in a dialogue and/or utilizing the shareholder resolution process.
Engage highest levels of corporate management
When in dialogue with a company we engage with senior management and those most directly involved with our issue. This access provides us with insight that is unavailable from outside the company. It is also common for shareholders to bring in outside experts to brief management on the issue.
Translate environmental and social impacts into financial arguments
When scientists, NGOs and the general public speak about the impact of environmental and social issues on people and the planet they are often met by corporations speaking about the impact to their bottom line. Getting both sides to understand each other is often simply a case of learning to speak the other’s language. We convert social and environmental concerns into economic terms that resonate with management and shareholders. For example we may highlight financial risk factors such as regulatory, reputational, and legal risks of a particular issue, while also identifying viable alternative products or practices.
Outreach to shareholders, analysts, and media:
Link to the larger shareholder advocacy community
We network with shareholder coordinating organizations such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Ceres, Investor Network on Climate Risk, Center for Political Accountability, Investor Environmental Health Network, UN Principles for Responsible Investment, First Affirmative Financial Network, US Social Investment Forum, Share Action UK, and Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE Canada), among others.
We also collaborate with individual, faith-based, union, pension fund, and SRI institutional investors as well as with shareholder advocacy NGOs such as As You Sow, SumOfUs, Green America, and other related NGOs as needed.
Solicit support from large institutional investors
If the company is not responsive we can conduct outreach to their top shareholders. Hearing from large institutional investors such as CalSTRS, NY City Pension Funds or proxy advisory firms such as ISS and Glass Lewis helps highlight these social and environmental issues as a financial concern that necessitates company action.