Theoretical as well as empirical evidence regarding the influence of institutional ownership on corporate environmental strategy not only is inconclusive but also reflects experience from either the Anglo-American context or other developed countries. The underlying assumption of most of this literature is that institutional shareholders are always ‘active’ or ‘passive’ in their actions towards corporate environmental strategy. However, this study argues that this relationship might be moderated by various motivations such as legitimizing existence and operations, conforming with industry norms or lessening managerial entrenchment. Econometric analysis, using a sample of Egyptian firms, as hypothesized, demonstrated that institutional ownership exerted positive and significant effects on a corporation's tendency to adopt environmental management standards only when financial resources are available and investment opportunities are limited. A possible explanation of this finding is that Egyptian institutional investors are more likely to use corporate environmental responsibility to offset their inability to confront managerial discretionary power. An implication of this finding is that not only will different types of stakeholder ask for different levels of social and environmental responsibility, but also the same type of stakeholder may ask for different levels of social and environmental responsibility in different contexts. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.