Watchdog bans HSBC climate ads in another blow to bank’s green credentials | HSBC
HSBC suffered another blow to its green credentials after Britain’s advertising watchdog banned a series of misleading adverts and said any future campaign must disclose the bank’s contribution to the climate crisis.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decision follows dozens of complaints about posters that appeared on high streets and bus stops ahead of the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow last October.
The watchdog said the ads, which highlighted how the bank had invested $1 billion in climate-friendly initiatives such as planting trees and helping customers meet climate goals, failed to acknowledge the HSBC’s own contribution to the shows.
“Despite the initiatives highlighted in the advertisements… HSBC continued to significantly fund investments in businesses and industries that were emitting noticeable levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We didn’t think consumers would know that was the case,” the ASA said. “We concluded that the advertisements omitted important information and were therefore misleading.”
The decision came months after HSBC was forced to suspend Stuart Kirk, a senior banker who called climate crisis warnings “unsubstantiated” and “strident”.
HSBC’s latest annual report says its funded emissions – customers and projects to which it provided loans and services – were linked to the release of 65.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. That figure only represented its oil and gas customers, but would likely be much higher if other carbon-intensive industries such as utilities, construction, transportation and coal mining were included, the agency noted. SAA.
The watchdog ruled that HSBC must ensure that any future environmental claims were “sufficiently qualified and did not omit material information about its contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions”.
HSBC said: “The financial industry has a responsibility to communicate its role in the low carbon transition to raise awareness and engage its customers, so we will consider how best to do this as we meet our ambitious net zero commitments.”
Kirk, who was head of responsible investing at HSBC, resigned in May after giving a presentation in London titled “Why investors don’t need to worry about climate risk”. In this, he shed light on the significant flood risks and complained of having to spend time “looking at something that is going to happen in 20 or 30 years”.
HSBC Chief Executive Noel Quinn hit out at Kirk’s comments, insisting they did not reflect the bank’s views on the climate crisis.
Campaign groups hailed the decision by the ASA, one of the main plaintiffs, Adfree Cities, saying it was an “important moment in the fight to stop banks from whitewashing their image”.
Meanwhile, campaign group Make My Money Matter, founded by Love Actually filmmaker and director Richard Curtis, said it hoped the ruling would “turn the tide” against banks “who may be hiding their dangerous relationship with the fossil fuel industry through a misleading and contradictory commercial advertising campaign”.
This week, HSBC held global workshops for staff on how to spot and manage greenwashing risks through its online-only Climate Action Network festival – a point that has not been lost on campaigners.
“It is painfully ironic that HSBC warned staff of the risks of greenwashing the day before the advertising regulator banned its own advertisements for greenwashing,” said Veronica Wignall, director of Adfree Cities.
“It’s a bit like the wolf warning the sheep to fear being eaten. The bank should heed its own advice, stop using publicity to portray its role in financing climate destruction, and then actually take action to phase out all oil and gas financing in its policy going forward, according to a science-based timeline “, she said.