Greenwashing: HSBC in the sights of the British advertising policeman

Posted Apr 29, 2022, 6:34 PMUpdated on Apr 29, 2022, 6:35 PM

Haro on greenwashing. According to the “Financial Times”, the HSBC bank is about to be called to order by the British advertising police. In question, a marketing campaign displayed in London and Bristol last October presenting the bank as particularly active in environmental matters despite its strong involvement in the financing of activities that emit greenhouse gases.

In the provisional document to which the business daily has had access, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) points to an advertisement in which HSBC boasts of the planting of 2 million trees aimed at capturing 1.25 million tonnes of CO2 present in the atmosphere. In another ad, the Sino-British bank said it was ready to deploy some $1 trillion in financing to help its customers make the transition to zero emissions.

For the English regulator, these two advertisements aim to make believe that HSBC makes “a positive overall environmental contribution as a company” and could influence the decision of certain customers seeking to open a bank account, take out a loan or obtain a debit card. credit.

Provided it is made official, this is the first intervention by the British advertising regulator since it decided to strengthen its vigilance on greenwashing last September. His effort is part of a more global movement. In France, a decree published in mid-April will require, from 1er January 2023, companies claiming to be carbon neutral or presenting a product as such to prove this assertion by publishing a summary report.

Coal financing until 2040

Specifically, HSBC’s advertisements fail to recall that the group is “simultaneously involved in the financing of companies which have contributed significantly to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and therefore directly in conflict with the objectives of a transition to net zero”, specify the ASA in its text.

As proof, the advertising policeman refers to the bank’s annual report where it itself recognizes that its current credit portfolio represents the equivalent of the emission of 35.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year, just for the oil and gas sector.

In addition, the group does not intend to stop financing the coal sector, nor its expansion, before 2040. Therefore, the ASA judges that “in the context of the United Kingdom and other nations working to achieve ‘ambitious carbon neutrality targets’, HSBC’s efforts are ‘slow’.

Explain the contribution to global warming

ASA’s analysis is shared by most environmental NGOs. For the French organization Reclaim Finance, HSBC funneled $4.1 billion to companies planning new coal plants around the world, and $15 billion to the wider coal industry between October 2018 and October 2020, making it “one of the top 30 ‘dirty lenders and underwriters’ in the industry”.

In its conclusions – which have not yet been formalized – the ASA therefore considers that the bank’s next advertising campaigns including elements related to the environment should also explain the group’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse.

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