Greenwashing: UK advertising regulator points the finger at HSBC

The Advertising Standards Authority, the UK's advertising regulator, is preparing to call HSBC to order: according to the body, the bank is greenwashing two advertisements that suggest to potential customers that its environmental commitment is much greater than it actually is.

Two advertisements found to be misleading

According to the Financial Times, the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK's advertising watchdog, is about to warn HSBC about greenwashing.

The UK's advertising regulator believes that two recent HSBC advertisements, displayed at bus stops in Bristol and London late last year, mislead consumers about the bank's true environmental commitment.

In one ad, HSBC declares its readiness to provide $1,000 billion in financing to its customers to help them achieve net zero emissions. The other ad highlights the planting of 2 million trees, with the aim of sequestering 1.25 million tonnes of CO2.

According to the Advertising Standards Authority, these two ads fall within the scope of greenwashing by making it appear that the bank makes "a positive overall environmental contribution as a business ", which is likely to attract customers looking to open a bank account, obtain a credit card or a loan.

ASA recalls HSBC's financing of polluting companies

However, as the Advertising Standards Authority states in the document made available to the Financial Times, consumers will not be able to expect, on seeing these ads, that " HSBC is simultaneously involved in financing companies that have contributed significantly to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore directly in conflict with the objectives of a transition to net zero ".

As proof, the UK advertising regulator quotes information from the bank's annual report, which states in black and white that current emissions financed by HSBC are equivalent to 35.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year, taking only oil and gas projects into account.

For the Advertising Standards Authority, this information in HSBC's annual report proves that, despite the initiatives announced in the offending ads, the bank continues to invest in companies that emit " significant levels of carbon dioxide ".

While HSBC plans to stop financing the coal sector in 2040, the ASA deems its efforts " slow ", all the more so when put in the context of " the UK and other nations working to achieve ambitious carbon neutrality targets ".

According to the UK's advertising regulator, the bank's future marketing campaigns must, if they mention environmental issues, also mention HSBC's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

A few months ago, the Advertising Standards Authority announced that it was about to tighten its rules on greenwashing in advertising. In February, the body took aim at smoothie manufacturer Innocent: in an advert, the brand claimed that its Alpro almond drink was "good for the planet", a benefit considered exaggerated by the ASA.

In France, from January 1, 2023, companies claiming to be carbon neutral, or to be carbon neutral in one of their products, will be obliged to publish a summary report proving their claims.