The UK advertising watchdog has banned a series of misleading HSBC adverts and said any future campaigns must disclose the bank’s contribution to the climate crisis.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated the global banking firm can no longer run the ads which promoted its plans to reduce harmful emissions.
The ruling followed dozens of complaints over posters that appeared on high streets and bus stops in the lead-up to the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow last October.
The ASA said the adverts highlighting how the bank’s investment of $1tn in climate-friendly initiatives such as tree-planting and helping clients hit climate targets failed to acknowledge HSBC’s own contribution to emissions through the companies they invest in.
It marks the ASA’s first action against a bank for so-called “greenwashing”.
“Despite the initiatives highlighted in the ads … HSBC was continuing to significantly finance investments in businesses and industries that emitted notable levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We did not consider consumers would know that was the case,” the ASA said. “We concluded that the ads omitted material information and were therefore misleading.”
An HSBC spokesperson said: “The financial sector has a responsibility to communicate its role in the low carbon transition to raise public awareness and engage its customers. We will consider how best to do this as we deliver our ambitious net zero commitments.”
The ruling followed a warning from HSBC that companies will need a “robust and clear sustainability” strategy or they will find it increasingly difficult to get financing.
The multinational bank’s latest annual report said its financed emissions – clients and projects it provided loans and services to – were linked to the release of 65.3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of XYZ. That figure only accounted for its oil and gas clients but would probably be much higher if other carbon-heavy industries such as utilities, construction, transport, and coal mining were included, the ASA noted.
The watchdog ruled that HSBC had to ensure any future environmental claims were “adequately qualified and did not omit material information about its contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.”
In May, a senior HSBC executive drew controversy after accusing central bankers and other officials of exaggerating the risks of climate change.
Stuart Kirk, who was the global head of responsible investing at the bank’s asset management division, said: “There’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world.” His role involved considering the impact of investments on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
Following heavy criticism Kirk resigned from the bank in July and said that his comments had made his position “unsustainable”.
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