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The truth and the whole truth (and nothing but…)

28 October, 2022

Like most top-tier banks, HSBC is subject to heavy scrutiny. It ranks second in the UK for fossil fuel financing, which – long story short – means it is helping to accelerate the climate crisis. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when last week the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned two ads which promoted the bank’s plans to reduce emissions.

The reason for banning the ads? Greenwashing.

One advert promoted a $1 trillion investment plan to transition to net zero, while another highlighted plans to plant two million trees and lock in 1.25 million tonnes of carbon. While the information was true and accurate, the ads failed to disclose the material emissions the bank enables elsewhere, by empowering oil companies and gas groups with bonds and loans.

The ASA essentially concluded that the ads were misleading because they omitted significant information about HSBC’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Full descriptions of the ads and the codes that were breached can be found here, but there is one key takeaway: businesses need to look at what they say and what they don’t say when talking about environmental activity, rather than picking up on individual goodness and choosing to highlight that. So don’t greenwash, don’t greenhush (see last week’s Friday 5 for more on that) but also make sure you’re not being selective in the story you tell.

HSBC has promised a bold shift in its relationship with energy-sector clients with the forthcoming bank-wide Climate Transition Plan in 2023. But until then, and unless they print new posters with the small print: “we are helping to fund climate change too”, you won’t be seeing these ads at the bus stops any time soon.

By Bertie Bateman

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