The UK’s regulator of advertising received 45 complaints about whether the bank could advertise itself as environmentally responsible.
Two posters by the major bank HSBC have been dubbed greenwashing by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in its latest rulings, it was announced today.
First seen in October last year at bus stations in and around London and Bristol, the posters posited HSBC as a sustainable brand.
The first poster featured the strapline: ‘Climate change doesn’t do borders. Neither do rising sea levels. That’s why HSBC is aiming to provide up to $1tn in financing and investment globally to help our clients transition to net zero.’
The second read: ‘Climate change doesn’t do borders. So in the UK, we’re helping to plant 2 million trees, which will lock in 1.25 million tonnes of carbon over their lifetime.’
The ASA received 45 complaints, including from Adfree Cities, challenging whether the statements were misleading because they omitted significant information about HSBC’s contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.
At the time, Adfree Cities said: “The ads create a misleading impression of a bank that is environmentally responsible while missing out crucial information that would lead passers-by to come to a very different conclusion.”
HSBC says that it has been making the claim seen in the ads since 2020 and that it aims to meet the ambition to provide financing and investment globally to help some of its clients transition to net zero by 2030.
It says that the financing of greenhouse gas-emitting industries is required during the transition to net zero, and so its continued financing of those industries was not in conflict with the aims of a transition to net zero. It added further claims that as the ads had appeared in the run-up to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop26), it believed this would have affected how the average consumer understood the claims made.
However, the CAP Code requires that the basis of environmental claims must be clear and that unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.
The ASA says it did not believe “that consumers would understand the intricacies of transitioning to net zero, and would not expect that HSBC, in making unqualified claims about its environmentally-beneficial work, would also be simultaneously involved in the financing of businesses that made significant contributions to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and would continue to do so for many years into the future.”
The bank was not the only brand this week to fall foul of the ASA for greenwashing, however. A website and product listing on Amazon by Mum & You for baby wipes, seen in February last year, was also scrapped after its claims about the product being biodegradable were found to be misleading.
Analysis of recent ASA rulings by The Independent found there had been a sharp rise in the number of adverts ruled as greenwashing.
Toby King, a spokesperson for the ASA, explained to The Drum that this is likely due to the watchdog’s Environment and Climate Change Project, which brings together guidance on greenwashing for the first time, alongside commissioning research into high-priority areas. “The project sends a clear signal that the ASA will be shining a brighter regulatory spotlight on advertising issues that relate to climate change and the environment in the coming months and years,” he said.
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