This is huge. HSBC is the first bank in the world to be found guilty of greenwashing by an advertising regulator. And it’s all over the headlines: FT, Bloomberg, WSJ, Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail, BBC and more.

Greenwashing is where you pretend to be more sustainable than you actually are. And campaigners have been calling HSBC greenwashers for the best part of a decade. Now, the Very Serious People at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agree.

HSBC is continuing to lend BILLIONS of dollars a year to fossil fuel companies. Which runs completely opposed to its self-declared mission as “playing a leading role in mobilising the transition to a global net zero economy”.

Robbie Gillett from campaign group Adfree Cities, who led the ad complaint, said: “HSBC can no longer ply us with ads pretending they are green while continuing to bankroll climate breakdown in the background. HSBC and other banks such as Barclays and Standard Chartered must stop funding fossil fuels instead of attempting to buy public favour with deceptive marketing campaigns, before these reputational risks turn into legal ones.”

“Our [HSBC’s] investments are at complete odds with the messaging from the top of the business. We say we’re green, whilst having Saudi Aramco as a huge client. It just adds to the perception of HSBC being untrustworthy or just toxic.” – HSBC employee of 6 years

HSBC staff across the country are sharing thoughts on today’s ruling, and on HSBC’s fossil fuel funding. It’s 100% confidential. Join your colleagues now: 

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Here’s more information on today’s news:

HSBC’s greenwashing workshop for staff (don’t mention Saudi Aramco)

The irony is painful. The day before HSBC is told off for greenwashing, the bank held sessions on ‘Greenwashing and Climate Risk’, teaching staff about the risks of greenwashing. I know, I know. It’s comical. And it continues. This week is HSBC’s Climate Action Network Festival, a fortnight of events for staff to learn about the bank’s responsibility in stopping climate change!

Another session will attempt to explain how its climate strategy in the Middle East fits its ‘net-zero ambition’. That’s going to be a hard sell. Especially because of HSBC’s biggest fossil fuel client, Saudi Aramco – the Saudi oil company which pledged to drain the earth for “every last molecule” of oil. Nice. Very ‘net-zero’.

In January, HSBC handed Saudi Aramco a massive $10bn credit card to play with. And yet, the bank claims that it’s working with clients to help them transition away from fossil fuels. Saudi Aramco is not transitioning, and has no intention to.

The bank probably intends to use COP27, held in Egypt, as a way to shore up fossil fuel clients in the Middle East, where it intends to grow its business. But this is dramatically against any claims that it is a climate leader or leading the transition to a greener future.

A chance to start afresh?

HSBC has an opportunity now. It’s been caught red-handed. It must stop with the misleading sustainability advertising. But more importantly, it must turn around its fossil fuel business into one that genuinely serves the climate and clients growing the scale of the renewables sector i.e. stop funding Aramco, start funding the future.

HSBC promised to publish an oil and gas policy before the end of the year. It will dictate how it funds (or not) the oil and gas sector. For HSBC to truly be a leader, it must commit to an end date for the financing of conventional oil and gas aligned with science, and stop funding the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. This means not offering loans to companies to keep extracting and exploring for more oil and gas reserves. It means not helping massive fossil fuel companies raise funds via bonds. It means doing the right thing.

Climate scientists and economists agree this is necessary for planetary survival.