Modern Marketing Brand Safety

Adfree Cities targets HSBC ‘greenwashing’ with ASA complaints campaign

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By Ellen Ormesher | Reporter

November 2, 2021 | 4 min read

Activist network Adfree Cities has launched an ASA complaints campaign against HSBC over what it calls its ‘greenwash-by-omission’ sustainability advertisements.

As Cop26 kicks off in Glasgow, the subject of corporate greenwashing and the ad industry’s complicity in this is a topic gaining increasing attention.

The Adfree Cities complaints concern a campaign developed by HSBC in October 2021, seen at bus stations in and around London and Bristol. The posters posit HSBC as a sustainable bank, and feature slogans such as ‘climate doesn’t do borders,’ outlining the bank’s commitment to sustainable endeavors such as tree-planting.

HSBC greenwashing ad

The HSBC ads in question appeared at bus stops across London and Bristol/Image via Adfree Cities

Adfree Cities claims that “unsurprisingly, each advert fails to mention HSBC’s ongoing financial support to fossil fuel companies, in a textbook case of greenwash ’by omission.’

“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.”

This isn’t the first time HSBC has been targeted by activist groups regarding greenwashing. The bank was the subject of a guerilla ‘subvertising’ campaign by Brandalism last year. This year, Brandalism also launched a series of protest activations against Barclays for its continuing investment in fossil fuels despite pledges of sustainability.

When approached for comment, HSBC told The Drum: “HSBC is firmly committed to aligning its provision of finance to net zero by 2050 or sooner. At the core of this commitment is to support our customers in even the most carbon-intensive sectors on their journey to lower emissions. We expect to provide between $750bn and $1tn in finance and investment by 2030 toward this.”

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The ASA says it cannot comment on incoming complaints, however it highlighted its statement on the regulation of environmental claims and issues in advertising back in September and announced that yesterday, in support of Cop26, it has launched a dedicated resource hub on environmental ad claims.

Adfree Cities concluded on the matter: “We know the world needs to move away from fossil fuels and the ASA has acknowledged this too. Greenwashing stalls real action on climate change, misleads and confuses citizens as to companies’ real impact on the planet, and creates a view of polluting companies as socially and environmentally responsible – and even part of the solution to climate breakdown.

“Despite its greenwashing adverts, the bottom line is that HSBC is not part of the solution while it continues to finance fossil fuels – it remains a massive part of the problem.”

Further scrutiny of the industry over these matters is expected at the highest level going forward, as this week the chief executives of four major oil and gas companies and two major trade associations will face questioning by the US House Oversight and Reform Committee about the fossil fuel industry’s climate disinformation.

Throughout Cop26 and beyond, increasing legal action against corporate greenwashing and the marketing that facilitates it can only be expected.

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