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ASA ruling against HSBC climate change adverts

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Key facts:

The ASA upheld complaints that HSBC misled consumers regarding its green credentials in two adverts that appeared at bus stops in London and Bristol. The adverts appeared ahead of COP26 in October 2021. The adverts stated that “Climate change doesn’t do borders. Neither do rising sea levels. That’s why HSBC is aiming to provide up to $1 trillion in financing and investment globally to help our clients transition to net zero” and “in the UK, we’re helping to plant 2 million trees which will lock in 1.25 million tonnes of carbon over their lifetime”.

HSBC argued that it was taking action in line with its statements and provided evidence to supports its claims in the adverts, including helping to plant two million trees and providing financing to clients to transition to net zero.

However, the ASA noted that HSBC omitted significant information about its involvement in fossil fuel projects and its links to deforestation. It considered that consumers might be led to understand “that HSBC was making, and intended to make, a positive overall environmental contribution as a company’’. It added that consumers would not expect that HSBC “would also be simultaneously involved in the financing of businesses which made significant contributions to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and would continue to do so for many years into the future”. The ASA pointed out that HSBC’s financed emissions stand at over 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year for oil and gas alone, and that the bank intended to continue to fund thermal coal mining to some degree for several years.

The ASA found that HSBC breached Rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), and Rule 11.1 (Environmental claims) of the CAP Code.

The ASA ordered HSBC to not display the adverts again in the form complained of and told HSBC to ensure future environment-related marketing was adequately qualified and did not omit material information.

Source(s):

ASA ruling

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