ASA finds HSBC sustainability-focused adverts misleading

The UK advertising watchdog, the ASA, held that HSBC misled consumers with two advertising posters, which were displayed in the run up to COP26, focused upon sustainability commitments.

The posters made claims about the HSBC’s pledges to “provide up to $1 trillion in financing and investment globally to help [their] clients transition to net zero” and to “plant 2 million trees which will lock in 1.25 million tonnes of carbon over their lifetime”.

The ASA received 45 complaints on the basis of a lack of transparency about HSBC’s own contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.

The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the posters that HSBC was making, and intended to make, a positive overall environmental contribution as a company. The imagery of the posters was considered to enhance this impression.

However, it was not apparent from the posters that HSBC was also involved in financing businesses which made significant contributions to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions (and would likely continue to do so).

HSBC’s 2021 Group Annual Report and Accounts (the Annual Report) indicated that the emissions relating to HSBC’s customers were equivalent to 65.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year for oil and gas alone. ASA considered that this figure would be significantly higher once other carbon-intensive industries were included in the analysis. The Annual Report also indicated that HSBC intended to continue the funding of thermal coal mining and power production to some degree until 2040 (or 2030 in the OECD).

The ASA found the posters to be misleading on this basis. HSBC was told to ensure that future marketing materials featuring environmental claims are fully qualified, and not to omit material information about its contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions.


Ashley Borthwick