The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned HSBC from running two advertisements, concluding that they are "misleading" about the bank's climate change efforts.
In its first action against a bank for greenwashing, the ASA has ruled that the ads - posters seen on bus stops in Bristol and London in October 2021 - "omitted material information" about HSBC's activities relating to climate change.
The posters, which appeared in the run-up to the UN COP26 climate change summit, boasted about HSBC's aim of providing up to $1 trillion in financing to help clients transition to net zero and the bank's effort to plant two million trees in the UK.
Following complaints, the ASA has decided that the posters - complete with images of waves crashing on the shore and tree growth rings - "omitted significant information about HSBC's contribution to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions".
Notably, that the bank was "continuing to significantly finance investments in businesses and industries that emitted notable levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses".
Commenting on the ruling, Robbie Gillett from campaign group Adfree Cities, which led the complaint against HSBC, says: "This is a significant moment in the fight to prevent banks from greenwashing their image.
"HSBC can no longer ply us with ads pretending they are green while continuing to bankroll climate breakdown in the background."
A recent survey found that greenwashing has become a 'systemic problem' among UK banks despite universal claims that sustainability is at the heart of their business.
The research conducted by Censuswide surveying 150 UK banking executives found that although 100% of UK banking executives say that sustainability is integral to their business strategy, only just over half of UK banks (59%) measure their environmental impact as part of sustainability targets.
Finextra recently announced its fifth Sustainable Finance Live conference and hackathon, scheduled to take place on 29 November. For more information and to register for this event, please visit the event page here.