Today’s news that HSBC is being forced to withdraw a multi-million-pound advertising campaign trumpeting its ‘green’ credentials must be a wake-up call to the advertising industry in particular and business as a whole.
HSBC has been hauled up by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for ‘omitting material information’ around claims that it was planning to reduce harmful emissions from its operations. This action comes hot on the heels of another advertising ban for Unilever and its Persil brand. Unilever was also accused of overly promoting (read, exaggerating) claims around the positive environmental impact of using their washing powder. There are of course other examples of overt green-wash marketing tactics employed by businesses, mostly delivered via paid-for advertising. Far too many for my liking. But this is the first time the ASA has barred ads by a bank on greenwashing grounds
According to the BBC’s report, the ASA stated, ‘Customers…would not expect that HSBC, in making unqualified claims about its environmentally beneficial work, would also be simultaneously involved in the financing of business which made significant contributions to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions’.
These are not indiscretions perpetrated by the proprietors of Ron’s Village Car Repairs or Aunty Meg’s Tea shop. These are some of the largest companies (cue Jeremy Clarkson rich brogue)……..in the world. I frankly find it baffling that they can be led down a creative path that exposes them so easily to this rightful scrutiny and censure. Greenwashing is a real issue, and it has to the be the responsibility of all businesses, and certainly the largest, to ensure any claims are supported by irrefutable scientific evidence.
Two things need to happen:
1. Corporations need to seek out and seriously take counsel offered by their sustainability specialists and advisors. Greenwash is a scourge that can easily discredit the most nobly minded of businesses
2. The advertising sector needs to get a grip and reign in its creative tendencies when developing corporate campaigns designed to inform and reassure consumers about the sustainable credentials of their operations. I honestly think that campaigns need some kind of qualification audit before they are released.
Otherwise, the flat earthers out there will be able to rub their oily hands together with increasing glee.
I’m off to get a Fair-Trade coffee from Meg’s. I hope she can prove my latte’s provenance. She’d better have.