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Bank Greenwashing: Social Media Edition

2022-12-01 by Neil Simpson
Video stil showing "Banking on Net Zero"

video screengrab © HSBC [source]

Greenwashing is having a moment. In October, the Dutch bank ING was misting Twitter in a generous coating of greenwash while simultaneously arranging finance for oil and gas exploration. In Canada, RBC commercials have gotten so misleading that the country’s Competition Bureau has opened an investigation.

Meanwhile, the UK’s HSBC has been hammered in recent months for its approach to the climate crisis. First, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a series of the bank’s climate-change-themed commercials in October for being misleading, then The Bureau of Investigative Journalism spooked HSBC on Halloween by reporting its misappropriation of “Sustainability-Linked Bonds” for the facilitation of fossil fuel developments.

The growing notoriety of greenwashing is bad, but at least it demonstrates that more people are waking up to it. We wrote about how banks greenwash their websites last year, calling out over-simplistic and vague messaging, major distraction tactics, and problematic excuses for business as usual. Such pernicious messaging is equally well-suited to social media, so we’re revisiting greenwashing by way of Twitter and Instagram.

Social Greenwashing Olympics

Social media is all about broadcasting and sharing, so we decided to establish which banks are broadcasting the highest proportion of greenwash in their regular programming. Referencing the Banking on Climate Chaos 2022 report, on November 25 we checked the Twitter and Instagram feeds of the world’s top 20 fossil banks and counted how many posts out of the most recent 20 referenced sustainability.

Let’s help these banks fill in the gaps.

Bronze Medallist: HSBC

Twitter: 5/20 Instagram: 0/20

Total fossil fuel financing since Paris Agreement: $130 billion USD

Given its recent track record, it’s perhaps unsurprising that HSBC is in our top three. But five out of 20 Twitter posts and zero on Instagram isn’t too excessive, is it? And a massive solar farm is what Earth needs more of to cool it down. Everybody likes a bit of good news, don’t they?

In this video, Sarah Knight visits Egypt’s Benban Solar Park, built by FAS Energy and financed by HSBC. Knight is Group Head at HSBC Middle East’s Centre of Sustainable Finance. She says every country is trying to transition to renewable power and “the role of finance is about making all of this change happen”. The video says FAS Energy’s global operations are responsible for avoiding one million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Picture showing two oil rigs.

Oil rigs in West Africa © jbdodane via Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)

Elsewhere in Africa, HSBC is doing the exact opposite. The bank is currently providing a loan worth $135 million USD for Offshore Cape Three Points, a new project near the coast of Ghana that could extract 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas and 500 million barrels of oil. In the past two years, further large oil and gas reserves have been discovered in the area, so this project is also attempting to expand.

Oddly, HSBC does not have an informative and professional video about Offshore Cape Three Points on its Twitter feed.

Silver Medallist: Citi

Twitter: 5/20 Instagram: 1/20

Total fossil fuel financing since Paris Agreement: $285 billion USD

Citi had many important thoughts during COP27. Many important thoughts and tweets. In fact, the US bank filled a two-volume, 216-page report with its COP27 thoughts. Entitled “Energy Transition: Gaining Momentum on the Path to Net Zero”, Citi’s report analyses progress made on COP26 commitments and how to “keep momentum on track” for the global energy transition. Volume II, “Building Bridges to Renew Momentum”, underlines the funding requirements of this transition.

The report doesn’t explore what Citi could do to keep momentum on track for the global energy transition. Tweet less, perhaps?

Citi could also not directly co-finance a new, 670-kilometer gas pipeline in Canada. The under-construction Coastal GasLink pipeline will have the potential to pump five billion cubic feet of fracked gas to the British Columbian coast daily. Citi contributed $315 million CAD towards a $6.4 billion CAD Coastal GasLink pipeline loan in 2020.

Citi’s Energy Transition report doesn’t mention the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but it does helpfully point out that “given the staggering amount of investment capital necessary for the Energy Transition, fiscal stimulus to catalyze commercially viable renewable energy supply and infrastructure is essential.” If only Citi had access to piles and piles of fiscal stimulus.

Gold Medallist Greenwashing Champ: BNP Paribas

Twitter: 3/20 Instagram: 9/20

Total fossil fuel financing since Paris Agreement: $142 billion USD

HSBC and Citi’s social media greenwashing is a dribble compared to BNP Paribas’ gushing Instagram torrents. In early 2022 the French bank encouraged its 30,000+ Instagram followers to watch The Last Glaciers. The film’s director and BNP Paribas “sustainability partner” Craig Leeson says the planet’s disappearing glaciers “are super important for our survival on planet Earth.” Thanks Craig. His final words? “Act now”. BNP Paribas has acted by making almost 50% of its Instagram content about sustainability.

Leeson probably didn’t reach BNP Paribas’ corporate loans department, because a few weeks after The Last Glaciers released, the bank co-financed a $8 billion USD loan for the world’s seventh-largest oil and gas company, TotalEnergies (née Total). This loan was for “corporate operations”, which according to the campaign group Reclaim Finance could be used for anything.

Bank Greenwashing: Social Media Edition

December 1, 2022 by Neil Simpson

video screengrab © HSBC [source]

Greenwashing is having a moment. In October, the Dutch bank ING was misting Twitter in a generous coating of greenwash while simultaneously arranging finance for oil and gas exploration. In Canada, RBC commercials have gotten so misleading that the country’s Competition Bureau has opened an investigation.

Meanwhile, the UK’s HSBC has been hammered in recent months for its approach to the climate crisis. First, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a series of the bank’s climate-change-themed commercials in October for being misleading, then The Bureau of Investigative Journalism spooked HSBC on Halloween by reporting its misappropriation of “Sustainability-Linked Bonds” for the facilitation of fossil fuel developments.

The growing notoriety of greenwashing is bad, but at least it demonstrates that more people are waking up to it. We wrote about how banks greenwash their websites last year, calling out over-simplistic and vague messaging, major distraction tactics, and problematic excuses for business as usual. Such pernicious messaging is equally well-suited to social media, so we’re revisiting greenwashing by way of Twitter and Instagram.

Social Greenwashing Olympics

Social media is all about broadcasting and sharing, so we decided to establish which banks are broadcasting the highest proportion of greenwash in their regular programming. Referencing the Banking on Climate Chaos 2022 report, on November 25 we checked the Twitter and Instagram feeds of the world’s top 20 fossil banks and counted how many posts out of the most recent 20 referenced sustainability.

Let’s help these banks fill in the gaps.

Bronze Medallist: HSBC

Twitter: 5/20 Instagram: 0/20

Total fossil fuel financing since Paris Agreement: $130 billion USD

Given its recent track record, it’s perhaps unsurprising that HSBC is in our top three. But five out of 20 Twitter posts and zero on Instagram isn’t too excessive, is it? And a massive solar farm is what Earth needs more of to cool it down. Everybody likes a bit of good news, don’t they?

In this video, Sarah Knight visits Egypt’s Benban Solar Park, built by FAS Energy and financed by HSBC. Knight is Group Head at HSBC Middle East’s Centre of Sustainable Finance. She says every country is trying to transition to renewable power and “the role of finance is about making all of this change happen”. The video says FAS Energy’s global operations are responsible for avoiding one million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Oil rigs in West Africa © jbdodane via Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)

Elsewhere in Africa, HSBC is doing the exact opposite. The bank is currently providing a loan worth $135 million USD for Offshore Cape Three Points, a new project near the coast of Ghana that could extract 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas and 500 million barrels of oil. In the past two years, further large oil and gas reserves have been discovered in the area, so this project is also attempting to expand.

Oddly, HSBC does not have an informative and professional video about Offshore Cape Three Points on its Twitter feed.

Silver Medallist: Citi

Twitter: 5/20 Instagram: 1/20

Total fossil fuel financing since Paris Agreement: $285 billion USD

Citi had many important thoughts during COP27. Many important thoughts and tweets. In fact, the US bank filled a two-volume, 216-page report with its COP27 thoughts. Entitled “Energy Transition: Gaining Momentum on the Path to Net Zero”, Citi’s report analyses progress made on COP26 commitments and how to “keep momentum on track” for the global energy transition. Volume II, “Building Bridges to Renew Momentum”, underlines the funding requirements of this transition.

The report doesn’t explore what Citi could do to keep momentum on track for the global energy transition. Tweet less, perhaps?

Citi could also not directly co-finance a new, 670-kilometer gas pipeline in Canada. The under-construction Coastal GasLink pipeline will have the potential to pump five billion cubic feet of fracked gas to the British Columbian coast daily. Citi contributed $315 million CAD towards a $6.4 billion CAD Coastal GasLink pipeline loan in 2020.

Citi’s Energy Transition report doesn’t mention the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but it does helpfully point out that “given the staggering amount of investment capital necessary for the Energy Transition, fiscal stimulus to catalyze commercially viable renewable energy supply and infrastructure is essential.” If only Citi had access to piles and piles of fiscal stimulus.

Gold Medallist Greenwashing Champ: BNP Paribas

Twitter: 3/20 Instagram: 9/20

Total fossil fuel financing since Paris Agreement: $142 billion USD

https://www.instagram.com/p/Ccpq81MFngE/

HSBC and Citi’s social media greenwashing is a dribble compared to BNP Paribas’ gushing Instagram torrents. In early 2022 the French bank encouraged its 30,000+ Instagram followers to watch The Last Glaciers. The film’s director and BNP Paribas “sustainability partner” Craig Leeson says the planet’s disappearing glaciers “are super important for our survival on planet Earth.” Thanks Craig. His final words? “Act now”. BNP Paribas has acted by making almost 50% of its Instagram content about sustainability.

Leeson probably didn’t reach BNP Paribas’ corporate loans department, because a few weeks after The Last Glaciers released, the bank co-financed a $8 billion USD loan for the world’s seventh-largest oil and gas company, TotalEnergies (née Total). This loan was for “corporate operations”, which according to the campaign group Reclaim Finance could be used for anything.

Unfortunately, “anything” includes the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). The 1,443-kilometer EACOP will move approximately 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil from Uganda to the coast of Tanzania. EACOP is so monumental that the European Parliament filed an emergency human rights resolution against it in September.

TotalEnergies is evidently busy, so it’s probably best not to expect a BNP Paribas-hosted Instagram video about the EACOP just yet.

Call It Out

This article was written using a laptop constructed with oil. Some say using fossil fuels to campaign against fossil fuels is hypocritical. Unfortunately, nobody read the articles we wrote on used tissues attached to carrier pigeons. So, do we wait until we can mitigate global heating perfectly, or just start and learn as we go? Bank.Green decided to learn as we go and we appreciate that most banks are doing the same. But we can’t appreciate disproportionate and misleading messaging that lulls people into a false sense of security. That’s why bank greenwashing should be called out.

In 2021, the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario stated “no new oil and gas fields are required beyond those already approved for development”. To enable more development risks further global heating and therefore more chaos and suffering. BNP Paribas, Citi, and HSBC are knowingly contributing to this.

As the world lurches towards a giant energy transition, the greenwashing is inevitably escalating. Luckily, so are the efforts to yank back the green curtain.

Read Bank Greenwashing: Website Edition here.

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