Friday, February 01, 2008

HSBC Bank is carbon neutral!

Add.. er (Pre?)endum/Prefix (by Junkk Male): I have reloaded this post, from its original origination date of 6/07/07 (why do Americans insist of flipping the dd/mm? It took some finding), for a few reasons:

1) It has to be the most commented/followed up upon (interestingly). Sorry HSBC.
2) I am impressed it is still being commented upon after all this time, but worry many might miss it in archive (I get a notification; I'm not sure if others do).
3) It has attracted a lot of very thoughtful, considered feedback, which is just how I like things here to proceed. The most recent is typical and most welcome. Check 'em out.

I think not! That's a claim waaaaaaay too far!

Further to the post earlier about 'green banking' (below the Live Earth post), HSBC now claims to be carbon neutral! From Carbon Free news.

"HSBC says it is the world's first major bank to become carbon neutral and has committed a further US$90 million over five years to reduce the bank's impact on the environment through a series of initiatives ...."

That's a hell of a claim, and seeing as there is no clearly agreed definition of carbon neutral - I'd love to see just how they attempt to justify it! Is every branch and office now generating its own renewable energy? Or does every branch and office now only use electricity from renewable sources? Does no-one travel? Are all new branches and offices built to be super energy efficient? Are all existing branches and offices being updated to be super energy efficient? Are all consumables and replacement equipment items that they purchase manufactured to zero carbon emission standards?

I'll bet they can't answer yes to any of them!

The only possible way they can justify this claim is by using considerable carbon offsetting, by paying someone else to recompense for their carbon emissions; which, as we have already pointed out on several occasion on this blog, is akin to ordering a diet coke alongside your double burger and claiming it to be part of your dieting program!

Greenwash, green-bullsh*t, green-veneer, green-smoke and green-mirrors. A veritable green smorgasbord of false, sickly green tosh. What's the betting that they are claiming to be carbon negative within a few years time?

ADDENDUM (via JunkkMale):

HSBC gives key marketer ‘golden handcuff’ offer - may explain something (or not), about the state of ads (especially 'green' ones) these days, if bankers are running the marketing.

ADDENDUM 2 (JunkkMale):

To add a hyperlinked URL to the comment posts


HSBC on climate change and Stern - well, they are devoting a lot of people and stuff to talking about it!


Peter said...

Dave, I so value having you on board. At last I can leave it to another to riase an issue, and then 'ride the wave' from a slighly different location.

I was going to prefix this with 'Poor old..', but actually HSBC is getting a lot of mileage, even from this little site. Which, in the great A&P scheme of things, is what it's all about.

But you're right to look a bit closer, and dig a bit deeper, which is why I have consistently not published such press releases, at least verbatim.

You know, until you mentioned it I would not have thought twice about the claim, or indeed fully appreciated that a definition properly, meaningfully, does not yet exist. It blooming well should!

This seems to be critical for anything meaningful to be derived from the actions of businesses, and the reactions thus inspired in their consumer base to them.

As I have feared before, this rush to get awash in green in such ways is in real danger of setting things backwards!

Sunil said...

HSBC's strategy is explained at

This includes both offsetting and reducing its own carbon dioxide emissions.

Peter said...

I do believe we have a new contributor on board, and it looks like another most welcome provider of cold hard facts to keep our often, possibly over-itchy eyebrow twitches in check!

I'll hope that Dave does scoot back a bit to engage too, as he is more qualified, and indeed started it off, plus again bemoaning my laxness in trying to find a way to hyperlink URLs on this comment section.

Thank you, Sunil, for this.

I have gone to the page in question, and can only comment in my capacity as 'an average Joe'.

It certainly seems like a 'better than nothing', and if in comparison other banks are doing nothing, or less, then it is of course unfair to come down too hard on HSBC.

Speaking as a copywriter, the first three paras I guess are necessary as context, but by golly how many times I have I seen the same thing trotted out so woodenly? Maybe I have lived with it all too long compared to a normal banking customer (interesting to ponder how many have made it to this page) - which is a common 'disease' of the ad profession too, which can often explain why perfectly good, and still effective, campaigns get changed too early.

Anyway, back to the facts.

$90 million (from Dave, I'm guessing from another PR). That's a lot of money. Not so sure how that stacks up to profits but, as I say, better than nothing.

And nothing wrong with the fact that it looks to me that it is basically internal. Again no problem with that, and in most ways smart to try and squeeze some credit, if you can, from 'doing your bit' (At least the projects listed seem to have better enviROIs than a lot of 'whack a fir in the firmamenets'. I wonder if they make money on them too?). I can't say I am too interested as far as is concerned, any more than I am in a supermarket putting a wind turbine on its roof. Good to do, may well reduce costs... hope they get passed on to the customer. But worthy of a massive campaign... well... I'd really prefer the money was ploughed back into more tangible activities than Greencloaking, which is a new term I have just coined (unless it's already out there) for something that is not greenwashing, but perhaps 'investing' a tad too much in smoke and mirrors on making a pretty thin veneer seem shinier than perhaps it is. Especially when there is so much more, and better, to be done with the cash.

I'll leave it to Dave to address the relative merits of the offsetting vs. the addressing, or not, of the core useage areas he highlighted.

But when (I'm optimistic enough to believe it will happen, as it seems to be happening with some insurances, though even these often do bear scrutiny for ROI, enviROI and greencloaking) we get genuine product/service initiatives that do serve both customer and planet (perhaps, shock horror, not driven totally by the profit motive), I will be first in line to applaud and share. I won't even begrudge a bit of A&P spend to get others to buy into it. On our site:)!

As a start, and as it would... could (inertia is a hard obstacle to overcome)... make such a difference, I'd be advocating 'loss-leader' loans on insulation, much like those proposed by Ken Livingstone and... well... me, a fair while ago.

Sunil said...

Well in no way am I an expert!

I was simply pointing out that the 'carbon neutral' statement is now several years old and the corporate/social pages of HSBC's website are a good place to find such information.

This weeks announcement (the Carbon Free piece) of them spending $90m over 5 years on a 'Global Environmental Efficiency Programme' seems like a win/win to me in that they lower emissions (not just offset) and their own costs at the same time.

The official press release on their website has some 1 page .pdf's about what they have done (i.e. opening a 'green' branch in the USA and changes to their global IT centres)

More interesting in some ways is HSBC's $100 million donation in May to 5 charities to combat climate change - details at

(Sorry I don't know/have forgotten how to do embedded urls)

As do HSBC's other steps like now offering 'green' current accounts n the UK - where they seem to eliminate most of the paperwork associated with such accounts.

Some information on that here: - I found some of the HSBC research quoted on that page interesting..

Sunil said...

The way to hyperlink url's is in the first paragraph.

Re: my previous post..

HSBC $90m Global Environmental Efficiency Programme

HSBC US$100 million climate change partnership

HSBC 'green' current accounts


Peter said...

I start to worry when we have more comments on the contribution of a bank's CSR than on just about any other subject, especially as Live Earth is playing, but hey-ho.

Lots of lovely hyperlinks (thank you very much for the tip on doing it - I really must get better at reading the manual). Most comprehensive.

I'll be sure to check them out, but for now, solar power beckons.

Dave said...

Some perfectly valid comments from both Peter & Sunil.

I am fully aware of HSBC's long term 'commitment' to reducing its carbon footprint. My beef is largely about how they are going about it.

They are starting to make some inroads into reducing their carbon emissions, and I'm really happy that they are doing so, and perhaps deserve the right to crow about it somewhat. However, the vast majority of their 'savings' are achieved via major offsetting projects, as detailed on one of the links provided by Sunil. Yes, these projects are overall beneficial to the envirnoment, and do reduce carbon emissions, but they don't reduce HSBC's own emissions at all.

We've used many analogies to attempt to explain carbon offsets in this blog, but a colleague of mine offered another one over the weekend whilst we were discussing Live Earth, and I think it is very relevant, especially in the light of the experience of the driver who only last week received an 18 month sentence for this very offence. My friend said,

"Dave, yes, most of the superstars appearing at Live Earth are paying to offset their carbon emissions, but they are paying to create savings or reduce CO2 emissions elsewhere, and at the end of the day that's exactly the same as paying someone else to take the points and fine for a speeding offence that you've committed yourself."

So, sorry, but until major carbon emission reductions are achieved 'in house', rather than via off-setting solutions, then I cannot believe any business can actually claim carbon neutrality.

Dave said...

Sorry, I meant to mention the HSBC Green Bank Account too.

Regarding the HSBC 'Green' account , there are many of us, myself included, who have been 'paperless' in terms of banking for years. Indeed, the ONLY 'paper' I have received for years from my bank is either, unwanted bumpf encouraging me to take out my home insurance / borrow more money on special terms / consider them for my next mortgage etc., which, unfortunately, they don't seem to have any mechanism for ceasing, or, nasty letters when I've managed to overdo my overdraught limit somewhat.

So, to claim that a new 'paperless' bank account is now super-duper green is, to my mind, rather OTT. They are simply re-badging what is actually an existing product offering with a green slant, which is no more than (to use Peter's new term) 'green-cloaking', or, if not, at the very least, is 'green-smoke and 'green-mirrors'.

Sunil said...

Yes, in many ways the 'Green' bank account option from HSBC does seem to be equally aimed at reducing their costs, as they will not have to produce statements, chequebooks etc..

They do however, also stop posting marketing materials along with everything else.. so they do go further than most other banks - making this option virtually paperless.

Friendly Ghost said...

Agreed, that carbon-neutral claim is greenwash.

A couple of months ago, I attended a meeting at British Council, Mumbai, that was addressed by Sir Nicholas Stern. And I met and spoke to one of the bosses of HSBC Bank, whose boast is that it is carbon-neutral.

I asked him how carbon-neutral he thought was the business of giving a consumer loan to a big customer who had five cars to enable the purchase of a hummer or SUV. And the chap replied -- rather condescendingly -- that giving consumer loans was about freedon of individual choice, and had nothing to do with global warming, or with his bank being carbon-neutral.

What really cracked me up was, one could see he really believed every word he spoke!


Friendly Ghost said...

Actually, I believe creditcards & consumer loans have a lot to do with the over-consumption and overproduction that are the driving forces behind global warming.

Today, most nations including India have an affluent economy, with only a small fraction of our economies' output devoted to basic needs of any description.

Environmentalists say that we are reaching the limits of growth due to ecological constraints. Here in our cities, we have not only reached the limits of human needs but overshot them many times over.

What we currently have in our metros is largely overconsumption or unnecessarily luxurious consumption which has many adverse consequences on us, on our economies and on our planet.

Economic growth is no longer improving our well-being. The extra time and energy that we must spend on healthcare, children's education, commuting and just keeping pace of changes are on the rise.

The quality of our surroundings -- our neighbourhood, roads, civic infrastructure etc. are deteriorating even as more and more goods flood the supermarkets.

We have reached a point of counterproductive growth; additional growth now brings diminishing benefits while causing increased social and environmental costs.

As we urban folks (I speak as an Indian living in Bombay) have become more prosperous, we have moved from consuming necessities to consuming conveniences to consuming luxuries. We are now driving to work one-per-car and spending many hours per week in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

This has severe environmental consequences. India's phenomenal economic growth of 9.5% per annum comes at the cost of farmers being deprived of electricity, of countless creatures of all shapes and sizes being deprived of their natural habitats and their food, of countless rivers and groundwater resources being both overexploited and polluted.

Due to the continuous expansion of factories for manufacturing everything from cement to SUVs to cream-biscuits expand to meet the burgeoning demand, we overdraw on planetary resources and disrupt the fine web of life by cutting its strands.

But how can we stop? How to stop so many billion people from doing all the things they do in daily life?

In my mind, I keep searching for key points that are causing our present situation. I keep trying to identify places where the cancerous tumour, so to speak, can be clearly isolated from human flesh. Because these are the places where we can start cutting away surgically, methodically, without hurting too many people.

1) CONSUMER LOANS for purchase of new vehicles and consumer appliances is one of the major arteries of this cancerous tumour. Easy loans affect our purchasing decisions. How, you ask?

Well, two calls from an aggressive marketer of car loans is all it takes to make me feel that I NEED to step up from my family car to an SUV. "You can afford it, Sir," says the loan agent, sleazily massaging my ego into a full-blown erection.

I think about my employee who drives the same brand of car that I drive, thanks to the same loan agent's persuasion. Then I think about my neighbour's shining new Scorpio and think about how insignificant my own vehicle (read phallic symbol) looks standing next to it.

Some advice from my chartered accountant reinforces this feeling: New SUV = more tax-deductible depreciation. Also, interest on loan installments is tax-deductible.

I reason: if I trade in my present vehicle, it kind of brings down the price of the new one quite a bit. Then I only need to afford the reduced EMIs (Equated Monthly Instalments) on the loan. Can't I afford an EMI of Rs 12,000? Of course I can; what kind of man am I if I can't afford to pay a small installment like that?!

That decides it: I just WANT a brand-new fuel-guzzler, and I want it NOW! Never mind the price, I can afford the EMI. Of course I can... Case closed!

2) CREDITCARDS: Visa Power -- you've got it! With a credit card or two, you know what it means to be REALLY wealthy, because can securely carry the equivalent to many months' earnings in your wallet.

And when you do that, you are potentially able to do all those wonderful, beautiful, generous things that you see in TV commercials -- things that can make your wife's heart go flutter-flutter, and that will make her give you that million-dollar smile. How about buying her that diamond solitaire? Or taking her out to dinner at the Taj Princess? Or booking the Presidential suite for your wedding anniversary? Or, better still, surprising her with a couple of air-tickets to Paris?

Wow, that would be such a PRICELESS moment... just like they show in Visa commercials!

Credit-card bills? Huh, what's that? Oh, just a minor detail, that's all. Stuff that happens in the background, inconspicuously, as part of routine life. Life goes on, bills get paid... they always do. So let's not waste time talking about bills. Those airline tickets are one phone-call or one mouse-click away.

The point that I'm making here is: Consumer credit and credit-cards are the hot air causing the great big Economic Growth balloon to go up... and up... and up at the current rate of 9.5% per annum. Thanks to this banking 'reform', we Indians are learning to increasingly live in perpetual debt, just like the Americans whom we all adore so much that they can do no wrong, not even in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thanks to easy consumer credit, we are all borrowing from the future. We aren't only borrowing economically, we are borrowing ecologically. As the previous article points out, "Globally, we are demanding 1.3 planets to support our lifestyles this year, and yet we only have one planet earth. Each year, we as a global community place demands on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries that goes beyond their capacity to generate resources and absorb wastes. We are using more far more than the planet can regenerate in a year."

BOTTOMLINE: At an individual level, we should stop buying things with credit, and stop using our credit cards. It is worth cutting up our credit cards. Let us stop borrowing for the future.

And as a community of concerned citizens, let us lobby for a clampdown on consumer credit. Let us write to the government, to Reserve Bank and to individual banks and bankers.

Let each person in the banking industry be targetted with this message: Cap and roll back. Let us ask for a freeze of consumer credit at current levels this year, and a 50% reduction in the amounts of credit given each year. This would give the economy about three years to adjust to the changing scenario. (Three years is 36 months -- far more time than the economy and its stakeholders get for adjustment when the stock-markets crash or a bank collapse which happens within a few weeks time.)

Do you think there is truth in this argument? If so, please help by spreading the word.


Peter said...

Krish, welcome.

A very well argued and valuable addition.

You have added a lot to the dilemma of the much vaunted notion of 'ECOnomic growth', with the sting in the tail of 'ECOlogical consequences.

Which of course applies wherever in the globe one is.

Of course, as an aspiring creator of things I find myself now faced with a whole new set of considerations.

It is no longer enough to stop at 'Can this be done?', which was a pretty amazing thing until recently, with accolades, glory and riches showered on those who dare(d) to try.

No, and I say this with some regret and frustration, one now needs to go on to ask 'Is it necessary that this should be done?'.

Often, and sadly, the answer must be no.

But just to add further poisons to an already lethal mixture of circumstances and ambitions that are all part of the human condition (competitiveness, envy, etc... Mother Nature has created a very flawed design), we also have more simple, physical ones, such as population expansion (she scores again).

I admire so much that you, in a culture on the cusp of entering what we in the West have taken for granted for too long, are at least giving serious thought to the consequences now.

Sadly, those most devoted to the great god that is financial acquisition, on both personal and professional bases, are at the very core of our systems of government and commerce: the banks.

It is not looking encouraging as I do not see these, of all folk, having a mindset change any time soon.

But we can hope. And with small efforts such as this blog and, folk like me can join with others such as you and try to get the message across and/or inspire by doing something, too.