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HSBC -- The First Green Bank?

The Financial Times reports that British bank HSBC is about to start improving efficiency, trading emission credits, and planting thousands of trees around the world in order to balance out its carbon emissions, trying to become the first "carbon-neutral" international bank.

Stephen Green, chief executive, said: "In 2003, HSBC's CO2 emissions from using electricity, natural gas, fuel oil and business travel were more than 550,000 tonnes. We need to act now to reduce our emissions."


As a bank, HSBC is hardly the worst offender for contributing to global warming. But the 550,000 tonnes figure is set to rise to 700,000 tonnes this year as a result of acquisitions, which equates to 2 to 3 tonnes for every member of its staff.


The carbon management plan, to be implemented by 2006, will examine three ways of achieving carbon neutrality - tree-planting, increasing HSBC's energy efficiency and trading emissions on emerging carbon exchanges and elsewhere.

The article notes that Swiss Re was the pioneer in financial institutions seeking to become carbon-neutral.

(Thanks, Tim!)

Comments (5)

This is great to see, I would also like to draw your attention to the Coop bank in the UK, which is arguably the first green UK bank due to it's support of Socially responsible investment and leadership on fair trade. It has a decent Sustainability report these days too:

FYI: I have no affiliation with this bank.

Thank you, Ian. Useful to know.

Zaid Hassan:

I don't quite believe it but I guess it's progress :-)

Here's some info on HSBC:


Dodgy projects: Formerly Midland Bank, the 'listening bank' became notorious for doing just the opposite. Since the 1980s HSBC has funded arms to, among others, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. Took the Co-operative Bank to court for implying they financed weapons transfers including landmines and lost. The bank refused to give Getethical a list of its 10 largest current finance projects.
Currency speculation: HSBC boast £2.3 million a day profit made from speculating on currency movements in 1997. Their 1998 annual report stated:
"dealing profits increased in 1998 as the Asian currency turmoil continued to underpin foreign exchange revenues." Profits from foreign exchange dealing in 1998 amounted to $977 million.
Ethics and openness: The bank told Getethical, "Ethical and environmental considerations are taken into account in every application for project finance. We recognise growing public concerns about the export of defence equipment and have decided to withdraw from this business in a manner which recognises our proper responsibilities to our customers." The bank has pages on its website about 'HSBC Values', but no clear ethical commitments are made. "


Good to know, Z. It's a healthy reminder that going green does not mean adopting other worldchanging values.

But let's hope that it *is* a sign of change.

Although on the surface this all might seem like a good thing, the actual environmental strategy being promoted is rather dubious. First, planting trees is of course often a worthy activity, but what type of trees, where and by whom are very important. Fast-growing monoculture eucalyptus plantations being promoted as 'carbon sinks' projects for example are very destructive, often displacing local communities, polluting the water table, and end up being used for unsustainable pulp or charcoal industries.

The other problem is linking tree planting to 'going carbon neutral', which is a scientifically disputed concept though it has been very popular among corporates who prefer easy solutions to buy their way out of having to actually reduce their emissions.

Tree-stored carbon is easily released in to the atmosphere through fire, natural decay and timber harvesting. Trees would effectively have to be guaranteed to exist in perpetuity in order for any real carbon storage to potentially exist. There simply is no way to guarantee that. Any investment in trees is therefore temporary carbon storage at best, and will eventually make its way back to the atmosphere.

Emissions trading is also very contentious with many lower income and communities of colour often most adversely affected because under such schemes individual sites may actually be allowed to increase their emissions.

Emitting more greenhouse gases also means emitting more toxic co-pollutants which are byproducts of the combustion process. As such, this means increases in human and environmental exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbonds, Particulate Matter, dioxins, benzene, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, etc.

Both emissions trading and tree planting are distortions of what really needs to happen which is real reductions at source across the board.

As a result, companies like HSBC should be chided for its actions not praised since the environmental consequences of their actions are dubious at best, and the social consequences in terms of tree plantations effects on local communities in the South and emissions trading on disadvantaged communities in particular are very serious.

For more info see: www.sinkswatch.org, www.cdmwatch.org and www.carbontradewatch.org


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