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Banks and greenwashing

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Green claims and climate speak

It is hard to collect all the green claims and commitments that international banks make on their websites, in their CSR reports, in their press releases, on TV ads and elsewhere. But we gathered the best quotes of the climate commitments from 20 of them in our last report "Bankrolling Climate Change" on page 17. You can also watch this TV ad from Crédit Agricole, probably the most outrageous one.

Green projects

One of the strategies used the most is to show and advertise the "green projects" the bank finances, mostly renewables projects, with beautiful pictures of wind turbines or solar panels that look good on corporate publications. While it is true that banks finance more and more renewables, these kind of projects are also useful smoke screens to hide both the destructive impacts of the dodgy deals they also finance and the fact that their financing of fossil fuels is also on the rise.

The reality of banks financing is of course not exactly as they depict it. For this you can read the dodgy deals profiles presented on this website. From coal fired power plants such as Medupi and Kusile in South Africa, as well as the tar sands industry in Canada, or offshore arctic drilling, international banks are involved in many dodgy activities around the world. This is also confirmed at the sector level as many of these activities are financed by the top 20 climate killer banks that have invested the most in the coal sector since 2005. All this clearly show that banks don't put their money where their mouths are.

Direct impacts

Many reports demonstrate that indirect impacts of banks are far more important than their direct impacts. For instance, GHG emissions from heating their offices or their staff travel is far less significant than the emissions from their core activities: financing and investments. But still in 2012, most of the international banks still address mostly their direct impacts in their CSR annual reports. They argue that there is no methodology to calculate those financed while some immediately applicable methodologies do exist as presented on this page.

Partnerships

Banks are fond of partnerships with NGOs willing to be associated with them. It is a useful tool for them to be able to present this kind of collaboration with NGOs, particularly when you can write and praise it in your corporate communication and even sometimes on the financial products banks sell themselves. It adds some credibility often without the insurance that this partnership will bring any internal change in the bank's activities, when it is not only pure patronage...

Green products

Another greenwash strategy also relies on presenting and advertising so called "green savings products", them being part of so called "socially responsible investment" products. These financial products are too often presented as "green" or "ethical" while many of them actually contain the very same multinationals that are actively involved in the dodgy deals mentioned above and that are present in other savings products.

Green policies

The last strategy presented on this page used by banks is the adoption of "sectoral policies" that do not change fundamentally banks' activities but allow banks to be presented as "responsible". Getting journalists lost in a series of criteria they don't understand is indeed a good way to be depicted as being "responsible" on the financing of a specific sector while continuing to finance most of the dodgy deals the bank was financing before the adoption of that policy.

This content is mostly sourced from this blog post on the specific case study of Crédit Agricole, one of the three main French banks, which was used for a special workshop on banks at the "Big Greenwash Circus" conference organised by several NGOs in Brussels in June 2012.

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