Campaigners lodge greenwashing complaint over Luton Airport expansion advertising

Adverts for a proposed expansion at Luton Airport have been reported to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over concerns that they are misleading the public and downplaying environmental impacts.

Campaigners lodge greenwashing complaint over Luton Airport expansion advertising

The complaint, signed by eight environmental campaign groups including Badvertising, Adfree Cities, Stay Grounded and Possible, regards ads seen on billboards on the London underground, on Meta and in political magazine The New Statesman. The advertising campaign was run by the airport owner’s Luton Rising, owned by Luton Council.

The ads state that an expansion at Luton airport would be “stopped in its tracks” if “environmental limits”. However, the complaint, lodged to the ASA today (22 April), states that it fails to account for emissions from increased flights as a result of the expansion. Currently, flights account for 80% of the airport’s emissions.

Hannah Lawrence from Stay Grounded said: “Luton Airport’s greenwashing adverts justify its expansion on a totally false premise of environmental responsibility, using ‘green’ language and completely failing to mention the huge climate impacts of millions of additional flights.

“We hope the ASA will rule against these ads promptly, but verdicts against adverts that people have already seen is too little, too late. We need an urgent ban on airline advertising and greenwash alongside measures to reduce the number of flights that take off in a fair and equitable way.“

The airport claims the expansion, which was supported by the Government in 2023, would place an annual cap on passengers of 32 million compared to 18 million currently. It also states it would still aim to produce zero emissions from ground operations, but not flights, by 2030. A biodiversity net-gain metric would also be introduced for the expansion.

The Climate Change Committee, when outlining steps that the Government should introduce to reach net-zero by 2050, has suggested that there should be no current net airport expansions until capacity and management targets and frameworks are introduced.

Advertising anguish

The complaint to the ASA comes as more than 30 activist groups protest across Europe to demand bans on airline advertising.

To mark the occasion, campaign group Badvertising has unveiled new research that finds that for every £1 spent on advertising and sponsorship by Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, RyanAir and Qantas leads to an associated increase in greenhouse gas emissions of between 42-71 kg CO2e.

Airlines and aviation have clashed heads with the ASA in previous months.

Last week, the ASA ordered Etihad Airlines to remove two of its social media adverts for “exaggerating” the environmental benefits of its flights.

Last month, the ASA banned an ad campaign from Lufthansa stating that the airline was “protecting [the] future” of the planet.

Other airlines to have been rapped for greenwashing in recent times include KLM and Austrian Airlines.

Last year, the ASA published a new report looking at how consumers understand some of the most commonly used climate-related terms. The findings throw up some key considerations for brands.

According to the ASA, the most frequently-used environmental claims in advertising in the UK are now ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net-zero’. The body found that members of the general public typically did not understand what these terms meant, with those lease engaged in environmental issues likely to ignore them.

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