Airport Expansion Ads Banned for Greenwashing

by | 10 Jul 2024 | Press Release

PRESS CONTACTS: Sean Currie, (+44) 07 961 485 850, and Veronica Wignall, (+44) 07517 408513, 

  • The UK ad watchdog has banned adverts for London Luton Airport for misleading the public over the climate impacts of its proposed expansion. 
  • The ads promoted the airport’s expansion plans with the slogan “If we miss our environmental limits, our expansion will be stopped in its tracks”  but did not mention that these limits failed to include emissions from flights, which made up more than 80% of Luton’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
  • Campaigners say the ban underlines concerns over the role of advertising and greenwash in driving demand for flying as the aviation industry fails to decarbonise.

In a landmark decision, the Advertising Standards Authority has banned adverts for London Luton Airport for misleading over the extent to which the airport’s proposed expansion from 18 million to 32 million passengers per year would impact the environment.

The adverts promoted the airport’s “green growth” plans, but the ASA pointed out that these plans failed to include emissions from flights, which would be the main source of additional emissions if the airport’s expansion were approved.

This is the first time the ASA has banned airport ads for making false green claims, after complaints made by counter-advertising campaign groups Adfree Cities and Badvertising, Stay Grounded, climate charity Possible, and a number of local airport expansion opposition groups.

The aviation industry is facing increasing legal and regulatory action over its greenwashing claims. In March a Dutch court ruled that KLM had misled consumers with vague environmental claims and an “overly rosy picture” of so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuel. In April, following a complaint by consumer advocacy group BEUC, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities launched action against 20 airlines over their greenwashing.

Veronica Wignall, codirector at Adfree Cities said: “Luton Airport’s “green growth” advertising is a house of cards that immediately collapses under scrutiny. Airport expansion is the extreme opposite of “green”, and sure enough, Luton has failed to include emissions from flights in its environmental accounting. This level of deception is totally shocking – it’s like advertising cigarettes as healthy.”

“The ASA’s ban underlines how advertising is pushing us in the wrong direction – we need to end greenwashing, stop airport expansion and make sustainable ways of travelling like rail and public transport more affordable.”

Hannah Lawrence, spokesperson at Stay Grounded said: “The ASA’s ruling is further confirmation that airport expansion is totally incompatible with the emissions reductions that we urgently need and shows that the aviation industry cannot be trusted when it comes to reducing their emissions.

“While they use greenwashing adverts to delay meaningful climate action, those who have never flown continue to bear the biggest burden from the climate crisis. This important ruling is further evidence that we need an urgent ban on airline adverts, an end to airport expansion, and measures to fairly reduce flights.”

Andrew Labourne from local campaign group Luton And District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (LADACAN) said: “This is a great decision – local people are sick of the spin from Luton Rising which tries to greenwash their plans for massive expansion of Luton Airport. There is overwhelming rejection of the noise blight, traffic chaos, carbon emissions and loss of green space it would cause.”

Freddie Daley from the Badvertising campaign said: “It’s a hard fact that any airport expansion will jeopardise the UK’s net zero commitments. Adverts that misleadingly claim otherwise to try and garner support, both publicly and politically, must be rightly called out and banned.”

Daley also commented that advertising restrictions are needed to prevent climate misinformation, saying “While the ASA has acted in the interests of the planet here, regulation of advertising is falling well short of the challenges posed by climate misinformation and corporate greenwash. We need robust regulation on advertising that prevents and restricts adverts like these from ever entering circulation in the first place, rather than an industry regulator trying to clean up the mess afterwards.”

In its ruling, the ASA said the purpose of the ads was “to reassure people about the efforts being taken to mitigate the environmental impacts caused by expansion”, and that people would expect emissions from flights to be included in these efforts. The watchdog also ruled that the ads’ imagery of an aeroplane taxiing on a runway added to the impression that emissions from flights would be accounted for.

However, the watchdog noted that aircraft emissions are not included in the environmental standards promoted in the expansion ads, despite already making up more than 80% of Luton’s greenhouse gas emissions – a figure that does not include non-CO2 emissions, such as soot particles, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and water contrails, which can triple the global warming effect of flights.

Calls to end airport expansion are gaining traction. In July 2023 London City Airport’s expansion plans were unanimously rejected by councillors. In January 2024, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport itself stated that “significant demand management measures” would be required for the airport to meet climate targets.


Ruling: To be uploaded on the ASA’s website on 10th July 2024.

Access the advert images here.

Stay Grounded is a network for 215 member initiatives around the world, including community groups surrounding airports, NGOs, and trade unions. The network campaigns for a fair reduction of aviation and for a just mobility system that works for all, now and in the future.

Adfree Cities is a network of volunteer groups who aim to reduce the amount of harmful advertisements we are exposed to in public space. There are ‘Adblock’ groups in Bristol, Leeds, Norwich, London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester and Reading who prevent new digital ad screens from receiving planning permission and engage local councils to prohibit advertising for harmful products such as junk food, alcohol, gambling and high carbon products.

Full ASA complaint and signatories (submitted 10th April 2024): signed by Adfree Cities, Badvertising, Possible, Stay Grounded, No Airport Expansion, Luton And District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (LADACAN), Stop Luton Airport Expansion and the Aviation Environment Federation:

The Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) also submitted a separate complaint.

London Luton Airport is owned by Luton Borough Council and managed by the private sector London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL).