COP26: easyJet accused of greenwash advertising as climate talks unfold

A surge of greenwash advertising in the run up to the UN climate conference COP26 in Glasgow was predictable, and sure enough, some of the UK’s biggest polluters haven’t failed to impress.

EasyJet launched a series of ads promoting the airline’s Future Flying programme, claiming: “We are championing a future of zero emissions flights”, with the bold headline “Destination Zero Emissions”. The term ‘Zero Emissions’ is not defined on the advert itself but directs to a webpage where you can buy air tickets and read about the company’s technological hopes for the mid-2030s. This is similar to a company selling a pack of full tar cigarettes today on the promise that cigarettes in 15 years time will be Zero Tar.

EasyJet’s Future Flying webpage is headed with an invitation to book a flight, showing that easyJet is using its pro-environmental messaging to encourage climate-conscious citizens to travel by plane. This risks increasing emissions from aviation as customers justify flying under a false impression of environmental sustainability, choosing to fly with easyJet over other airlines, and also in many cases choosing to fly more than they would have otherwise in absolute terms.

Screenshot of Easyjet’s webpage on ‘sustainainability’ – complete with ticket buying options at the top.

> Read our full complaint to the ASA here.

In 2019, the year preceding the Covid-19 pandemic, EasyJet’s flights contributed no less than 3,186,360 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to the atmosphere. The airline’s CEO, Johan Lundgren, has said that “easyJet is ready to resume flying, prepared for the ramp up and looking forward to being able to reunite people with their families or take them on leisure and business flights once again.

Aviation is currently responsible for 2.5% of global CO2e emissions and further warming effects through non-CO2 emissions, and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has predicted that by 2050, international aviation emissions could triple compared with 2015. As soon as the pandemic allows, easyJet will be joining other airlines in ramping up its operations to full capacity, continuing to emit massive volumes of CO2 and other warming gases into the atmosphere. Those emissions will have a negative impact on the climate, regardless of vague promises of zero emission flights come the mid 2030s.

EasyJet has no real ambition to reach “Destination Zero Emissions” on a timescale of any consequence, and in the meantime, its advertising is accelerating destination climate breakdown.

The adverts were seen in London on 29th October 2021 at 8pm.

TEMPLATE COMPLAINT

Feel free to copy, paste, amend and personalise your complaint below. There is a word count limit of 5000 characters for the ASA complaint form. 

Dear ASA,

EasyJet’s advert ‘Destination Zero Emissions’ is using unproven promises of future technology advances as a way of selling more polluting flights today. The ad gives a misleading impression of easyJet as a sustainability-focused airline with a credible plan to reach zero emissions across its flights – which is not the case. EasyJet is seeking to actively increase flight numbers which will increase emissions. The ad is overwhelmingly at odds with easyJet’s business model of fossil fuel-based expansion meaning it is misleading.

Photographs of the adverts can be seen on this web page: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1JxwQNH05vOqY0VV6g63iZbXCNhyk6E4m?usp=sharing

The sustainability web page on ‘Future Flying’ that the advert points to invites customers to buy a plane ticket. The ad uses rising public concern about the climate, particularly in the run up to the COP26 climate talks, as a way to sell a climate-damaging products. This is misleading greenwash.

The term ‘Zero Emissions’ is not defined nor is a timeline given in the advert itself.

The web page that the advert direct us to details technological hopes for Electric Planes from Wright Bus and Hydrogen Planes from Airbus.

The web page uses unfounded and contested claims. For example, hydrogen-powered aircraft will not have zero emissions,
even if hydrogen is produced from renewable electricity, because it will still emit NOx and generate contrail cirrus that have a higher climate impact than CO2 today. Regarding electric planes, even if the technology did became available in the near-to-medium term, these flights will not be zero emissions until all electricity grids are decarbonised.

For more information on the limitations of electric plane technologies see this Factsheet from the Stay Grounded network: https://stay-grounded.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/SG_factsheet_8-21_Electricity_print_FIN_korr.pdf

For more information on the limitations of hyrdrogen planes, see this fact sheet from the Stay Grounded network: https://stay-grounded.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/SG_factsheet_8-21_Hydrogen_FIN_Korr.pdf

This means the advert is in breach of the following ASA’s codes on advertising:
“3.1  Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.”
“3.3  Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.”
“11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.”

You can attach our full complaint (6 pages): http://adfreecities.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/easyJet-greenwash-ASA-Complaint-November-2021.pdf

Photos of easyJet’s outdoor ads, taken in London in October 2021, can be found here.

Update 10 November 2021 – the ASA replied to our complaint saying:

“Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) with your complaint about advertising for easyJet.

The ASA has recently launched a Climate Change and the Environment project which is going to focus on how we regulate environmental claims in several priority areas.  You can read more about this project here.  As such, we have scouted out areas which we wish to focus on, and the travel sector is one of them.  Whilst this work is ongoing, we will not be taking your complaint forward at this time.  However, your complaint will feed into this work and will form the basis of useful intelligence for this project and when we consider similar ads in future for the travel sector.

Advertisement at a bus stop in Old Street, London, on 29th October 2021.

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