Airlines + Airports // 2022

22 September 2022

After a summer of record breaking temperatures exacerbated by global heating, advertising billboards across Europe have been hacked with more than 500 satirical artworks, unveiled today, to highlight the role of airline marketing in driving up greenhouse gas emissions.  Campaigners are calling on the EU Commission to introduce tobacco-style advertising bans to curb demand on flights and prevent emissions from rising further.

Advertising panels in Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Liège, Lisbon, Rome, Nantes, London, Bristol, Norwich  and other European cities were “hacked” with posters highlighting the aviation industry’s lack of meaningful action on climate change. The airlines referenced in the artworks include KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Ryanair, Easyjet, SAS Airlines, ITA Airways and Etihad – as well as the industry body IATA.

Above: a satirical British Airways advert highlighting the extra emissions of Business Class travellers (London)

One artwork by artist Darren Cullen satirises the over-sized carbon footprint of Business Class flights, with the text “We’re turning Business Class green with the world’s first on-board golf course.” Another by artist Michelle Tylicki depicts an aeroplane flying over wildfires, with the text “Fly Responsibly?”. Other designs by artists Street Market Subvertiser, Soofiya, Lindsay Grime, Hogre and Matt Bonner call attention to ‘greenwashing’ in which airlines and airports make sustainability claims that campaigners say conceal the actual impact aviation has on the planet.

Climate and anti-advertising campaigners are garnering support, with over 300,000 people signing a ‘European Citizen Initiative’ to ban fossil advertising and sponsorship.

Above: artwork by Michelle Tylicki depicts a KLM plane flying over European wildfires (London)

As Europe emerges from one of the hottest summers on record, activists and artists from the anonymous Brandalism group and The Subvertisers International network have targeted airline companies and their advertising agencies on billboards, bus stops and public transport advertising spaces. They highlight the disproportionately large carbon footprint of flying [1], the fact that the majority of flights are taken by a tiny fraction of the total population [2], and that airlines have missed all but one of the sustainability targets set by the aviation industry.[3]

Local governments in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht, Liverpool, Norwich and North Somerset have already passed motions to restrict adverts for airlines, airports, as well as non-electric cars and fossil fuel companies. Sydney council recently banned advertising for coal, oil and gas projects and France has passed national legislation against some adverts for fossil fuels.

Tona Merriman from Brandalism said: 

“The allure and glamour of high carbon lifestyles such as frequent flying has been purposefully crafted by the advertising industry and shows no signs of relenting – despite one of the hottest summers on record. Advertising agencies such as Ogilvy, VCCP, Dentsu, DDB Munchen need to consider their role in driving up emissions for airlines they work for such as British Airways, Easyjet, KLM and Lufthansa. We call on employees in those firms to refuse work for high carbon clients.”

The naming of specific advertising agencies comes as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres blasted the Public Relations industry at the 77th General Assembly in New York on Tuesday 20 September, “Just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before, lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation.” 

A report released earlier this year estimated that, in 2019, global airline advertising could be responsible for emissions of up to 34 MtCO2 – the equivalent of burning 17 million tonnes of coal, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of Denmark in 2017. The ‘Advertising Climate Chaos’ report estimates that advertising for airlines and cars in 2019 caused the equivalent of double the annual emissions of Spain in the same year.

Artist Lindsay Grime, whose Lufthansa artwork took aim at the greenwashing practices of Europe’s most polluting airline, said:

This project feels very timely because there’s still a total cognitive dissonance that comes from living in a capitalist world – yes, heatwaves and wildfires are now our reality but still, why don’t you jump on a plane and go on holiday? Advertising totally fuels this, selling an image of flying as desirable, easy, something to be done without thinking. The social acceptablilty is bought through a nice dollop of greenwashing with soothing imagery and mentions of “carbon offsetting” which is just a farcical PR exercise. I don’t think we can underestimate the power of ads to influence us in explicit or more subliminal ways and this project aims to underscore that and tear apart the normalisation of promoting products and services we know to be highly polluting and destructive.

Campaigners from Adfree Cities (UK), Badvertising  (UK), Résistance à l’Agression Publicitaire (France), Climáximo (Portugal), Greenpeace International and 35 other organisations and are calling for tobacco-style legislation to end adverts for high carbon products. Polling by Opinium research in April 2022 found that 68% of UK adults support restrictions on ads for environmentally-damaging products.

This action comes at a time of growing international momentum behind banning high-carbon advertisements. The city of Sydney, home to over five million residents, has recently become the second major city to ban fossil fuel advertising in public spaces [10], following Amsterdam which became the first city in the world to ban ads from fossil fuel firms and airlines in 2021.

Advertising agencies complicit in working with airlines to promote high-carbon lifestyles and greenwash their image include VCCP for Easyjet, Ogilvy for British Airways, Dentsu Benelux for KLM and DBB München for Lufthansa.







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