Car and airline adverts helped produce something like 200-600 million tonnes CO2 per year due to increased sales
New research by Greenpeace and the New Weather Institute reveals the extent of the climate impacts from cars and airline adverts. Of course, advertising increases demand and therefore carries a climate and ecological impact associated with the greater purchase and use of the advertised products. The research has tried to work out the amount of money companies make from the higher sales, against the extra carbon produced. A report by the Purpose Disruptors group, ‘Advertised Emissions: the carbon emissions generated by UK advertising’, used a similar reasoning to measure the CO2 emissions (estimated at 186 million tonnes CO2 equivalent for 2019) associated with the increased spend driven by advertising activities in the UK. They say at a global level, car advertising could be responsible for some 570 million tonnes of CO2 (ie. 27 million tonnes higher than Australia’s entire GHG emissions in 2019). Airline advertising globally, which has a lower climate impact than car ads, may be associated with about 34 million tonnes of CO2 – a bit less than all UK annual aviation emissions, pre-Covid.
NEW REPORT: ADVERTISING CLIMATE CHAOS – MEASURING THE CO2 EMISSIONS ASSOCIATED WITH ADVERTS FOR CARS & AIRLINES
New research by Greenpeace and the New Weather Institute http://www.greenpeace.se/carbon-in-ads reveals the extent of the climate impacts from cars and airline adverts by giving a global and European estimate on their contribution to CO2 emissions.
Quantifying the impact, assessing the damage
More on more research is demonstrating the common-sense understanding that advertising a product increases its demand. At Badvertising, we have evidenced this link in two reports using statistical analysis – one looking at the advertising for tobacco and beef products, the second focusing on adverts for SUV vehicles. The findings all point to one conclusion: advertising drives demand and therefore carries a climate and ecological impact associated with the consumption of these products.
What has so far been missing is a clear estimate of how much advertising contributes to fuelling the climate crisis. The advertising insiders at Purpose Disruptors have attempted to fill this gap by proposing a metric to quantify the CO2 impacts of adverts via a ‘Return on Carbon’ (ROCO²) – modelled on the common financial Return On Investment (ROI)- which would measure the revenue per amount of carbon emitted in the project (calculated as ‘Incremental revenue from advertising’/’Uplift in greenhouse gas emissions driven by advertising’ = ‘Revenue per ton of CO2’).
The group’s latest report ‘Advertised Emissions: the carbon emissions generated by UK advertising’ used a similar reasoning to measure the CO2 emissions (estimated at 186 million tonnes CO2 equivalent for 2019) associated with the increased spend driven by advertising activities in the UK.
The latest research released by Greenpeace and the New Weather Institute substantiates those previous efforts by putting a figure on the estimated carbon emissions generated by advertising for some of the most damaging products – namely cars and airlines.
Based on publicly available data on greenhouse gas emissions, advertising spend and a few selected typical ratios for the returns on advertising spend (ROAS), the study finds that globally car and airline advertising in 2019 could account for adding up between 202-606 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) – or the equivalent to the entire GHG emissions of the Netherlands to about twice that of Spain’s total emissions for 2019.
For adverts aired in Europe alone, the largest estimate amounts to a whopping 122 MtCO2e of emissions, more than Belgium’s total GHG emissions in 2019.
Image: British Airways promoting climate-damaging air travel with the caption: “There’s no time like now to book”
At a global level, car advertising is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The research finds it could be responsible for as much as 572 million tonnes of CO2 – or 27 million tonnes higher than Australia’s entire GHG emissions in 2019.
Airline advertising, despite having a lower impact, is still an important player in driving up global emissions. It is estimated that the sector’s advertising could be associated with as much as 34 million tonnes of CO2.
“Advertising is fanning the flames of a warming world by promoting major polluters, like the aviation and car industries, just as it once blew smoke in people’s faces by selling cigarettes. The easiest way to start cutting carbon emissions is by ending the excesses that only happen because adverts are pushing higher consumption. We ended tobacco advertising to save lives, now it’s time to do the same for adverts by major climate polluters.” – Andrew Simms, New Weather Institute
Greater transparency and a ban on fossil fuel ads
The reports’ authors highlight the limited scope of the study to fully assess advertising’s global climate impact given its main focus on carmakers and airlines’ adverts associated emissions as well as its omission of historical emissions from the calculations. As a result, the overall impact of fossil fuel advertising could be far greater than assessed in this study.
Due to carmakers and airlines withholding their actual returns on advertising spending, the researchers had to use a few selected typical ratios rather than a single figure. The lack of transparency surrounding high-carbon companies’ returns on advertising spending is problematic as it prevents these industries from greater scrutiny on the real impacts of their advertising activities. This calls for companies making those figures publicly available.
There is a growing movement around Europe calling for a ban on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship. A European Citizen Initiative is currently gathering signatures which, if adopted as a law after passing the threshold of 1 million signatures, would prevent the most polluting companies from driving up unsustainable consumption and high-carbon lifestyles.
Badvertising campaigns to end advertising fuelling the climate emergency in the UK and at the international level
From the Greenpeace report.
“Advertising Climate Chaos”
• Greenhouse gas emissions influenced by
airline advertising in 2019 could be up to
34MtCO2e globally. This is the equivalent
of 17,000,000t of coal burnt.13
• The full range of the global emissions that
could be influenced by airline advertising
is between 11MtCO2
e and 34MtCO2e.
• This means at our minimum estimate, the
GHG emissions influenced by global airline
advertising in 2019 would be the equivalent to burning 5,510t of coal.14
• Greenhouse gas emissions influenced by
airline advertising in 2019 could be up to
9MtCO2e in the EU. This is the equivalent
to burning 4,510t of coal.15
• The full range of the European emissions
that could be influenced by airline companies’ advertisements is estimated to be
e and 9MtCO2 e
• This means at our minimum estimate, the
GHG emissions influenced by EU airline
advertising in 2019 would be the equivalent of burning or 1,500t of coal.16
Report: Car and airline adverts helped produce twice the emissions of Spain in 2019
By Cecilia Keating (Business Green)
23 February 2022
Adverts for cars and flights helped drive emissions equivalent to more than double the national greenhouse gas output of Spain, fresh research from Greenpeace Nordic and the New Weather Institute has claimed.
In a new report, the two campaigning organisations attempted to estimate the impact car and airline advertising had on carbon emissions in 2019, both in the EU and globally.
It concluded that car and airline advertising helped drive sales that resulted in between 202 million and 606 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, a window which ranges from the Netherlands’ entire annual greenhouse gas output to twice the emissions generated each year by Spain.
Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute, said the findings strengthened the case for ending advertising of products that push consumption of high-carbon products. “Advertising is fanning the flames of a warming world by promoting major polluters, like the aviation and car industries, just as it once blew smoke in people’s faces by selling cigarettes,” he said.
“The easiest way to start cutting carbon emissions is by ending the excesses that only happen because adverts are pushing higher consumption. We ended tobacco advertising to save lives, now it’s time to do the same for adverts by major climate polluters.”
Car advertising is responsible for the lion’s share of emissions covered by the report, which estimates that greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the promotion of carbon-intensive vehicles in 2019 could have been as high as 572 million tonnes of CO2, a figure 27 million tonnes higher than Australia’s total greenhouse gas emission.
Airline advertising emissions were found to be lower than those generated by car advertising, but by no means small. At 34 million tonnes of CO2, the upper range of estimated emissions attributed to advertising for flights is roughly the equivalent of the emissions generated by burning 17 million tonnes of coal.
The findings are published as pressure continues to mount on public relations and advertising firms to stop promoting carbon intensive products and services.
In recent months, the Clean Creatives campaign has corralled a growing number of companies, young marketers, scientists, and celebrities behind its mission to get agencies in the US and UK to drop their fossil fuel clients. Meanwhile, a separate call for EU lawmakers to ban fossil advertising and sponsorship has now amassed 180,000 signatures.
Georgia Whitaker, lead campaigner for Greenpeace for the European Fossil Free Revolution campaign, said the figures published this morning highlighted the urgent need to ban advertising of high-carbon goods.
“Advertising is a very powerful tool, this report shows that if we allow the unchecked advertising of high-carbon products, major polluters will succeed in boosting sales through social media, print and broadcast media channels, and on billboards, resulting in a clear increase in carbon emissions,” she said. “Scientists have issued a code red for humanity, now it’s crucial to take away the microphone from an industry that is actively profiting from climate wrecking commodities.”
The report is published as regulators have pledged to step up the fight against ‘greenwash’ in marketing, with the UK’s Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) announcing plans last month to launch a major probe into misleading green claims in the fashion industry.
And just this morning, UK’s advertising regulator has banned an advert from drinks maker Innocent on the grounds it misleadingly claimed that purchasing its smoothies would have a positive environmental impact.
The Advertising Standards Authority said it had received complaints from 26 different viewers, who claimed the ad, which aired on TV, Youtube, and through on-demand services, implied that drinking smoothies from a disposable plastic bottle was good for the environment.
Ruling in favour of the complainants, the ASA said Innocent had failed to demonstrate its products had a net positive environmental impact over their full lifecycles, despite the advert in question suggesting there was “a direct association between choosing Innocent drinks and taking positive action to help the environment”.
“Although we acknowledged that Innocent were undertaking various actions which were aimed at reducing the environmental impact of their products, that did not demonstrate that their products had a net positive environmental impact over their full lifecycles,” the regulator said. “We also noted that their drinks bottles included non-recycled plastic and that the extraction of raw materials and subsequent processing of those materials in order to produce the bottle would have a negative impact on the environment.”
Innocent, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, argued the ad set out a “purpose-led message” and a call to action to consumers to join the company in “working towards a healthier planet”, but had not suggested that purchasing Innocent products themselves would lead to a positive environmental impact.