Flights of fancy

I noticed this atrocious piece of aviation industry greenwash on the wall of a London underground station a couple of weeks or so back (actually it was the one posted in miniscule form here – but the message conveyed is much the same):

Today, at long last – after reading Fred Pearce’s excellent piece on Finnair’s ad campaign – I sent a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. Here’s what I had to say.

The advert I wish to complain about promotes flights for the company Finnair. It does so with the phrase “be eco-smart”.

It is an uncontroversial fact that flying is a seriously environmentally damaging practice. The most recent (2002) report on the environmental impact of flying by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution cites its previous 1994 study, which “warned of the prospect of ‘irreversible damage to the Earth’s atmosphere from the growth of air transport, or at least serious damage of a long-term nature’ … and [stated] that ‘the demand for air transport might not be growing at the present rate if airlines and their customers had to face the costs of the damage they are causing to the environment’”. The Commission’s report also contains a full section detailing “The environmental impacts of aircraft in flight” (pp. 9-18). It concludes that “The major, large-scale environmental problem associated with the continuing expansion of aviation is the forcing of climate change”; and that, in addition, “both local pollution and regional pollution are very serious issues”.


A recent report by the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) stated that

“[t]he growth of aviation remains of immense concern to us in terms of the enormous local environmental quality of life and landscape impacts, the huge forecast increase in carbon emissions, and the need to develop more sustainable lifestyles.”

Citing the UK Government, the EAC conclude:

“[t]he Government is right when it acknowledges that flying is a big contributor of carbon emissions and therefore to climate change, in addition to its negative contribution to air quality and noise pollution.”


None of the serious environmental impacts identified by the EAC and the Royal Commission has been substantially reduced, let alone eliminated. Flying thus remains categorically an environmentally damaging practice. To brand any such practice “eco-smart” is a profoundly misleading message to convey to members of the public.

Getting Finnair’s advert taken down is one small but vital step in holding to account companies hawking dubious wares on the back of spurious greenwash. While the company is unlikely to be financially penalised for misleading the public, it – along with any company considering imitating it – will at least receive a stark message that it has crossed the line, big time.


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