New analysis by environmental research group DeSmog, commissioned by Greenpeace Netherlands, “Words vs. Actions, the truth behind the advertising of the car and airline industries”, shows how European airline and car companies use advertising to evade their climate responsibilities by either exaggerating their corporate response to the climate crisis or completely ignoring the damage their products cause. 

You can read the whole report below this article or download the report here.

Greenpeace Netherlands selected a representative sample of ten European airlines and car makers, and DeSmog then analysed a year’s worth of their advertising content from the Facebook Ad Library, comprising ads posted on both Facebook and Instagram for European audiences. The analysis of 864 car advertisements and 263 airline advertisements suggests that the companies are greenwashing, in other words presenting a deceptively environmentally friendly image.

In Europe, more than 30 organisations are supporting a campaign to legally end fossil advertising and sponsorship in the EU, much like the long-established directive banning tobacco sponsorships and advertisements. If the campaign collects one million verified signatures in a year, the European Commission is obliged to respond to the proposal. 

Sign the European Citizens Initative to ban fossil ads and sponsorships here and share it with your friends. 

Key findings

  • We found that the car companies’ advertising of electric vehicles and hybrids was out of all proportion to their European sales of those vehicles. Car companies’ advertising of electric and hybrid vehicles is up to 5 times higher than their sales of these cars.
  • 68% of car companies’ ads analysed promoted hybrid and/or purely electric cars, while such vehicles account for just 30% of Renault’s sales and ‘low emission vehicles’ and represent under 13% of sales across the giant Stellantis N.V. group. 
  • Car companies use such advertising in part to present a deceptively environmentally friendly image (so-called ‘greenwashing’). 
  • Airlines, meanwhile, seem to be pursuing a very different approach, with almost every company whose content DeSmog analysed placed little or no emphasis on supposed solutions to their oil use and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Instead, Airline advertising focuses overwhelmingly on low-cost flights, deals and promotions, which together accounted for 66% of all their advertisements. 

Transport accounts for two thirds of the oil used in the EU, almost all of which is imported. The largest source of the EU’s oil imports is Russia, providing 27% of the EU’s imported oil in 2021, worth over €200 million per day. Environmental and human rights groups have warned that the EU’s imports of oil and other fuels from Russia are effectively funding the invasion of Ukraine.

PR strategies are helping car and airline companies in Europe sell products that harm the planet and delay the urgent action we need to tackle climate catastrophe. The last IPCC report has identified PR strategies as an obstacle to climate action and scientists across the world have urged Ad and PR agencies to ditch fossil fuel clients. With the European Citizens’ Initiative we can shape the law to achieve a historic ban on fossil fuel ads and sponsorships.

Greenwashing or ignoring 

This investigation, conducted by Desmog in line with the research conducted on the fossil fuel industry itself in October 2021, demonstrates how car and airline companies across Europe have used their advertisements in order to delay, distract, and deflect attention away from their business models which are heavily burning fossil fuels and driving us deeper into climate disaster.

Desmog’s evidence demonstrates why we need to stop advertising of the fossil fuel, car and airline industries that are driving us deeper into this crisis. 

Ban fossil fuel advertisements and sponsorships

So why do we allow companies to greenwash their dangerous business models through advertisements and sponsorships or just ignore the problem all together? Why do we allow companies to manipulate people into thinking that they are taking the climate emergency seriously when many companies are still heavily invested in fossil powered transport? 

The answer is simple, we need the European Commission to legally ban fossil fuel industries advertising and sponsorships to stop their dangerous propaganda which delays the rapid fossil fuel phase out we need. The EU has already introduced a directive banning cross border tobacco advertising and sponsorships in response to a public health crisis. Now that we are deep into a climate emergency and we know that fossil fuels are responsible for 89% of global CO2 emissions, it’s time for a law banning fossil advertising for the health of people and the planet.Sign the European Citizens Initative to Ban Fossil Advertising and sponsorships here.

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