Adverts promoting Luton airport expansion banned for being misleading over environmental impact

Adverts for Luton airport have been banned for omitting “material information” about the environmental impact of expansion plans.

The advertising watchdog censured a magazine advert and a poster for Luton Rising, a separate company from the airport which is operated under a lease and concession arrangement.

The adverts claimed that the airport’s expansion would be stopped if it did not adhere to limits included in its ‘green controlled growth framework’, but failed to clarify that carbon emissions from additional air traffic movements were excluded from its limits.

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The complainants, which included Adfree Cities and the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford airport, challenged whether the ads were misleading because they omitted “significant information” about the environmental impact of the expansion.

Banning the adverts, the Advertising Standards Authority told the airport “to ensure future claims were adequately qualified” and did not omit “material information” about the environmental impact of expansion.

The adverts claimed: “If we miss our environmental limits, our expansion will be stopped in its tracks.”

Luton Rising argued that he purpose of the ads was to show people that mitigating environmental impacts were central to the airport’s expansion plans. 

It highlighted that neither advert had made claims that it was a “green airport” or the “greenest airport”, or that no environmental impacts would arise from the proposed expansion. 

Expansion in two phases has been proposed. The current terminal building would be expanded first and an additional terminal would be built and later expanded. The project would take place over a number of years, with monitoring of the different limits on expansion conducted annually.

The green controlled growth framework made clear which emissions it included – those carbon emissions generated by the airport’s operations and by staff and passengers travelling to and from the airport by road, the company told the ASA.

A fundamental part of the plan was to grow Luton airport sustainably, and not at the expense of the environment, Luton Rising said.

The green controlled growth framework, which placed limits on noise, air quality, emissions from the airport’s operations and road traffic, would be implemented if expansion was approved. Expansion would be halted if these were breached or there was a risk they might be breached, Luton Rising said.

That approach was summarised in the ads, it pointed out.

However, upholding the complaints, the ASA said that the advertising code stated that the basis of environmental claims must be clear and that unqualified claims “could mislead if they omitted significant information”.

The ASA ruled that “notwithstanding the reasons given in the green controlled growth framework for excluding air traffic emissions from the expansion’s environmental limits, we considered their exclusion was material information that was likely to affect people’s understanding of the ads’ overall message, and should have been made clear. 

“We concluded the ads omitted significant information and were therefore misleading.”

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