We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Bristol is on the verge of pioneering a way to ban adverts for high carbon, climate-changing products

March 5, 2021 5:55 PM
By David Boyle

What is it about Bristol? When it was a Lib Dem city in the run-up to the tobacco advertising and marketing ban in the UK, it led the grassroots campaign against cigarette ads and local doctors turning out in February 2003 to help council staff tear them down.

Now it isn't Lib Dem any more, but Bristol is on the verge of pioneering a way to ban adverts for high carbon, climate-changing products - on the grounds that they seem likely to destroy even more lives.

It may be that this is an excellent area for local Lib Dem campaigners to take on again.

It is equally easy to forget that a reluctant Blair government was forced, finally, to act on tobacco marketing by a private members bill in the Lords by our then health spokesperson Tim Clement-Jones.

It was not right to let the tobacco companies outspend any government health messaging about the dangers of smoking - leading so many young people to an earlier grave.

So what are we to make of advertising now that undermines our expensive efforts to save the climate? Perhaps by advertising SUV cars as if they were good for the environment, when they actually clog the lungs of vulnerable children - making covid worse at the same time?

What powers do local authorities have? Well, they certainly have some:

*Advertising billboards and screens located on council-owned land.

*Passenger Transport Executives (such as Transport for London, Transport for Greater Manchester, Merseytravel, etc) have control of advertising policies, and are accountable to local democratic bodies such as Mayor's offices.

*Planning consent for advertising infrastructure (e.g new digital billboards) and some advertising content.

By last April, 1,490 jurisdictions in 29 countries, representing over 822 million citizens, had declared a climate emergency. These declarations, taking place at every level of government, are leading to a series of local, regional and national climate emergency action plans.

These plans represent an opportunity to highlight the adverse influence of advertising on efforts to address this climate crisis, and a route to including controls on advertising as part of these community, municipal, state and national strategies.

In Britain, over 90 per cent of the population lives in areas that have declared a climate emergency; over 450 councils all together. In New Zealand, the percentage is nearly as high with 74 per cent of the population, while the figure is around one in four people in countries like Switzerland and Italy.

Some councils in the UK are beginning to recognise the negative impacts that advertising can have on achieving greener places to live in. The office of the Mayor of Bristol has co-produced a One City Climate Strategy:

It resolves to:

* Develop a citywide shared understanding and commitment to responsible consumption (including lower carbon food and reduced flying), which acknowledges the generally lower impact of lower income households;

* and Create advertising standards and restrictions to support responsible consumption.

Now, scrutiny committees for some councils may not be a suitable forum (and do not exist at some local authorities), they can provide a supplementary pathway for developing advertising policies with officers.

If Bristol fails to act in the end, it is because of nerves about how to define high carbon products. I have been involved in the new Badvertising campaign for nearly a year now, and we have used some resources to come up with a potential wording,

The key point is that ending advertising of a product is not the same as banning the product itself.
People are still allowed to smoke, after all, despite the advertising ban on tobacco.

See the box for our suggestions. We have taken a simple and transparent approach rather than trying to define 'high carbon' in absolute terms. For example, the councils could define high carbon transport (cars, flights, etc), by its carbon intensity per passenger kilometre (gCO2e/pkm) and energy products by carbon intensity per quantity of usable energy generated (gCO2e/kWh). Or they could define a single metric to apply to any product being advertised, like the carbon intensity per retail value of the product or service (gCO2e/retail£).

There would be advantages of this approach:

* A quantitative metric approach to adverts could encourage industries to produce lower carbon products, in the same way that the UK sugar tax encouraged the soft drinks industry to reformulate its products.

* A more fine-grained measure that would allow a sliding scale of regulation rather than a simple binary of allowing or disallowing adverts. For example, advertising for very high carbon products could be banned, while advertising for moderately high carbon products could be required to display a climate change warning


It would also allow the carbon intensity thresholds to be gradually reduced over time to meet carbon neutrality targets.

Disadvantages of this approach:

* There is not yet a universally accepted definition of high, medium and low carbon intensity per £, so as a first mover might find it difficult to persuade advertising companies to assess adverts using this metric, so enforcement would be challenging.

* An attempt at a 'universal' metric for all advertised products could have unintended side effects. For example, carbon intensity per retail value (gCO2e/retail£) would artificially inflate the carbon intensity of lower cost products. A low cost budget flight would appear to have a higher carbon intensity per retail pound than an expensive first class flight, even though the true carbon intensity per kilometre travelled per passenger on a budget flight (gCO2e/passenger-km) is actually lower. This is because a budget flight has more passengers per aeroplane. Other attempts at universal metrics might have other unintended consequences.

This campaign is in its earliest stages - your own council may have acted on it (please tell me!). You can find out more here www.badverts.org <http://www.badverts.org/>

Or read about how they stopped advertising smoking:

Or get some basic campaigning info here https://www.badverts.org/toolkit


We recommend that any council's advertising exclusions should cover:

*Airlines and airports: -*all advertising by airports and airlines which might reasonably be deemed to promote more flying

There are no low carbon options for commercial air travel available currently or for the foreseeable future, so air travel per se should be treated as high carbon.

*Advertising by fossil fuel companies: *We define fossil fuel companies as firms that have over 80% of their investments in coal, oil and gas.Carbon Underground 200 https://fossilfreefunds.org/carbon-underground-200 provides a useful methodology for this definition.

*Cars: exclude all advertising and promotions for petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV)

Advertising for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) as distinct from PHEV could still be permitted, and in principle hydrogen fuelled vehicles.**PHEVs have been shown not to yield meaningful emissions savings over conventional vehicles.