19th July 2021

Give Greenwash the Red Card

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which regulates business behaviour, has finally stepped in to try to end ‘greenwashing’ and has asked for evidence.  Greenwashing is where businesses make dubious claims in an attempt to boost their environmental credentials.

Greenwashing is all too common in the aviation industry and, last week, Stansted Airport Watch (SAW) submitted detailed evidence to the CMA relating to both Stansted Airport and Ryanair.

Stansted Airport is the largest single source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the East of England and yet it constantly boasts that it has achieved ‘carbon neutral’ status. How can that be?  The answer lies in three clever tricks of the PR trade:

  • The ‘carbon neutral’ claim only applies to the airport buildings and airside vehicles but these two elements account for just one per cent of the airport’s emissions. The other 99% is ignored – i.e. the aircraft emissions (about 90%) and the emissions from the road traffic taking passengers and freight to and from the airport (about 9%).
  • Even that one per cent is not truly carbon neutral. The airport relies on “offsetting” to magic away CO2. An example of offsetting would be to make a donation to help protect a peat bog on the Yorkshire Moors. However, this does not stop the airport CO2 going into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
  • In trumpeting its “prestigious” award for achieving ‘carbon neutral’ status, Stansted Airport conveniently failed to mention of the fact that the award was given by ACI, the airports’ trade association, part financed by Stansted Airport. It’s a case of airports marking their own homework.

Ryanair is also adept at greenwashing.  It claims to be Europe’s “cleanest, greenest airline” but, according to the European Commission, in 2019 Ryanair was responsible for emissions of 10.5 million tonnes of CO2, more than any other airline in Europe. In fact Ryanair was the only airline listed on the Commission’s league table of Europe’s top ten polluters (it was ranked seventh).

In 2020 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated Ryanair’s claims to be “Europe’s Lowest Emissions Airline” and to have “low CO2 emissions” and concluded that the claims were misleading. The advertising campaign which made these claims was banned and Ryanair was told by the ASA to ensure that when making environmental claims, it had adequate evidence to substantiate them, and also to ensure that the basis of those claims was made clear.

Stansted Airport Watch Chairman, Brian Ross, commented: “The aviation industry knows full well that its CO2 emissions are a major contributor to climate change but it uses clever PR – greenwashing – to create the impression that aviation is environmentally friendly.  It’s like the claims made many years ago that smoking is healthy.  Eventually the truth comes out.”


  • SAW’s submission to the Competition and Markets Authority is available on request from the Campaign Office (see below).



Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits