Council Motion: Ethical and Low Carbon Advertising Policy

The majority of councils have declared a climate emergency and made commitments to become net-zero organisations.

All councils have commitments to improve public health within their area too.

Often advertising boards, either directly owned or contracted out to companies to provide of council land, display adverts that work against those commitments. For instance by advertising high fat foods or fossil fuel products such as petrol/diesel cars or flights.

Your council should have an policy that governs the terms of it’s contracts with advertising companies that use council billboards and infrastructure such as bus stops. It is within council powers to prohibit advertisements for products that work against council strategies.

The template council motion below is from Adfree Cities.

You can download the full motion here which also includes fully linked references. They also have an extended set of resources for councils that you can access here.

Adfree Cities are also holding an online Q&A for councillors (cross party) to find out more about how you can set ethical advertising policies on your council.

The template motion is below:

This Council Notes:

  • That it is possible for local authorities to implement advertising policies against specific products if they are considered to be harmful to public health or the environment, or otherwise to compromise council objectives. The Greater London Authority (GLA), which controls Transport for London (TfL) property, agreed a Healthier Food Advertising Policy in 2018 prohibiting High Fat, Sugar or Salt (HFSS) food advertising on TfL property.

  • In 2024, Edinburgh and Sheffield councils enacted Ethical and Low Carbon Advertising Policies prohibiting, among other categories, advertisements and sponsorships for airlines, airports, fossil fuel companies and SUVs. They join Cambridgeshire County Council, Hackney Council, Somerset Council and Basingstoke & Deane who have all implemented similar policies. Norwich, Liverpool and North Somerset councils have also passed motions on this topic, with implementation still to come.

  • That advertising prohibitions and restrictions already exist regarding all tobacco products and e-cigarettes, guns and offensive weapons, breath testing and products designed to mask the effects of alcohol, ‘pyramid schemes’, prostitution services, ‘obscene material’ as well as other rules regarding marketing to children, HFSS products, medical and health claims, religion, financial products, and pornography.

  • That the continued paid promotion of activities or products that are potentially harmful to mental or physical health or the environment, such as junk food, gambling, alcohol or high carbon products (including cars, fossil fuel companies and airlines and airports), are very common across a variety of out of home advertising media.

  • That statistical evidence shows how exposure to advertising increases consumption of advertised goods and services. A 2021 study found that exposure to SUV advertising can make someone 250% more likely to own an SUV than no vehicle at all. A ban on advertising for unhealthy food across the Transport for London network resulted in a drop in household purchases of unhealthy food and drink, preventing 100,000 obesity cases with an expected saving to the NHS of £200 million.

Council further notes:

  • That [COUNCIL NAME] currently holds an Advertising Concession Agreement with [INSERT COMPANY] involving the upkeep and maintenance of over [INSERT NUMBER] bus stops across the city (many of which include advertising panels) and [INSERT NUMBER] advertising billboard sites.

  • That a single double-sided digital bus stop advertising screen uses three times the electricity of the average British home and a single ‘48 sheet’ digital billboard may use as much energy as 37 UK homes.

  • That extra emissions resulting from advertising products at the national level is calculated to have added 208 million tonnes of CO2e in 2022, an increase of 11% since 2019.

  • That a climate emergency was declared by this council on [DATE], which included a commitment to reduce citywide carbon emissions and achieve net zero as an authority by [YEAR]. [Delete if not applicable].

  • That a legal opinion by Richard Wald KC found that it is within the legal powers of local authorities, including transport bodies, to adopt advertising policies that exempt adverts and sponsorship from harmful products and services, that there is a strong legislative background to do so, and that such policies can be defined according to the council’s discretion.

  • That banning advertising for certain products is not the same as banning the products themselves.

Full Council believes:

  • That the very purpose of advertising is to stimulate demand for goods and services.

  • That some advertising content undermines the council’s objectives regarding public health, air pollution and sustainable consumption. For example advertising for gambling services and HFSS products undermine health objectives, petrol and diesel car adverts (especially for Sports Utility Vehicles) undermine air quality objectives, and airline advertising undermines carbon emission targets.

Full Council resolves:

  • To commit to introducing an Ethical and Low Carbon Advertising policy, to support the Council’s objectives regarding climate change, air pollution and public health issues.

  • That this should include, at the very least, prohibition of advertisements and sponsorships for:
    • HFSS products, gambling, pay-day loans and alcohol.
    • Cars powered by fossil fuels, including hybrids, and all SUVs given the additional risks that these pose to public safety.
    • Airlines, airports, or any content that can reasonably be seen to promote flying.
    • Fossil fuel companies and their financiers.
  • To adopt a presumption against planning applications for all new digital advertising screens in the city due to the high carbon footprint of these technologies and to reduce aggregate exposure to advertising that promotes unsustainable levels of consumption.
  • To write to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, asking for a ban on high carbon and unethical advertising nationally.
  • To write to the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities asking for reforms to Planning Guidance on outdoor advertising to take into account the unique problems with energy-intensive digital billboards.

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