Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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23 Apr 2009

The Beautiful Absurdity of ‘Flights for Lights’

flights-for-lightsHere is a wonderful story, sent to me by my friend Peter, offering a kind of Transition Tale in reverse. Transition Tales, as readers of ‘The Transition Handbook’ will be aware, are stories from a powered down future set out in such a way as to help them to imagine what a successfully powered-down world might be like. The opposite of a Transition Tale would be a story from the present, so stupid and mind-bending, yet with its own internal logic, that somehow neatly sums up the blockages to our ever reaching that world. Tesco’s recent ‘Flights for Lights’ promotion is such a story.

The thrust of the promotion runs like this. Given the scale of climate change, we urgently need to get people to adopt energy saving measures, in particular to really scale up the numbers of people installing low energy light bulbs. How best to incentivise this? Well, according to this campaign, the way is to give people air miles to encourage them to save energy. Buying a low energy bulb earns the shopper a £2.50 Clubcard voucher, which in turn translates in 60 airmiles. At this point your brain probably fused. Mine did.

The story is reported by Ed Gillespie of Futerra in the Guardian last week. He writes;

“What next? Free packet of 20 Benson and Hedges with every Nicorette patch? A dozen king-size Mars bars with every box of Ryvita? Talk about being counter productive. It’s like being lost in the desert, miles from anywhere, and eating your own legs to sustain yourself during your search for help”.

We are awash with greenwash, including Gillespie’s favourite, the ad by Turkish Airlines with the strapline “we are changing the skies”. Fabulous. I still, years later, am bewildered by the term ‘environmentally friendlier’ that used to appear on products in the earlier 90s. Friendlier than what? Chernobyl? Pol Pot? A swimming pool full of Agent Orange? Jeremy Clarkson? The Colorado Beetle? Such labels and adverts ought to be laughed at loudly in the middle of the shop.

“Flights for Lights” does rhyme beautifully though and have a certain symmetry. Any Transition Culture readers got any other ideas for similar schemes? How about ‘Spikes for Bikes’, where when you buy a new bike, they run out ahead of you and cover the road outside with spikes to burst the tyres and render your new bike inoperable?

Or perhaps ‘Parrots for Carrots’, where every time you buy a bunch of carrots, Tescos unleash a swarm of man-eating highly-trained parrots over a major city to reek carnage and vengeance. Or ‘Bombs for Toms’, where when you buy a bag of discounted tomatoes, and Tescos pop round and dynamite your house before you make it home? ‘Every Little Helps’ indeed.

Categories: General

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23 Apr 9:00am

coffins for boffins? where wannabe techno-fixing futurists receive a ‘free’ unsustainably produced hardwood box in which to get buried along with their unsustainable deadwood hubris…

death for breath, maybe? where the air becomes so toxic that even to take a lungfull is to die… no wait, that’s not marketing, that’s where we are…

23 Apr 9:27am

We could just ask Tesco to change it to -60 air miles with every bulb 🙂

Steve Atkins
23 Apr 10:57am

yurghh, the T word, now I’m feeling ill.

Every Little Helps into Every Airmile Hell.

Ann R Parker
23 Apr 11:00am

I did laugh out loud when I read this. You’d think it was a line from a comedian! Regretably and more seriously, it isn’t. But doesn’t it just show TESCO for what it really is?

Steve Atkins
23 Apr 11:08am

Ann, if you must use the T word, please consider sensitive people such as myself – CAPITAL T WORD!!… WAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!…(now i have a bad headache).

23 Apr 12:01pm


23 Apr 1:23pm

BOGOF I think is the best response to that.

23 Apr 2:35pm

Hey, it looks like a chance to opportunise the phenomenon! 🙂

It IS funny. So what we need is the green version of the “Chicken Soup For the Soul” series; and/or, an annual green version of the IgNobel Prizes; and the Raspberry Awards.

Put together a short book each year; “Suitable For Bathroom Reading, And Other Bathroom Uses”; documenting all the various insanities from the pseudo green advertisers.

Humor is a great weapon; and educational tool.

Seriously – I can’t do it; already overloaded; but if somebody is looking for a project… take it and run.

“The Green Manure Book”
“Inane Insane Obscene Green”
“Green Adverts From Hell”
“Green-Green, It’s Green, They Say”

Oh, yeah, that would sell.

Two versions; one printed on “guaranteed 100% post consumer recycled stuff” – for your green friends; and one printed on “100% Extra Virgin Fiber” – for your anti friends.

23 Apr 2:46pm

Ha ha ha great! 😀

Neil L
23 Apr 5:02pm

Obviously the marketing department didn’t have a real lightbulb moment when they came up with this gem and glad to see that T&£@! are using the £3bn of profit from their £1bn weekly sales wisely!

Maybe we should all pledge through Pledgebank to pay our local transition initiative £1 for every time we use our local shops (or don’t use T&£@!) to see how much we can raise to buy some of the local Woolworth stores as community markets and performance spaces to tell Transition Tales!

What about The Wedge Card

Josef Davies-Coates
23 Apr 5:55pm

On Woolworths (and other empty stores) lets make them in to Community Hubs for Transition Initiatives. The gov’t is actively supporthing this. Really.


This reminds me of an add for an australisn trucking company who, because they paid a carbon offset company, declared that “every mile we drive helps the environmet” on some such nonsense.

BTW, on carbon offsetting, if anyone hasn’t seen Cheat Neutral yet, you reall must:



Jason Cole
23 Apr 8:50pm

I doubt very much that people will fly more as a result of getting some Airmiles vouchers; they’ll just use them to save money on any flights they already intended to take.

Assuming that most of Tesco’s clientelle aren’t motivated to reduce CO2 emissions, it could actually be a worthwhile, albeit paradoxical, scheme.

23 Apr 9:07pm

I’ve just cashed in my airmiles for a case of wine. Is that very bad?

Neil L
23 Apr 9:23pm

Was it Australian wine or European wine?? Wonder if we could cash in Air Miles for transition projects?? Cheers!

24 Apr 12:39am

My wife’s been saving up airmiles over the years, convinced she’s going to get a free flight out of it. She’s been trying to book it since February but three months and at least 10 hours of phone calls later she’s no closer to her target. So if anyone is still thinking they’re going to get to fly if they buy enough light bulbs, remember you have a formidable obstacle: the airline company itself.
On the other hand, there’s a guy who’s beaten the system by buying 12,000 chocolate puddings then donating them to the Salvation Army.

[…] And very finally, fresh from its recent foray into reducing packaging, it seems that Tesco has now returned to form with an offer to “Turn Flights into Flights“. […]

28 Apr 4:43pm

As Yorkshire folk say about Tescos: “E, very little helps”

Steve Atkins
29 Apr 7:20am

Shoppers unite…turn crap into scrap!

Keith Farnish
5 May 1:50pm

A beautiful example of a company that knows its customers are so in awe of the consumer culture that they would never even consider that it is hypocrisy, let alone Greenwash.

Greenpa, The Unsuitablog ( is where you can go to read about every type of environmental hypocrisy going. I’m open to all new findings, and like to keep everyone on their toes; including the environmental NGOs, who are just as bad as the corporations in many ways.


caroline walker
9 May 1:03pm

thanks for a very welcome moment of hilarity.