The UK advertising watchdog has banned an ad campaign by Etihad Airways that claimed to promote “sustainable aviation,” ruling that it misled consumers about the environmental impact of flying.
Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), had run two Facebook ads promoting its green credentials, including initiatives like reducing single-use plastic cutlery. The ads presented the airline’s “louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation” and urged consumers to choose Etihad as a “conscious choice for the planet.”
However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched an investigation into the campaign over concerns that it exaggerated the environmental benefits of flying with Etihad, using imagery of plants and the Earth, and claiming the airline was the “Environmental airline of the year 2022.”
Etihad Airways responded to the ban by stating that its claim of sustainable aviation was not intended to be seen as a complete solution to the environmental impact of flying, but rather as a long-term, multi-faceted process with a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The airline explained that it was restructuring its fleet to include modern, fuel-efficient aircraft and developing sustainable aviation fuel production in the UAE.
However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that in the UK, environmental claims such as “sustainable aviation” must be supported by a substantial level of evidence, and that Etihad’s claims in the ad campaign were misleading.
“We noted steps were being taken by Etihad to reduce the environmental impact of its service,” said the ASA.
“[However], we understood that there were currently no initiatives or commercially viable technologies in operation within the aviation industry which would adequately substantiate an absolute green claim such as ‘sustainable aviation’ as we considered consumers would interpret it in this context,” the ASA continued.
“We concluded, therefore, that the claim exaggerated the impact that flying with Etihad would have on the environment and the ads breached the [advertising] code.”
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been cracking down on misleading or unsubstantiated green claims by firms since September 2021. Etihad Airways is the latest big brand to fall foul of this crackdown, with the ASA banning its ad campaign promoting sustainable aviation. The German airline Lufthansa also had an ad campaign banned by the ASA last month, which claimed that its green initiatives were protecting the planet.
This is not the first time that the ASA has banned ad campaigns for misleading environmental or green claims. In fact, several companies have faced similar bans in recent years. These include the alt-milk brand Oatly, the Pepsi-owned tea brand Lipton, and Unilever’s Persil detergent. Even major companies like Ryanair, HSBC, Esso, and Shell have faced bans from the ASA over their climate claims.
The ASA’s crackdown on misleading environmental claims reflects growing concerns about “greenwashing” – the practice of making exaggerated or false claims about a company’s environmental credentials to attract environmentally-conscious consumers. With more and more consumers prioritizing sustainability in their purchasing decisions, companies need to be transparent and honest about their environmental impact to avoid falling foul of regulators and losing the trust of their customers.