UK Regulator Bans Airline Adverts Over ‘Misleading’ Environmental Claims

In a significant move, the UK’s advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has banned airline advertisements from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, and Etihad Airways for allegedly presenting a “misleading impression” of the airlines’ environmental impact. The ASA ruled that the advertisements breached advertising rules and must not appear again in their current form.

The banned advertisements were found in paid-for Google ads, where the airlines made environmental claims that were deemed deceptive by the ASA. The rulings highlight the growing scrutiny on greenwashing, where companies exaggerate or falsely claim their commitment to environmentally friendly practices.

Etihad Airways: “Environmental Advocacy” Raises Questions

Etihad Airways’ ad, seen in July 2023, featured the statement, “Etihad Airways – Book Your Flight Today […] Enjoy Great Discounts, Offers and Deals On Your Flight Bookings. Explore the World With Confidence and Total Peace Of Mind With Etihad Airways. Environmental Advocacy. Award-Winning Service.”

The ASA found fault with the claim of “Environmental Advocacy,” asserting that consumers might interpret it as Etihad actively working to protect the environment. The regulator expected a high level of evidence to support this claim, emphasizing the need for consumers to have total peace of mind about the airline’s environmental impact.

Etihad Airways responded promptly by removing all references to “Environmental Advocacy” from their paid-for Google search ads in the UK upon notification of the complaint.

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Lufthansa’s “Fly More Sustainably” Claim Under Scrutiny

Lufthansa’s ad, also seen in July 2023, boasted, “Fly now with Lufthansa […] Book your ticket directly with Lufthansa and explore destinations around the world […] Fly more sustainably.”

Lufthansa defended the claim, stating it was a reference to their “Green Fares” option, allowing passengers on European flights to reduce 20% of flight-related CO2 emissions through sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and offset the remaining 80% through climate protection projects. However, the ASA argued that the basis for the claim was not sufficiently clear in the ad and concluded it gave a misleading impression of Lufthansa’s environmental impact.

Acknowledging the technical limits of Google Callouts, Lufthansa instructed their agency to remove the phrase “Fly more sustainably” from future ads.

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Air France-KLM: Lack of Evidence for Environmental Commitment

Air France’s ad, promoting flights from Manchester to Bangkok, claimed, “Air France is committed to protecting the environment: travel better and sustainably.”

The ASA questioned the lack of evidence demonstrating Air France’s commitment to environmental protection and sustainable travel. Understanding the significant environmental impact of air travel, the regulator emphasised the need for airlines to provide evidence supporting absolute green claims. As Air France failed to provide such evidence, the ASA ruled that the claims gave consumers a misleading impression and breached advertising codes.

In an era where environmental consciousness is paramount, consumers are increasingly scrutinising corporate claims of sustainability. The ASA’s rulings against these major airlines remind the aviation industry that greenwashing will not go unnoticed, and advertisers must substantiate their environmental claims with tangible evidence to avoid regulatory action. As environmental concerns continue to gain prominence, companies face increasing pressure to align their advertising practices with genuine efforts to reduce their ecological footprint.