Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad ads banned for misleading claims

Adverts from Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad have been banned by the UK’s ad regulator due to concerns they have misled customers about the environmental impact of air travel.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned three adverts identified in July using artificial intelligence that suggested flights operated by leading airlines were sustainable.

One Google ad by Lufthansa said consumers could “fly more sustainably” with the airline, while another from Air France said the company was “committed to protecting the environment”. A third by Etihad offered potential customers “total peace of mind”, mentioning their environmental advocacy. All three were banned from appearing again for breaking rules on misleading advertising and environmental claims.

In each case, the ASA said the ads could not corroborate their environmental claims, because the UK ad code required such absolute claims to be “supported by a high level of substantiation”.

The ruling, published on Wednesday, upheld the complaints against the airlines on the grounds they gave a misleading impression of the impact of air travel on the environment.

“We understood that air travel produced high levels of both CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, which were making a substantial contribution to climate change. We also understood that there were currently no initiatives or commercially viable technologies in operation within the aviation industry that would adequately substantiate absolute green claims,” read the ruling against Etihad.

It is the second time this year that Lufthansa and Etihad have fallen foul of UK marketing rules.

Lufthansa, which promised it would stop using the slogan “fly more sustainably”, said a paid-for Google ad did not provide space for a full explanation of “green fares” but that consumers could follow a link for more information supporting its ad claims.

Etihad said after receiving notification of the complaint, it had removed all references to “environmental advocacy” from its Google adverts in the UK. Air France-KLM did not respond to the ruling.

Aviation accounts for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions and continues to rise, driving global heating. Despite industry efforts to use carbon offsetting, cleaner fuels and more efficient planes to mitigate the impact of flying, it continues to be a significant source of greenhouse gases.

Leo Murray, the director of innovation at the climate charity Possible and co-author of Badvertising: Polluting Our Minds and Fuelling Climate Chaos, said: “It is fantastic to see the UK’s de facto advertising regulator becoming more confident and proactive in dealing with dishonest corporate sustainability claims like this one, and we applaud their growing use of AI to cast the net much wider than has been possible in the past.”

However, he added: “As the ASA explicitly notes, there is no such thing as environmentally friendly air travel, and our own work shows that meeting our climate commitments means overall levels of demand for flying must fall, and fast.”

Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad were contacted by the Guardian. Lufthansa said it regretted “the Google advertisement in question lacked the explanation of the further basis for the statement ‘fly more sustainable’” and that it regularly informed its customers, stakeholders and the public about its responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of flying.

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An Etihad spokesperson said the company was proud to have been awarded environmental airline of the year in 2022 and 2023 in the Airline Excellence awards, and would continue to take bold and innovative steps to make flying more sustainable.

Miles Lockwood, the director of complaints and investigations at the ASA, said environmental claims by any business needed to be substantiated. “Our rules make it clear that any green claims in ads need to be supported by robust evidence,” he said.

“That includes any general claims, such as ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ – broad, absolute statements like this need to be justified with a high level of evidence. Flights still emit large amounts of carbon and other non-carbon emissions and so it is misleading to give an impression to consumers that flying is better for the environment than it is in practice.

“We’re focused on ads in this and other high carbon-emitting sectors and what they’re saying about their overall environmental impact,.”

Others brands that have had ASA bans for making misleading and unsubstantiated environmental claims in recent years include Ryanair, HSBC and the energy companies Esso and Shell.


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