Austrian Airlines has ‘carbon-neutral’ advertisements pulled over greenwashing concerns

Image: Austrian Airlines

The airline, which is part of the Lufthansa Group, ran a series of digital advertisements earlier this year touting ‘carbon-neutral’ flights from Vienna to Venice for the Biennale art fair.

Graphics used to promote the tickets claimed that Austrian Airlines was using ‘100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)’ for the flights. This is despite the fact that international regulations limit the blending of SAF to 50% for commercial flights, with most airlines using far lower proportions.

Austrian Airlines has stated that its offer actually enables customers to contribute to its investment in scaling the SAF sector, to the equivalent of the amount of fuel needed to offset 100% of the conventional jet fuel associated with a ticket.

But the Austrian Advertising Council (AAC) did not accept this argument. It sided with Dutch academic Eric Stam, who led the complaints against the campaign, and ruled that the advertisements were likely to mislead customers about the environmental impact of their flights.

The AAC’s decision statement reads: “In times when sustainability and climate protection are given special attention by the population, transparent, clear and sensitive communication is particularly needed.

“Since the subject could be misleading with regard to climate-neutral flying, but is not (yet) possible, a more sensitive design and, above all, more precise formulation regarding the advertising subject is recommended.”

Stam also took issue with the airline’s failure to disclose information about which kinds of SAF it was using and in what quantities.

The AAC ruled that the advert violated its requirements on environmental communications and its general ethical principles, namely that advertising “must not violate the principles of honesty and truthfulness”.

Stam previously raised a complaint about one of KLM’s advertising campaigns on greenwashing grounds. In the summer of 2020, the AAC ruled that the airline was over-emphasising its use of SAF by claiming that it was “the first airline to fly biofuel on a daily basis”.

That complaint has evolved and events have played out as such that KLM was sued for misleading advertising by the Fossielvrij NL and Reclame Fossilvrij campaign groups, represented by ClientEarth. A summons letter was sent to KLM representatives for the case, at the Amsterdam District Court, last month. The case is believed to be the first of its kind.

The news comes shortly after the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) confirmed its first in-depth assessment of large business’s claims on environmental sustainability. The FCA is starting in the fashion sector; after conducting initial, broad assessments of claims made across the sector, it will now scrutinise more closely claims made by Asda, Boohoo and Asos.

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