Greenwashing: Etihad Airlines has Facebook ads pulled for ‘exaggerated’ environmental claims

The adverts, first posted to Facebook late last year, touted “flights with a smaller footprint” due to reduced single-use plastics on board and the use of “the most modern and efficient planes”.

They also stated that the UAE’s national carrier is “taking a louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation” and suggested that, by choosing to fly with Etihad over other airlines, passengers were “making a conscious choice for the planet”.

The ASA began proceedings against Etihad, arguing that these claims were not sufficiently substantiated by further information. The regulator concluded that initiatives regarding the reduction of single-use plastics were not efficient evidence of aviation operations that could be classed as “sustainable”. It also concluded that while airlines including Etihad are using modern aircraft to reduce emissions, air travel continues to “make a substantial contribution to climate change”.

Etihad argued that customers would understand that its services are not completely sustainable at present and appreciate that reducing emissions from flights will be a “long-term, multi-faceted process”. The ASA acknowledged that those working in aviation or environmental sustainability would appreciate this, but that the general public would not. It also noted that the claim of “sustainable aviation” was not framed in the adverts as a long-term vision, which could give passengers the impression that more progress had already been made.

Additionally, the ASA questioned whether Etihad was being “bolder” than its peers on environmental improvements.

“While we noted steps were being taken by Etihad to reduce the environmental impact of its service, 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 summarised. It ruled to ban the adverts on Wednesday (12 April).

Increasing scrutiny

Last month, the ASA banned an ad campaign from Lufthansa stating that the airline was “protecting [the] future” of the planet.

Other airlines to have been rapped for greenwashing in recent times include KLM and Austrian Airlines.

A survey conducted by Dentsu earlier this year found that less than a quarter of the British public takes environmental claims by business at face value. Shoppers were found to be particularly skeptical of claims made by airlines and airports, as well as holiday companies, car manufacturers and fashion brands.

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