Latest ASA rulings in relation to environmental marketing claims by airlines

20th December 2023

As part of a wider piece of enforcement work on climate change and the environment, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) challenged environmental marketing claims on behalf of both Lufthansa and Etihad Airways. It has now issued rulings in respect of both companies, requiring that their adverts are withdrawn. The adverts were identified by the ASA’s Active Ad Monitoring system, which used artificial intelligence (AI) to proactively search for online adverts that may break rules.

A paid-for Google advert for Lufthansa seen in Jul 2023, stated: “Fly now with Lufthansa […] Book your ticket directly with Lufthansa and explore destinations around the world […] Fly more sustainably”. The advert was challenged as to whether it gave a misleading impression of the advertiser’s environmental impact. The CAP code (the Code) stated that there must be a clear basis for any environmental claims. Unqualified claims could mislead if significant information was not provided.

In assessing the advert, the ASA considered that consumers would understand the claim, “Fly more sustainably,” to mean that Lufthansa offered travel by air in a way that had a lower environmental impact than alternative airlines. There was no clarification within the advert as to how the claim worked in practice, and consumers would need the basis of the claim in order to make an informed decision.

Lufthansa said that the advert, which had been created by the Google Callouts service, included the callout, “Fly more sustainably” as a reference to its “Green Fares” option. It was said that the “Green Fares” option would reduce 20% of flight-related CO2 emissions by using sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and offsetting the remaining 80% of the CO2 emissions by an equivalent contribution to high-quality climate protection projects. It believed that the claims seen in the ad were admissible comparative claims, in line with the CAP Code, because the fare option offering a combination of CO2 reduction and offsetting, differed from the general fare options offered by Lufthansa and its competitors.

Lufthansa said that the technical limits of Google Callouts meant that only limited information could be provided within the advert, and that the average consumer would be aware of this. It was anticipated that any such consumer would click the link within the advert to obtain further information.

Similarly, the ASA challenged a paid-for Google advert seen in July 2023 that stated: “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 considered that in order for a company to claim to give consumers “Total Peace Of Mind” with regard to environmental impact, it would expect to see a high level of evidence. Given that the ASA understood that there were currently no initiatives or commercially viable technologies in operation within the aviation industry that would adequately substantiate such claims, the ASA concluded that the advert breached the CAP Code.

Upon receiving notification of the complaint from the ASA, Etihad immediately removed all references to ‘Environmental advocacy’ from its paid-for Google adverts in the UK.

If you need legal advice on environmental marketing claims or any other consumer, trading standards or other marketing issues, speak to our expert lawyers.

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