The ASA is clamping down on airlines’ misleading guidance on green claims, with Etihad the latest to have its adverts taken down. Olivia Palamountain reports

As airlines devise innovate ways to minimise their environmental impact and clamour to assert their eco credentials, accusations of greenwashing are growing.

Etihad is now the latest in a string of airlines including Lufthansa, Ryanair and Easyjet to be accused of greenwashing, with its adverts investigated and then removed due to breaching the ASA’s guidance on green claims.

As reported by The Drum, the ads in question were two paid-for Facebook ads seen in October 2022. One text stated, “We understand the impact flying has on the environment. That’s why we are taking a louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation” and included guidance on Etihad guests’ “Conscious Choice” options.

(Etihad Guest loyalty scheme members are rewarded with Tier Miles and additional benefits for carrying less baggage on board and offsetting their flights’ carbon emissions using Etihad Guest Miles.)

The other included information about the airline cutting down on single-use plastic in its meal options, touting the credential, “Environmental Airline of the Year for 2022 in the Airline Excellence Awards”.

The ASA challenged whether the ads were misleading because they exaggerated the environmental benefits of flying with Etihad.

According to Simple Flying, under UK advertising regulations, sustainability claims must be backed up by a high level of evidence, and while the ASA did acknowledge the measures put in place by Etihad to reduce its environmental footprint, it concluded that their portrayal in the adverts exaggerated their impact, and that not enough information was provided for customers to be able to fully assess the sustainability claims.

Etihad Airways stated that the claim “sustainable aviation” was not intended to be understood as an absolute solution to the environmental impact of aviation and it did not accept that it would be interpreted in that way.

It went on to say that the claim would be widely understood as a long-term and multi-faceted process, in which Etihad had included an aspiration to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

Following a review, the ASA ruled that the adverts did not contain enough information to back up the sustainability claims.

The ruling stated: “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.”

Last spring, Etihad Airways launched a mangrove tree adoption scheme to encourage passengers feel less guilty about flying, something Globetrender considered to be a form of greenwashing.