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Etihad ‘disappointed’ with greenwashing UK ad ban

Etihad says its "Greenliner" programme tests new eco-friendly strategies on its Dreamliner fleet
  • Ads claimed flying with Etihad was a ‘conscious choice for the planet’
  • ASA ruled no evidence to prove ‘sustainable aviation’ wording
  • Australia also investigating greenwashing claims against Etihad

UAE flag carrier Etihad Airways has been accused of greenwashing, and has had two of its adverts banned in the UK for “exaggerating the environmental benefits” of flying with it.

Following an investigation, UK advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled on April 12 that the Abu Dhabi-based airline misled customers by claiming it pursued a sustainable approach to aviation.

The UK’s Green Claims Code sets out what businesses need to do to ensure their environmental claims are not judged to be misleading or ‘greenwashing’.

As such, the term ‘sustainable aviation’ is an “absolute” environmental claim that must be backed up by a high level of evidence under UK marketing regulations, the ASA said. 

The regulator added that the evidence required to substantiate such a claim does not currently exist in the aviation industry, so the statement should not be made.

The adverts in question were two video campaigns published on Facebook in October 2022. The videos included claims that the airline was cutting back on single-use plastic and has upgraded its fleet with modern, fuel-efficient planes.

Acknowledging the impact of flying on the environment, the ads promoted the airline’s “louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation” and the idea that choosing to fly with Etihad was a “conscious choice for the planet”.

A spokesperson for Etihad Airways said it was “disappointed” by the ASA’s decision.

It added: “Sustainability is a key priority for Etihad, which runs a comprehensive research and development programme to address aviation decarbonisation, working to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment.”

During the investigation, Etihad said that the ‘sustainable aviation’ claim was not intended to be understood as an absolute solution to the environmental impact of aviation, but would instead be widely understood as a long-term and multifaceted process of reducing the industry’s carbon footprint.

Unsubstantiable terminology

‘Sustainable aviation’ has been a widely used and publicised term in the aviation industry for a number of years and was used by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the UAE carrier added.

Etihad’s own sustainability strategy, it said, includes searching for solutions to “fast-track the transition to cleaner fuels, develop a carbon credits ecosystem locally and support strong standards globally, explore and develop emissions avoidance mechanisms…and engage Etihad’s customers and stakeholders in supporting decarbonisation.”

The airline is working to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions status by 2050.

But the ASA rejected Etihad’s argument, saying that there are currently no initiatives or commercially viable technologies in the aviation industry that would “adequately substantiate an absolute green claim” such as those made in the Etihad adverts.

It concluded that the Gulf airline’s adverts had “exaggerated the impact” that choosing to fly with it would have on the environment, and was therefore in breach of UK code.

Etihad is the latest airline to be called out by the ASA, which last month banned an ad campaign by German carrier Lufthansa claiming that its green initiatives were protecting the world.

Australia’s competition watchdog said last month that it, too, would investigate a greenwashing complaint made against Etihad by a local environmental group.

The complaint filed with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by the Environmental Defenders Office said the airline’s net-zero emissions pledge was false and misleading as there is little evidence that the airline could reasonably expect to achieve this by 2050.

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