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Banned Ads Greenwashing Policy & Regulation

Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad ads banned over sustainability claims

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By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

December 6, 2023 | 4 min read

UK watchdog said it had concerns that claims made by the airlines would mislead the public over the environmental impact of flying.

Etihad flight in the air

Etihad is among the airlines facing UK ad bans / Etihad

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned ads by Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad over their sustainability claims as it continues its wider efforts to crack down on misleading green claims through the use of AI.

Its Active Ad Monitoring system proactively searches for online ads that may break the rules.

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The ads in question appeared online in July, with one by Lufthansa stating consumers could “fly more sustainably” with the airline. Another by Air France claimed that “Air France is committed to protecting the environment: travel better and sustainably,” while Etihad’s ad offered customers “total peace of mind” over its environmental credentials.

In all three cases, the ASA ruled that the ads gave a misleading impression of the advertiser’s environmental impact.

It’s the second time this year that Lufthansa and Etihad have fallen foul of UK advertising rules.

Climate advocates are celebrating the latest rulings. Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible, says: “Air France’s ad is just one drop in a tidal wave of greenwashing from airlines that aims to mislead people into believing that flying more can be compatible with tackling the climate crisis. As this ruling makes clear, there is no such thing as environmentally friendly air travel.

“Meeting our climate commitments means demand for flying must fall, yet every day, people are exposed to advertising messages telling them the opposite. Tackling corporate greenwashing is only part of the solution. Taking the climate emergency seriously means ending advertising for high carbon goods like flights altogether.”

And some feel positive about the ASA’s new approach of using technology to crackdown on misleading claims, such as Sophie Tuson, a senior associate who specializes in climate and environmental sustainability at international law firm RPC. She says: “These latest rulings were all identified by the ASA’s Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules. The ASA said last week that it is on course to process 3m ads using AI this year and is planning to scale this to 10m next year, showing how this technology is swiftly becoming a vital tool for regulators cracking down on green claims.”

But James Ward, campaigner at Adfree Cities, which works with Possible on the Badvertising campaign, said while it’s encouraging to see the ASA respond to such claims using AI, “using ChatGPT to spot greenwashing claims ultimately just exposes how ill-equipped and under-resourced our industry regulator is to deal with the sheer scale of this problem.”

Adfree Cities has previously been critical of the watchdog, claiming it is not doing enough to combat misleading green claims and advocating for category-wide ad bans. The ASA maintains this is not its role.

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