The Rulings

The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") recently ruled on environmental claims in respect of three separate airline ads. In each case it considered the ads to have misled consumers about the sustainability of air travel and banned the ads.

The ads from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Etihad included language such as “travel better and sustainably” (Air France), “environmental advocacy” (Etihad) and fly more sustainably” (Lufthansa). In all cases the ads didn’t include any detailed substantiation or information on the basis of the claims. Additionally Lufthansa and Etihad included what were considered to be misleading or unsubstantiated general claims about their business through the inclusion of “Connecting the world. Protection its future” (Lufthansa) and “a louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation” (Etihad). 

These decisions reinforce the trend seen from previous rulings that:

  1. The ASA is unlikely to tolerate general claims around sustainability or green credentials where they consider these to be unsubstantiated. Brands should be careful to ensure any claim which suggests a greener alternative, or positive environmental impact includes detail of the basis for the claim within the ad, even where space is limited.
  2. As we have previously seen in other sectors (such as energy and fossil fuels) general claims around green credentials, sustainable intention or practices are unlikely to be acceptable where the context of the wider business is not taken into account when making the claim. Any general claim should be considered and provided in context with substantiation. 

Use of AI

All three ads were picked up as potentially breaching ad rules by the ASA’s AI powered Active Ad Monitoring System and were Google paid-for ads. In July 2023 the ASA stated that the system was being used for a ‘subset of issues’ but that it was ‘making an impact in high-priority areas’. The fact that all 3 of these ads from airlines have been picked up by the system and the ASA has ruled on them suggests that green claims compliance is a high priority area at this time. 

The use of AI and pro-active enforcement increases the risk of non-compliant ads being picked up and ruled on, without the need for consumer complaint.