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Etihad’s ‘Sustainable Aviation’ Advertisements Banned in the U.K.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline allegedly downplayed the environmental impact of flying in its recent ads, according to U.K. authorities

by Lauren Smith

April 14, 2023

Etihad Airways Greenliner / Photo: Courtesy of Etihad Airways

The U.K.’s advertising watchdog has banned two Facebook advertisements posted by Etihad Airways in October 2022, as they were misleading.

The ads claimed that the airline was making significant strides towards “sustainable aviation,” but they didn’t mention the adverse effects of flying on the environment. The watchdog said that Etihad Airways had exaggerated its efforts to be environmentally friendly in the posts.

At issue were two Facebook advertisements posted by Etihad Airways in October 2022, which promoted the UAE national carrier’s “louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation.”

One accompanying video pointed to the airline’s use of “the most modern and efficient planes” and its “cutting back on single-use plastics.” At the same time, another suggested that passengers were making a “conscious choice for the planet” by choosing Etihad.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) raised concerns that these claims were misleading and “exaggerating the environmental benefits of flying” with Etihad and opened an investigation into the campaign.

Photo: Courtesy of Etihad Airways

Etihad countered that its claims about sustainability were not intended as an “absolute solution” to the environmental impact of flying and would be widely understood by consumers as part of a “long-term and multifaceted process.”

The airline said it intends to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It pointed to its use of fuel-efficient aircraft and work developing “sustainable aviation fuel production” in the UAE. It also pointed to its “Environmental Airline of the Year” distinction in the 2022 Airline Excellence Awards.

However, U.K. marketing regulations require that a high level of evidence substantiates absolute environmental claims, and the ASA doesn’t believe Etihad’s evidence crossed that threshold.

“We acknowledged Etihad’s comments about the use of modern aircraft and flight practices to reduce emissions,” the watchdog said in its ruling.

“We understood, however, that air travel continued to produce high levels of CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, which were making a substantial contribution to climate change.”

The watch”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.”

“We concluded, therefore, that the claim exaggerated the impact that flying with Etihad would have on the environment and the ads breached the [advertising] code,” the ASA said, banning the ads in the U.K.

Etihad is the latest company to be criticized by the ASA since the watchdog pledged to crack down on baseless green claims in British advertising in September 2021.

Last month, the authority barred print ads from the Lufthansa. The ads, which asserted that the German carrier is “connecting the world [and] protecting its future]” and depicted the cockpit of a jumbo jet merged with a photograph of the Earth, were similarly judged to have violated advertising regulations by making unsubstantiated absolute environmental claims.

The ASA has also recently banned advertisements from Pepsi-owned tea brand Lipton, alternative milk producer Oatly, and Unilever’s Persil detergent over misleading green claims.