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Two Etihad Airways ads banned in UK over greenwashing claims

The Gulf carrier was accused of exaggerating climate claims by the British Advertising Standards Agency.
Etihad Airways

Emirati carrier Etihad Airways has had two advertisements blocked in the United Kingdom after the country’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the airline “exaggerated” the environmental benefits of flying with them.

The two ads in question were from October 2022 and published on the airline’s Facebook page.

The commercials claimed Etihad was “taking a louder, bolder approach to sustainable aviation” and touted its “Environmental Airline of the Year for 2022” accolade at the Airline Excellence Awards. One of the ads claimed Etihad was flying with a “smaller footprint” and cutting back on single-use plastics.

But the ASA, which regulates advertising in the UK, said on Wednesday that the airline gave no additional context on how “sustainable aviation” was being achieved and called the videos “misleading advertising.”  The authority said that the airline broke the CAP Code, which requires environmental claims to be supported by a high level of substantiation. 

“The claim exaggerated the impact that flying with Etihad would have on the environment,” the ASA said. “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 acknowledged Etihad’s comments about the use of modern aircraft and flight practices to reduce emissions. 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 authority added.

Etihad plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The ASA said that Etihad’s sustainable aviation targets were decades into the future, rather than more immediate, as it believed the ad suggested to consumers.

“Further to that, initiatives such as reducing single-use plastics and using more efficient aircraft were not adequate substantiation to evidence a 'sustainable aviation' claim,” the ASA added.

In a statement to Al-Monitor, the airline said it was “disappointed” by ASA’s decision to block its ads.

“Sustainability is a key priority for Etihad,” a spokesperson said, adding that the airline runs a decarbonization research program, invests modern, fuel-efficient aircraft and researches sustainable aviation fuels. It also said it used carbon offsetting and reforestation through the Etihad Mangroves.

The ASA's director of complaint and investigations, Miles Lockwood, told Al-Monitor, “Our rules make it clear that any green claims need to be backed up with robust evidence, and we won’t hesitate to ban ads that are misleading." He went on, “This ruling is part of our commitment to helping tackle the climate crisis. We know that consumers want to make green choices, and so we’re continuing to update our rules and carry out research to ensure that environmental claims in ads are honest and accurate.”

Etihad is not the first airline that has been accused of 'greenwashing' by the agency, but it is the first from the Middle East.

The ASA also banned a poster from German airline Lufthansa used in June 2022. The authority said it the airline’s claim it was “protecting” the world’s future was not clearly linked to the environment. 


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