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Why the UK banned Air France, Lufthansa, and Etihad ads over ‘greenwashing’ claims

Earlier in December, the United Kingdom’s ad regulator banned advertisements from Air France, Lufthansa, and Etihad for allegedly misleading consumers regarding the environmental impact of air travel.

This isn’t the first time that airlines have come under fire for false advertising about their sustainability efforts and accused of ‘greenwashing’. On Tuesday (December 19), a case filed against Dutch airlines KLM for alleged greenwashing through one of their advertising campaigns went to trial in Amsterdam.

Here is a look at the advertisements, what greenwashing is, and how much the airline industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

The advertisements

In July, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) identified three Google ads that suggested the flights operated by Air France, Lufthansa, and Etihad were sustainable.

The Air France ad claimed that the airline was “committed to protecting the environment” and urged holidaymakers to “travel better and sustainably”. The Lufthansa ad suggested that its customers would “fly more sustainably” and the Etihad one offered flyers “total peace of mind”, mentioning their environmental advocacy.

Festive offer

After carrying out an investigation, the ASA found that none of the aforementioned ads corroborate their environmental claims. They were in violation of the UK ad code, which states such absolute claims need to be “supported by a high level of substantiation”.

For instance, about the Etihad ad, the watchdog said: “We understood that air travel produced high levels of both CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, which were making a substantial contribution to climate change. We also understood that there were currently no initiatives or commercially viable technologies in operation within the aviation industry that would adequately substantiate absolute green claims”.

This is the second time in 2023 that Lufthansa and Etihad have been pulled up by the ASA for breaching UK ad rules, according to a report by The Guardian. At that time, the regulator told the airlines to avoid wording that could imply their activities were good for the environment — while Lufthansa claimed it was “protecting the future”, Etihad referred to “sustainable aviation”.

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What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when firms or governments give a false impression that all of their products or activities are climate-friendly or help in reducing emissions. Moreover, greenwashing may also occur when a company highlights sustainable aspects of a product to overshadow its environmentally damaging activities.

“Performed through the use of environmental imagery, misleading labels, and hiding tradeoffs, greenwashing is a play on the term ‘whitewashing,’ which means using false information to intentionally hide wrongdoing, error, or an unpleasant situation in an attempt to make it seem less bad than it is,” according to a report by Investopedia.

Take for example the infamous 2015 Volkswagen scandal, in which the German car company was found to have been cheating in emissions testing of its supposedly green diesel vehicles. This was a case of greenwashing.

In the Dutch airline KLM’s case, the company ran an advertising campaign telling its customers to “Fly Responsibly”. Environmentalists sued KLM for false advertising, arguing that there is no environmentally friendly way to fly as of now, and accused the airlines of greenwashing.

If you want to read more about greenwashing, click here.

Aviation industry and emissions

Currently, the aviation industry is responsible for approximately 2.5% of all human-produced CO2 emissions, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2022 estimates. This may seem like a modest contribution to the overall emissions, but it is set to grow at a very fast pace. The IPPC has said that aviation’s contribution could increase to 5% of the total contribution by 2050 if measures are not taken to address these emissions. The highest predicted value is 15%.

Not only this, it isn’t just CO2 emissions that the aviation industry is releasing. According to the UN Climate Change, if non-CO2 emissions, like water vapour, are also accounted for, the airline industry would be responsible for causing almost 5% of historical global warming.

There is another worry over how aviation emissions are attributed to countries. Emissions from domestic flights are attributed to a country’s emission accounts. However, emissions from international flights are not attributable to any country. They are instead counted as ‘bunker fuels’ and no country has any responsibility to curtail these emissions.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

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