“Be eco smart. Choose Finnair’s brand new fleet” exhorted a poster, but two complainants challenged whether this misleadingly implied that flying was environmentally friendly and overdid the green creds of Finnair’s new Airbus fleet. Omar Bucchioni flies Finnish.
Where: Advertising Standards Authority
When: 6 January 2010
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received four complaints in relation to a poster for the Finnish airline Finnair which featured an image of an Airbus flying over the Finnish coastline. The text stated “Be eco-smart. Choose Finnair’s brand new fleet”. The issues raised by the complainant related to whether:
- the claim “Be eco-smart” misleadingly implied that flying was environmentally friendly, and
- the advertiser could substantiate that the new fleet was “eco-smart” in comparison with older planes.
What did Finnair have to say?
Finnair explained that they did not want to convey the message that flying was “environmentally friendly” per se as they accepted that this is not always the best form of transportation from an environmental perspective. What they wanted their “eco-smart” message to convey was that people should be eco-conscious about how they flew and take environmental concerns into consideration such as:
- it was preferable to fly with Finnair because their flights, via Helsinki were more direct to Asian destinations which meant planes could carry less fuel and travel for shorter distances; and
- Helsinki had an advantage as a hub airport because it had fewer passengers but more runways in contrast to other comparable airports, such as Heathrow and this meant the local airspace was less congested and there was a reduction in unnecessary time flying whilst planes waited to land.
Finnair also pointed out to the ASA that the average age of their fleet was less than five years which made it one of the most technologically advanced and efficient fleets in the world.
Other “green” points made included data on the theoretical CO2 emissions per passenger, per kilometre on their aircraft which they believed showed the Airbus A330 and A340 had fewer emissions than their older MD-11 aircraft, which were being phased out.
What did the ASA make of all of this?
The ASA considered that readers were likely to interpret the claim “eco-smart,” without qualification, as a claim analogous to “environmentally friendly” which conveyed the impression that flying with Finnair would have little or no detrimental effect on the environment. As such, the ASA felt this was likely to mislead.
They pointed out that the Code instructs marketers to refrain from such absolute claims without qualification unless they can demonstrate that their product or service would not cause environmental damage.
The ASA also considered whether the claim “Be eco-smart” gave the impression to readers that they would personally be eco-smart if they chose to fly with Finnair rather than with another airline.
The ASA also considered the data sent by Finnair comparing their older MD-11 aircraft with their newer A330 and A340 Airbus aircraft. However, the ASA noted that the ad did not contain any qualifying text that would indicate to readers a comparison between Finnair’s own older and newer aircraft. The ASA considered that readers were likely to understand that the comparison was between flying with Finnair and flying with other airlines.
To support this claim, Finnair needed to provide robust comparative data for emissions for actual flights as opposed to theoretical emissions data. It also did not automatically follow that newer aircraft are more environmentally efficient in use than older aircraft because factors such as load factor (passengers and cargo) flights times and trajectories will also need to be taken into account.
In relation to the thesis proposed by Finnair that it was preferable to fly with them because they believed their flights, via Helsinki, to Asian destinations were more direct than routes flown by competitors; the ASA noted that not all flights taken with Finnair would be more direct (e.g. a flight from Moscow to Bangkok would be longer in distance to fly via Helsinki than it would be to fly direct).
In conclusion, the complaints on both counts were upheld.
Why this matters:
This is just the latest in a long line of cases where “green” claims have been challenged and found wanting by the ASA. To avoid the delight of dealing with the regulators and the negative publicity that goes with a verdict like this one, advertisers should take particular care before making any type of environment-related claim.