Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and 4Air LLC (4AIR)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 30 August 2023
Law stated as at: 31 August 2023
The ASA has upheld a claim against 4AIR for making misleading claims about their service’s environmental impact in an ad.
An ad for 4AIR (a sustainability solutions provider which primarily targets aviation operators but looks to address climate impacts of all types) was identified for investigation by the ASA through its Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for ads that may not comply with the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).
The ad stated: “Eco-Friendly Aviation – Future of Sustainable Aviation” and “Learn How To Turn Flying Into A Force For Good With A 4AIR Rating. Industry-Leading Standard For Sustainability In Private Aviation. Sustainability. Aviation Industry.”
The ASA challenged whether the three absolute claims “Eco-Friendly Aviation“, “Sustainable Aviation” and “Turn Flying Into A Force For Good” gave a misleading impression of the environmental impact of the service.
4AIR’s response and ASA’s decision
The ASA considered that the three claims read together (and as presented in the ad’s context), created the impression that 4AIR offered services that could ensure aviation operations did not cause environmental damage. As a result, the ASA expected to see a high level of evidence to substantiate these claims and the ad’s general impression.
In response, 4AIR asserted that all three claims were substantiated by its ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel’, which reduced customer emissions by up to 80%. However, the ASA disagreed. While the Sustainable Aviation Fuel produced lower emissions than alternatives, it still produced high levels of CO2 and non-CO2 emissions and therefore, didn’t substantiate the claims.
4AIR also argued that the claim “Turning Flying Into A Force For Good“, was substantiated by their facilitation of customer contributions to the non-profit, Aviation Climate Fund. The ASA disagreed with this stance, ruling that the present tense of 4AIR’s claim contradicted the fund’s long-term impact date for reducing the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels. In a similar vein, the ASA also ruled that the claims “Eco-friendly Aviation” and “Sustainable Aviation” were not substantiated, as no initiatives or commercially viable technologies currently exist in the aviation industry.
In addition, 4AIR did not provide evidence to substantiate the claims against the full lifecycle of an aircraft. Instead, they claimed this wasn’t needed as 4AIR did not own, manufacture, maintain or operate an aircraft. In response, unsurprisingly the ASA was not convinced by this argument and the ASA reiterated that as 4AIR is focused on aviation operations, substantiation was needed for an aviation operations’ full life cycle.
Overall, the three claims were considered to be misleading as 4AIR could not show their services did not negatively impact the environment. Therefore, the ad was in breach of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
Why this matters: Interestingly, August 2023 was the first month in which we have seen ASA rulings (including this one) on the basis of adverts which the ASA has found through its Active Ad Monitoring System.
The ASA also emphasised its increasingly proactive standpoint on greenwashing andmisleading environmental claims by noting in the ruling that it forms part of a wider piece of work on climate change and the environment. In other words, not only does the ASA have a new tool which increases its ability to find adverts which breach the rules, it is also using it to target environmental claims as an area of focus.
In relation to the rules themselves, this ruling, while not surprising, acts as another warning in relation to using absolute environmental claims and highlights the need for businesses to consider the entire lifestyle of its services or products (or the products or services it is referring to) when making environmental claims. If you couple this with the high level of substantiation which is required for absolute environmental claims, businesses should consider their claims with care as practically speaking it is incredibly difficult to make these types of claims, particularly in an industry such as aviation which produces high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Widening the lens beyond the travel industry, this ruling comes at a time when greenwashing is firmly in the limelight from a regulatory perspective, with the UK Competition and Markets Authority continuing its investigations into the green claims made by businesses within various sectors, with the next investigation into claims for household goods (for example, food, drink and toiletries) expected imminently.