Three airlines have been criticised after adverts were banned for giving a misleading impression of their environmental credentials.
The Google adverts, all seen in July, stated that Air France was “committed to protecting the environment” and urged consumers to “travel better and sustainably”, while Lufthansa suggested that its customers would “Fly more sustainably”.
An advert for Etihad Airways claimed its service included “Environmental Advocacy”.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated all three adverts over concerns that they gave a misleading impression of the airlines’ environmental impact and ruled that they must not appear again.
In response, Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Consumers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of their travel plans, but deceptive claims by some holiday firms and airlines can make it impossible for them to make informed decisions before booking.
“It is encouraging to see the ASA taking such decisive action against adverts with environmental claims that could mislead consumers, as this can be an unfair commercial practice.”
He warned: “Travel companies must clean up their act and stop taking advantage of their customers’ desire to reduce the impact of travel on the environment.”
The ASA said Air France did not provide it with a “substantive response” to its investigations.
Lufthansa said its “Fly more sustainably” claim was a reference to its “green fares” option, which passengers could select on European flights and reduced 20% of flight-related CO2 emissions by using sustainable aviation fuel and offsetting the remaining 80% with a contribution to climate protection projects.
However, the airline told the ASA that it had decided to remove the sentence “Fly more sustainably” from future Google adverts.
Etihad said it had immediately removed all references to “Environmental advocacy” from its paid-for Google search ads in the UK after receiving notification of the complaint.
The ASA said it understood that air travel produces high levels of both CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, which were making a substantial contribution to climate change.
It 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, such as that Air France was “committed to protecting the environment” and helped people “travel better and sustainably”.
The watchdog said: “In the absence of any evidence demonstrating that Air France were protecting the environment and making aviation sustainable, we concluded that the claims gave consumers a misleading impression of the impact that travelling with Air France would have on the environment.”
It said that while flying with Lufthansa’s Green Fares option “might decrease some of the negative environmental impact of flying” with the airline, “we considered that the basis for the claim ‘Fly more sustainably’ had not been made clear in the ad”.
The ASA also welcomed Etihad’s decision to remove the phrase ‘Environmental advocacy’ from future adverts but said it had “not seen any evidence that they were engaged in such advocacy” or that the carrier “actively worked to protect the environment in a way that meant consumers could use their services with ‘Total Peace Of Mind’.”
The ASA added: “We therefore concluded that the ad gave a misleading impression of Etihad’s environmental impact, and that the ad breached the [advertising] code.”