Ryanair slapped down over ‘misleading’ green claims

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Ryanair has claimed to be a leader in the aviation industry’s effort to cut pollution | Pascal Pavani/AFP via Getty Images

Advertising watchdog tells airline to ensure it has ‘adequate evidence’ to substantiate environmental claims.

The U.K. advertising watchdog on Wednesday censured a Ryanair ad campaign that claimed the Irish carrier is Europe’s “lowest emissions airline,” arguing it was “misleading.”

Ryanair — famous for its bold campaigns — was the only airline to appear in a ranking of European polluters by environmental campaigners in December, despite ongoing efforts to brand itself a leader in the aviation industry’s effort to cut pollution.

The Advertising Standards Authority investigated ads presenting Ryanair as Europe’s “low fare, low CO2 emissions airline,” which ran in print, on TV and on the radio in September, following complaints the airline couldn’t back up its claim.

According to green lobby Transport & Environment, Ryanair was responsible for 9.9 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018 — putting it just behind Boxberg power station in Germany and the Mediterranean Shipping Company in the top 10 of the bloc’s biggest polluters.

But the airline calculated its CO2 emissions on the basis of emissions per passenger-kilometer, putting factors such as a high number of direct flights, more seats per plane and high fill rate to its advantage.

The ASA said that while the advertisement wouldn’t make consumers think flying wouldn’t add to their carbon footprint, the company should have made clear its claim was based on factors including the extra seats on a Ryanair plane.

The press advertisement that stated that Ryanair “has the lowest carbon emissions of any major airline” failed to make clear the comparison hadn’t been market-wide.

Ryanair said it used data from Eurocontrol and Brighter Planet to substantiate its claims. However, the ASA said the airline hadn’t explained how a Eurocontrol chart that ranked it first on traffic but fifth on CO2 emissions out of 27 airlines had translated into Ryanair being the most efficient, and that a 2011 Brighter Planet ranking that put Ryanair in pole position on efficiency was “of little value” for a comparison in 2019.

“Ryanair should stop greenwashing and start doing something to tackle its sky-high emissions,” said Jo Dardenne, Transport & Environment’s aviation manager, in a statement.

Ryanair said that it was “disappointed and surprised” with the ruling, arguing it “fully complied with advertising regulations, engaging with regulators and providing documentation that fulfilled all the substantiations needed.”

The airline insists it is still the greenest airline in Europe, thanks to the age of its fleet and its high fill rates. “Our CO2 emissions per passenger-kilometer is 66 grams, which is 25 percent lower than the other major European airlines,” a spokesperson said.

The advertising watchdog told Ryanair to ensure it has “adequate evidence” to substantiate environmental claims in the future.

It ruled the ads “must not appear again in their current forms.”

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