Ryanair accused of ‘greenwashing’ after ASA rules ‘low emissions’ ad claims misleading

Low cost fares firm, Ryanair is receiving press attention for all the wrong reasons today after an ad claiming the airline had ‘Europe’s lowest fares and lowest emissions’ was found to be ‘misleading’ in a ruling published today by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The airline’s claims were particularly surprising as the airline’s CO2 emissions have increased by half in five years, seeing it named among the EU’s list of top 10 emitters, and it’s controversial chief executive, Michael O’Leary, dismissed climate change concerns as “complete and utter rubbish” in an interview two years ago.

A series of Ryanair ads, shown last September were judged as misleading in today’s ruling. A spokesman for the ASA explains:

Ryanair had compared themselves against four other airlines, which they said fell within the definition of a “major airline”, but there was no commonly recognised definition of a “major airline”. We considered consumers would understand it simply to mean those airlines they had heard of, particularly given that the headline claim gave no indication that the comparison was not market-wide.

While we considered the claims in the ads would be understood relatively and while we were satisfied that CO2 per passenger distance was an appropriate method to compare the carbon footprint of passengers on different airlines, we were concerned that the basis of the claims had not been made clear in the ads and that the evidence provided was insufficient to demonstrate that Ryanair was the lowest carbon-emitting airline on the basis of that metric.

Consequently, we concluded that the claims “Europe’s…Lowest Emissions Airline” and “low CO2 emissions” were misleading.

Green campaign and research group Transport & Environment (T&E) said the ruling dispels Ryanair’s green myths and shows the need for lawmakers to finally do something about airline emissions.

Despite airlines’ soaring pollution, the sector pays no tax on its fuel and has no obligation to start using newer, cleaner fuels like synthetic kerosene.

T&E’s aviation manager, Jo Dardenne, said:

“Ryanair should stop greenwashing and start doing something to tackle its sky-high emissions. This ruling is a reminder that the aviation sector’s climate impact is soaring because of a decades-long tax holiday and almost zero regulation of their pollution. European governments must without delay agree bilaterally to tax jet fuel until EU Vice-President Timmermans secures the end of the tax exemption.”

The emissions of all flights departing from EU airports have grown from 1.4% of total EU emissions in 1990 to 3.7% today. If unmitigated, aviation emissions are expected to double or triple by 2050 and, in doing so, consume up to one-quarter of the global carbon budget under a 1.5 degree scenario.

Ryanair robustly defended the claims in a statement, claiming again that it’s emissions are 25 per cent lower “than other major airlines” and saying that the “single most important thing any consumer can do to halve their carbon footprint is switch to Ryanair”.

However given that the ASA have ruled the airline was unable to prove these claims, the airline concedes it will comply with today’s ruling.