A clear positive to take from the Ryanair story is the fact that climate and CO2 emission statements are moving higher up the communications agenda for brands. This in itself indicates that environmental considerations – alongside social impact – are continuing to drive consumer decisions, as well as those of investors and employees.”
This week saw the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ban Ryanair’s recently broadcast claims to be Europe’s “lowest emissions airline”. It was the result of a campaign, according to Ryanair, that is aligned to the budget airline having the youngest fleet of aircraft, the newest, most fuel efficient engines and flights being on average 97% full.
To defend their their ads, which have been rolled out across TV, press and radio, Ryanair presented charts that the ASA deemed insufficient, not market-wide and, in the case of one, being from 2011, “of little value as substantiation for a comparison made in 2019”. As a result the decision was to ban the ads for being misleading.
Another key point from the ASA’s report – and perhaps more poignant – was what Ryanair failed to communicate. A core piece of information that factored into the claims made in their ads was the significance of seating density, as opposed to consideration for their overall CO2 emissions. The claim is based on CO2 emissions per passenger, per kilometre flown. Therefore, it does not account for the sheer number of flights being run and therefore the airline’s cumulative impact on the environment.
This isn’t the first time, and doubtless the last, that a well-known business has presented information in a way that seems to be most beneficial to their brand reputation and potentially in an attempt to minimise damage caused by counter claims and opinions. In 2018 a European Commission report listed Ryanair as the first airline to be included in a list of Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters. In fairness, this report only accounts for power stations, manufacturing plants and aviation activities; but it is still telling that none of the other major airlines that Ryanair claim to be holding themselves up against featured on this list.
The ASA did concede that consumers are aware that flying is associated with high levels of CO2 emissions regardless of which airline they fly with. So it’s unlikely anyone was duped into thinking flying with Ryanair had suddenly become good for the environment. However, what is clear from this ruling is the need to provide consumers with clear context and relevant information that allows them to make informed decisions when it comes to brand choice.
What has happened this week, in the UK, with one decision, regarding one airline’s claims, is a step in the right direction. And it is a much needed step in order for businesses to learn they simply cannot make bold environmental claims that aren’t backed up and substantiated. The wider issue is one of general consumer climate literacy and greenwashing – the practice of inflating or misdirecting environmental claims for corporate benefit and of which some of the world’s largest companies have been accused of for decades.
Today, more than ever before, it is essential that people understand the true impact and steps that companies are, or are not, making in order for them to be able to have their own say and make their own impact through their purchasing habits and indeed their choice of who to do business with in a B2B scenario. In 2020 – the beginning of a decade being pegged as the turning point in the war against climate change – the onus should be on companies to deliver climate positive actions, rather than climate positive claims aimed at increasing their brand appeal. However, we, as individuals, can also take steps to increase our own climate literacy and make informed and meaningful decisions about the brands we use, advocate, work with and of course fly with!
The ESG communications agenda
A clear positive to take from the Ryanair story is the fact that climate and CO2 emission statements are moving higher up the communications agenda for brands. This in itself indicates that environmental considerations – alongside social impact – are continuing to drive consumer decisions, as well as those of investors and employees.
We have a number of clients who go to great measurable lengths to improve their ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) performance. We work closely with them to ensure their commitments are aligned with their brand strategy and clearly communicated across their platforms. However, it is only when brand strategy and communications are authentically based on truth, values and purpose, that a brand will be able to build trust and long-term loyalty.