The Consumer Ombudsman intervened in Finnair’s unclear environmental marketing

An environmental claim on the greenhouse gas emissions of aviation fuel used in the marketing of Finnair Plc gave a misleading impression of the positive environmental impacts of air travel. Finnair committed to correcting its marketing.

The Consumer Ombudsman examined the environmental claim of “we procure renewable aviation fuel, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80% – our aim is to be completely carbon neutral in 2045” used by Finnair in its marketing.

The advertisement was widely broadcast in various marketing channels, including Twitter (nowadays X), Facebook, Helsingin Sanomat and the Finnair Instagram account. The illustrations of the advertisement featured imagery that highlighted the eco-friendliness of the claim, with an image of the Earth and a flying plane that was trailed by a green line.

Environmental claims must be clear and precise

According to the Consumer Ombudsman, consumers cannot know what kind of significance the procurement of renewable aviation fuel has on Finnair’s total emissions based on said environmental claim by Finnair, despite it being the main message of the marketing. For example, the advertisement did not indicate the proportional size of the procurement, what the claim is being compared to or which period of time it relates to. The claim emphasised in the marketing could have even been understood to mean that Finnair has completely switched to renewable aviation fuel and that Finnair’s emissions as a whole would be reduced by 80%. However, a report submitted by Finnair to the Consumer Ombudsman revealed that, in 2022, the percentage of renewable aviation fuel of all fuels used by Finnair was only approximately 0.2%.

On social media, the advertisement claims were accompanied by a link to an article in Finnair’s customer magazine with further background information. In the printed advertisements of the campaign, the statements of the campaign were clarified in small print.

”The justifications and additional information supporting an environmental claim cannot be several clicks and a link away from the claim itself. Marketing has to be designed so that the consumer cannot accidentally ignore a clarification concerning the claim.”

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

The Consumer Ombudsman noted that Finnair did not clearly present the extent and limitations of its environmental claim in its marketing, thus failing to provide information that was relevant to the consumer. Environmental marketing must always be accurate, precise and clear so that the overall impression does not become misleading for consumers.

"Vague environmental claims do not help consumers make choices that are genuinely environmentally friendly. Combating greenwashing is increasingly important, and this will also be helped by EU legislation that is now being prepared."

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

General sustainability targets are not enough to justify environmental claims

According to a report by Finnair, the statement of carbon neutrality by 2045 mentioned in the advertisement is based on the sustainability strategy published by Finnair in 2020 and the carbon neutrality target set in said strategy. The Consumer Ombudsman considered Finnair’s statement on the objective of achieving carbon neutrality to be susceptible to changes and uncertainty and difficult for consumers to assess.

According to the Consumer Ombudsman, the unspecified and general statements about responsibility expressed by the company on its website are not as such enough to justify the environmental claims made by the business. Instead, consumers must be able to easily find reliable evidence and justifications presented to support such claims.

Finnair committed to not creating a misleading overall impression of the environmental impacts of air travel in its environmental marketing and to only feature marketing with clear and precise environmental claims and expressions concerning greenhouse gas emissions.

The Consumer Ombudsman also reminded Finnair that the regulation on environmental marketing extends to all of Finnair’s marketing, regardless of the marketing channel.

Further information:

Misleading environmental marketing, Consumer Ombudsman’s decision (in Finnish)

Press release by the European Parliament: MEPs adopt new law banning greenwashing and misleading product information (in Finnish)