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Complaint filed against Etihad Airways for alleged climate greenwashing

An ACCC complaint has been lodged against Etihad Airways after the airline displayed allegedly greenwashed advertisements during a 2022 soccer match.

user iconLauren Croft 24 March 2023 Big Law
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Flight Free Australia, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, has made a legal complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), accusing Etihad of misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to the greenwashing of the airline’s net zero and sustainability commitments.

The claim asks the ACCC to investigate advertisements shown during a soccer match in 2022 with the messages “Flying shouldn’t cost the earth” and “Net zero emissions by 2050”, both displayed alongside the Etihad logo. 

The complaint notes the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities, which include “consumer and fair-trading issues in relation to environmental claims and sustainability”.


“Our client is of the opinion that Etihad’s behaviour potentially represents a ‘false and misleading sustainability claim [that] undermine[s] consumer trust in all green claims and reduce[s] confidence in the market’ and therefore is referring it to the ACCC for investigation,” the complaint from the EDO stated.

This also follows the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) announcing its own crackdown on greenwashing in recent months, bringing its first court action for greenwashing in February this year and warning of more to come in March. 

Flight Free Australia said the ads implied that flying with Etihad does not have a significant environmental impact and that Etihad either intends or reasonably expects to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

However, the organisation has accused Etihad of having no credible path to net zero. According to Flight Free Australia, Etihad’s own sustainability report forecasts an increase in carbon dioxide emissions to 2026 due to increased services, while its emissions reduction initiatives are un-modelled and rely on speculative technology and offsetting. The group said Etihad has also significantly understated its emissions.

Flight Free pledger Alex Mungall said the organisation was calling on Etihad to withdraw their sustainability claims.

“When we see Etihad sponsoring sports, and advertising their so-called sustainability, that flying ‘need not cost the earth’ or that they will achieve ‘net zero by 2050’, we see potential greenwashing. 

“Our complaint alleges Etihad has no credible path to net zero in place and is instead talking up emissions reduction initiatives that are not technologically, practically or economically feasible,” he said.

“Greenwashing undermines trust in climate action. The world’s scientists this week warned that keeping warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels requires deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors and that includes aviation.”

Consumers are increasingly demanding more sustainable practices from aviation businesses, according to the complaint, which stated that “the aviation sector has already contributed about 3.5 per cent of anthropogenic global warming to date”.

Furthermore, in its 2020–2021 Sustainability Report, Etihad admitted that it had emitted a total of 4.31 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021 and forecast an increase in absolute carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to 5.47 million tonnes by 2026 due to “commercial growth”.

This came after the airline announced its net zero target in January 2020, which comprises offsetting carbon emissions, implementing more efficient operational and engineering technologies and developing and using sustainable aviation fuels.

Despite this, Flight Free Australia emphasised that “Etihad does not intend or expect to achieve net zero emissions by 2050” in its complaint.

This type of legal claim is particularly relevant in the current landscape, as more people than ever want to make sustainable choices, said EDO senior solicitor Zoe Bush.

“When a company makes false claims about its climate credentials, it gains a competitive advantage by misleading people and exploiting their desire to do the right thing,” she said.  

“We’ve pored over Etihad’s public documents and found insufficient evidence that it intends, or reasonably expects, to reach net zero by 2050.  

“We know the ACCC is looking closely at climate and sustainability claims, and we are asking it to investigate whether Etihad has engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in the commissioning of these ads.”

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