The art of environmental marketing in aviation
Last month Finnair, Finland's national carrier, informed, that they had purchased 750 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel from Neste, Finland's national oil company. This would be an amount that would be enough for 400 return flights between Helsinki and Stockholm. The amount has been the biggest batch ever for Finnair to purchase sustainable aviation fuel. This is obviously very good and more actions like these are needed to enhance the environmental sustainability in aviation.
Very soon after this there were posts by Finnair in the social media telling that they have purchased sustainable aviation fuel that will save up to 80% of the flight time carbon dioxide emissions. They were also claiming at the same time that the company would be carbon neutral by 2045. Well, all good and true but a big discussion flamed immediately. Why?
Finnair had told the truth. They have been openly reporting in the annual reports for years about how much sustainable aviation fuel they are using annually. They have made all the environmental reports by the standardized guidelines. The reports had been checked by sustainability reporting professionals. These reports are public documents and they can be seen at the company website.
Last year Finnair used only 0,2% of sustainable aviation fuel of all the aviation fuel. For the sake of the environmental sustainability this should be much more. However, Finnair is not alone. This is a global challenge for all the airlines. The main challenge is that the sustainable aviation fuel is 2-4 times more expensive compared to the traditional aviation fuel. After the financial pain that the COVID-19 pandemia caused the airlines are not very eager to invest in anything that isn't absolutely necessary. The other challenge is that the production capacity isn't extensive even though it is growing all the time. But there would be capacity for more purchases.
So what caused the big flame with the Finnair communications? You could easily understand from the communication that the company's climate impact is bigger than what it actually is. If all the details are in the company's official reports, very few people are familiar with them and therefore interpreting and seeing the bigger picture is difficult. The fact how the topic was presented, made many people angry. But Finnair is definitely not alone; things like these happen all the time in the aviation industry.
Environmental communications is a very tender topic especially in aviation. It's very emotionally saturated and people are truly worried about the climate change. Media writes a lot about the environmental challenges with aviation. Passengers and other public have strong opinions to one direction or the other. Many people criticize themselves for flying and there are many tools how passengers can compensate their flight time carbon footprints. Whether the carbon reduction should be airline's or the passenger's problem, that's an excellent question.
Because of the emotional aspects the environmental marketing in aviation should be very open and transparent. Telling the truth but not the whole truth might make people very angry and it can turn against the intended outcome. Creating environmentally friendly aviation and marketing it in a fair way is very challenging; the risk is to end up being a greenwasher in the eyes of the public exists.
As said, the above mentioned Finnair case is just an example among many in the industry. Sometimes the line between proper environmental marketing and greenwashing is thin and not clear at all. Last year was introduced the first European lawsuit about the greenwashing in aviation, when KLM was sued for the falsified impressions in the environmental marketing. There are no previous experiences how the court would make decisions about these cases. We are on a learning curve about what is right and what is wrong in the environmental marketing in aviation.
Most likely the best approach could be just to be honest and transparent. People like honest and transparent companies, also in aviation.