Clearing the air: Using AI to monitor sustainability claims

In 2023 the ASA published five rulings, as part of its Climate Change and Environment project, that found certain types of sustainability claims in airline ads were likely to mislead consumers. The rulings make it clear that airlines generally shouldn’t use language in their ads that implies their flights are sustainable or protect the climate as, currently, flying is a carbon intensive mode of travel. 

Rulings are often the most visible part of the ASA system, and these rulings attracted a great deal of press and industry attention. But our goal to tackle potentially misleading sustainability or climate claims goes beyond these specific ads; we want to ensure that all air travel companies are careful about using this kind of language in future. 

Since the rulings were published, our Compliance team, working with our AI-based Active Ad Monitoring system, have monitored around 140k ads by air travel companies to check for claims not sticking to the rules. Our Active Ad Monitoring system is able to capture ads at scale and use machine learning to identify relevant content for expert review. In this case it was configured to monitor air travel ads across social media, search, and the web, flagging any that made claims similar to those in these rulings. The relevant ads that were found were passed to our Compliance team to check and, where necessary, take action. 

We have found that generally the ads for the air travel sector either did not include or removed swiftly misleading phrases identified in the ASA rulings, which is great to see. Of the 140k ads by air travel companies we monitored, we found only five examples from one advertiser that failed to abide by the rulings. Our Compliance team contacted this advertiser who promptly removed their ads and gave an assurance not to use this language in their ads in future. 

Our harnessing tech, using our Active Ad Monitoring system, is expanding our visibility of online advertising and, in this case, helpfully showing us where there’s a good news story in terms of advertisers playing by the rules. While we will continue to carry out monitoring in this area, our sweep tells us that we can focus our resources on other priority areas of consumer detriment safe in the knowledge that the problematic claims, in general, identified in the rulings, are not being made by the airline sector. 

At the ASA, we believe it is important that consumers are not misled by advertising when they consider the purchasing choices they take and the impact of their choices on the environment. This work is only one part of our broader efforts to ensure industry has clear guidance on how to make climate claims, and that the guidance is followed.

Reference rulings and claims

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