European Commission Addresses Airline Greenwashing with Enforcement Action Against 20 Carriers

The European Commission, in collaboration with the Network of Consumer Protection Cooperation Authorities (CPC), has initiated action against 20 airlines following an alert from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). The CPC network, which includes consumer protection agencies from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain, has identified potential instances of misleading environmental claims made by these airlines, particularly related to CO2 emissions offsetting and the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

The concerns raised by the authorities suggest that certain marketing practices by the airlines may be in violation of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, specifically Articles 5, 6, and 7. These practices include representations that consumers can neutralise the CO2 emissions of their flights by paying an additional fee, using terms like “sustainable” without substantial justification, and providing CO2 emissions calculators without scientific evidence of their accuracy.

The Commission and CPC have requested that the airlines under scrutiny submit a response within a 30-day timeframe with measures that align their practices with EU consumer law. Following the receipt of responses, discussions will be held to review the adequacy of the airlines’ proposals. Monitoring of the implementation of any agreed changes will be conducted by the Commission.

Should the airlines not make the necessary adjustments to address the concerns, they may be subject to further enforcement actions, including sanctions, per the regulatory framework.

This action is in line with the European Union’s efforts to ensure that environmental marketing claims are substantiated and communicated transparently, as outlined in the European Green Deal and New Consumer Agenda. These policies emphasise the provision of clear and reliable information on the environmental impact of products and services and aim to protect consumers from unsubstantiated climate-related claims. The proposed Green Claims Directive, introduced in March 2023, further underscores the need for traders to assess and substantiate explicit environmental claims, particularly those related to offsetting.

The Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, highlighted the imperative for accurate consumer information, stating, “If we want responsible consumers, we need to provide them with accurate information. The Commission is fully committed to empowering consumers in the green transition and fighting greenwashing.”

In a statement, Airlines for Europe (A4E) told the Green Mobility Magazine that they “recognise the importance of clear, transparent information about sustainability and [their] efforts towards achieving net zero carbon emissions” and noted that the aviation industry has already outlined an independently produced roadmap to net zero—Destination 2050—and many airlines have interim targets verified by SBTi.

An A4E spokesperson also said they were “particularly concerned” about the remarks on SAF, provided that science supports the notion that SAF is more sustainable than traditional jet fuel and because the EU has implemented an ambitious SAF mandate.

This development indicates a heightened focus on consumer protection within the airline industry, with an emphasis on ensuring that environmental claims are factual and legally compliant. It underscores the necessity for transparent communication in an industry increasingly scrutinised for its environmental impact.