KLM Adverts Greenwashing, Counter to EU Consumer Law – Dutch Court

The District Court of Amsterdam has rendered a landmark decision against KLM’s advertising practices, deeming them in violation of EU consumer law. This ruling is anticipated to set a new standard within the aviation industry, particularly pertaining to claims related to the Paris Agreement commitments and offsetting assertions.

The court found KLM’s sustainability advertising to be misleading and therefore unlawful, specifically in relation to claims that flying is or can become sustainable, as well as assertions regarding the effectiveness of its “offsetting” products in mitigating the climate impact of flying. Additionally, the airline’s claims of being committed to the Paris Agreement climate goals were considered to present an overly optimistic portrayal, given the limited measures implemented by the company.

The lawsuit, brought by campaign groups Fossielvrij and Reclame Fossielvrij with support from environmental law charity ClientEarth, represents the first legal challenge targeting aviation industry greenwashing on a global scale. The ruling has implications for companies promoting net-zero commitments, prompting a re-evaluation of their advertising strategies.

The court’s assessment of KLM’s promotion of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and offsetting products highlighted the inadequacy of the term “sustainable” in describing alternative aviation fuels and the lack of a direct link between customers’ contributions and the actual impact of CO2 emissions from flights.

Notably, KLM had retracted the advertising claims under scrutiny in response to the lawsuit, leading the court to refrain from issuing additional orders and instead requiring the company to cover the claimants’ costs. The decision underscores the significance of public judgment as a deterrent against misleading advertising.

Furthermore, the organizations behind the lawsuit are advocating for a ban on fossil fuel advertising, drawing parallels to the approach taken with tobacco products. They argue that such a ban is essential for effectively addressing greenwashing by companies in this sector.

Importantly, the implications of this ruling extend beyond KLM, as they have already prompted action at the European level, with the European umbrella consumer organization BEUC lodging a regulatory complaint against 17 European airlines for misleading sustainability claims.

In conclusion, the District Court of Amsterdam’s decision represents a critical development in the ongoing efforts to combat greenwashing in the aviation industry, with broader implications for consumer protection and the veracity of sustainability claims made by companies in this sector.