KLM To Face Legal Action Over Greenwashing

Environmental groups Fossielvrij NL, supported by Reclame Fossielvrij and environmental lawyers from ClientEarth, have started legal action against Dutch airline KLM for misleading adverts that promote the sustainability of flying, in the first lawsuit to challenge airline industry greenwashing.

The environmental groups have notified the airline of the claim at the company’s annual general meeting today, the 24th of May 2022.

The lawsuit will argue that KLM’s ad campaigns and ‘compensation’ schemes violate European consumer law as they give a false impression over the sustainability of its flights and plans to address its climate harm.

The legal action centres on KLM’s Fly Responsibly campaign, which presents the airline as “creating a more sustainable future” and on track to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050.

According to the complainants, such claims are highly misleading since KLM’s plan for continual increases in flying is at odds with the rapid and deep emissions reductions across all sectors which the IPCC says is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown. 

Moreover, the environmental groups take issue with the airline’s offer for customers to buy a carbon offset product – labelled ‘CO2ZERO’ and argue that these products will do nothing to limit the damage the airline industry causes to the climate, and that by promoting them to customers, KLM’s marketing undermines urgent action to minimise climate catastrophe.

Johnny White, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “It’s now or never for climate action. Airlines cannot be allowed to compete for business on claims that they are tackling the climate crisis, when the reality is they are fuelling it.”

The legal action follows Dutch Advertising Code Committee (RCC) ruling last month that KLM was giving consumers the impression that they can fully neutralise their flight if they buy compensation. The committee took issue with the airline’s advertising tag line “Be a hero, fly CO2 zero”.

The environmental groups say there needs to be systemic change to stop the spread of this kind of harmful disinformation. Together with over 30 civil society groups, they are calling for a ban on all fossil fuel advertising in the EU.

Specifically, the Ban Fossil Fuel Ads campaign is calling on the European Commission to propose a legislative act that would prohibit advertisements for fossil fuels, as well as air, road and water-borne transportation (other than transport services of general economic interest) powered by fossil fuel; prohibit advertisements from any undertakings active in the market for fossil fuels, in particular by extracting, refining, supplying, distributing or selling fossil fuels; and prohibit sponsorship from companies in the market for fossil fuels.

A KLM spokesperson told Ibex Publishing that the airline had received a letter from the complainants and that the airline was studying its contents.