Dutch Airline KLM Sued Over Misleading Sustainability Claims

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Dutch carrier KLM’s recent advertising campaign, entitled ‘Fly Responsibly’ has caught the eye of climate activists, resulting in a lawsuit over perceived greenwashing brought against the airline. ClientEarth legal experts are supporting Fossielvrij NL, a Netherlands-based environmental campaign group, to sue KLM. 

Central to the case is an accusation of misleading information regarding the sustainability profile of KLM flights. The company’s declared intention to rectify its existing impact on the environment is also being called into question. A pre-legal action letter has been sent to KLM’s parent company, Air France KLM.

Photo by Max Delsid at Unsplash.

Not letting misleading claims fly

“KLM’s marketing misleads consumers into believing that its flights won’t worsen the climate emergency. But this is a myth,” Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij NL told The Guardian. “Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest otherwise.”

Flying accounts for approximately 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions. The figure might sound low but this is attributed to a large percentage (up to 80 percent) of people not travelling by airplane. Should figures go up due to cheaper options as the travel industry seeks to recover, post-Covid-19, emissions will greatly increase.

Photo by Jeshoots at Unsplash.

Holding greenwashers accountable

Fossielvrij NL is taking direct aim at KLM’s ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign. The promotion centres around vague sustainability promises, which is what the environmental campaign group has taken offence to.

“Fly Responsibly is KLM’s commitment to taking a leading role in creating a more sustainable future for aviation. We recognise the urgent need to limit global warming, and thus have committed to the targets defined in the Paris Climate Agreement. But we can only succeed if we work together. So, join us today for a more sustainable tomorrow,” the airline writes. 

KLM points to fleet renewal, carbon offsetting, operational improvements and a move to sustainable aviation fuels as its key priorities, but offers little in the way of detailed timescales or methodologies. The biggest claim is that as a company, it is on track to meet its 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target.

“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,” Johnny White, a lawyer at ClientEarth told The Guardian. “Just as the fossil fuel industry is using greenwashing to protect their licence to operate, the aviation sector is using misleading advertising to protect its licence to grow. We need legislation to finally put an end to these delaying tactics for good.”

Air France KLM has been identified as one of a group of major airlines seeking to postpone climate regulation within the aviation industry. 

KLM has admitted to receiving a letter from Fossielvrij NL and has stated that it is examining the contents. 

Photo by Eva Darron at Unsplash.

Preventing consumers from being duped

KLM has previously been taken to task for its “Be a hero, fly CO2 zero” strapline. The Dutch advertising regulation authority issued a warning after it discovered that the airline was not able to claim carbon neutrality. It conceded that carbon offsetting was in place, but deemed it inadequate. KLM refused to comment about the ruling. 

Earlier this month HSBC was revealed to be under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority. The bank, already facing stakeholder dissatisfaction at continued fossil fuel investment, was called out for “misleading” bus stop posters. Central to the issue is a perceived withholding of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions generated operationally, while alluding to climate activism. If found guilty of greenwashing, it will be the first major bank to be given a warning.


Lead photo by KLM.

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