INSIGHT by ClientEarth
Dutch airline KLM told the District Court of Amsterdam that it would scrap its advertising campaign telling customers to ‘Fly Responsibly’, after a lawsuit accused the company of greenwashing.
The ad campaign was targeted by legal action brought by Dutch campaigners Fossielvrij, challenging the legality of the airline’s advertising under EU consumer law. The lawsuit is the first against aviation industry greenwashing and is supported by ClientEarth and Reclame Fossielvrij.
Despite confirming it would pull its ‘Fly Responsibly’ marketing, KLM offered no commitments about future advertising. The airline also maintains its ‘carbon offsetting’ offers, which the lawsuit argues give customers the false impression that they can reduce the impact of their flight by funding reforestation projects or the airline’s costs when it buys small amounts of biofuels.
Hiske Arts, campaigner at Fossielvrij, said: “We welcome KLM’s decision to axe its problematic Fly Responsibly campaign. But the truth is that KLM’s greenwashing has not been stopped today.
“Dropping the ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign will not prevent KLM from misleading people about whether it is doing its part to tackle the climate crisis.
“As long as KLM continues to pursue unsustainable growth, it cannot give the impression it is working towards a more sustainable future.”
The hearing today centred on Fossielvrij’s admissibility to bring the claim, which KLM argued against. The lawsuit is supported by nearly 14,000 people who signed a petition in support of the case.
KLM admits lack of feasibility in its touted ‘solutions’
During the hearing, the airline put forward its ‘climate action plan’ to demonstrate its commitment to transition. In this plan, KLM accepted that the, “industry’s main obstacle to reducing its impact is the absence of readily-available zero-emission technology” – however campaigners say that this is the very technology the airline used in its marketing as a solution to address the urgent climate crisis.
In the plan, the airline also accepts that the realistic future supply of so-called ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuels’ is far too limited to be relied on to achieve its necessary emission reductions. However the company’s marketing gives the impression that these fuels are significantly reducing the climate impact of flying.
“The problem with KLM’s sustainability publicity is that the airline ignores the elephant in the room: there is no feasible way the aviation industry can reach climate goals on its current growth path.
“This case is about putting a stop to the aviation narrative that they are tackling climate change whilst they pursue unsustainable air traffic growth. We have to tackle airline industry greenwash because it is undermining the world’s efforts to combat the climate emergency.”
-Johnny White, ClientEarth lawyer
The lawsuit deals with KLM’s claims that the company is “creating a more sustainable future” because of its net zero by 2050 target, which is at odds with its plans for continued business growth.
With regard to its offset products, an expert report submitted to the court by Fossielvrij shows that KLM cannot legitimately claim that contributions to reforestation schemes and biofuels can offset the climate impact of flying.
The hearing comes after KLM and other airlines recently won their attempt to delay the Dutch Government’s proposed flight cap at Schiphol airport. The Government is appealing the ruling.
Arts added: “It is completely skewed that KLM and its industry allies go to Court to delay the necessary downsizing of Schiphol airport, but it tries to prevent a citizens’ movement from holding the company accountable at the same time. KLM’s greenwashing is an obstacle to reducing harmful aviation emissions, thus harming the climate.
“We represent the citizens of the Netherlands who have been duped by this and who face the climate consequences of KLM’s business plans. Therefore, we are certainly admissible to take this case.”
If the Court decision on Fossielvrij’s admissibility is positive, KLM will be back in court for the final, substantive hearing.