Home » KLM’s advertising ruled misleading in greenwashing case

KLM’s advertising ruled misleading in greenwashing case

by Madaline Dunn

Today, the Amsterdam District Court ruled that Dutch flag carrier airline KLM misled consumers with sustainability claims in its advertisements.

The landmark case was brought forward by Fossielvrij NL and Reclame Fossielvrij in 2022, with support from environmental law charity ClientEarth.

The lawsuit asserted that KLM’s marketing, particularly its ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign, attempted to convince consumers its flights are climate-friendly despite aviation’s significant CO2 emissions and ‘non-CO2 warming effects.’ 

According to the Dutch court, KLM’s environmental claims painted an “overly rosy picture” of the impact of measures such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and reforestation.

“These measures only marginally reduce the negative environmental aspects and give the mistaken impression that flying with KLM is sustainable,” the verdict read.

On SAF, the ruling outlined that its current share in total fuel consumption (and hence CO2 emissions reduction) is still very limited for various reasons. 

Further, it said a more substantial share can only be expected in the “distant future” and is therefore uncertain, making the expression misleading. 

In total, the court ruled that KLM broke the law with misleading advertising in 15 of the 19 environmental statements it assessed.

The case is the first lawsuit in the world to tackle greenwashing in the aviation industry.

Commenting on the ruling, Johnny White, Lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “This judgment is nothing short of a wake-up call for highly polluting industries and companies that try to sell the image of commitment to the Paris climate goals without having the plans to get there. It leaves the airline industry’s climate PR strategy dead in the water.”  

Meanwhile, Hiske Arts, campaigner for Fossielvrij, called the judgement a “landmark victory” in the fight against greenwashing.

“The significance of the Court’s decision is clear: companies are not allowed to claim they are tackling dangerous climate change when in reality they are fuelling the crisis. KLM’s “green” marketing creates a misplaced trust that even if you are worried about the climate crisis, you can board a plane reassured you are not harming the planet. The judges have put an end to this harmful strategy to lull the public and politicians to sleep,” said Arts.

The airline is no longer carrying the advertisement and is not required to issue any rectification. Going forward, the court said KLM must be “honest and concrete” in its claims. 

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