Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against Dutch airline KLM, arguing that advertisements promoting the company’s sustainability strategy are deceptive. According to the NGOs, this is the first lawsuit to challenge so-called airline industry “greenwashing.”
They claim that KLM’s advertisements and carbon-offsetting system provide the false impression that their flights will not exacerbate climate change. However, KLM claims that its remarks are “based on strong logic” and that its advertisements “comply with the current legislation and regulations.”
Fossielvrij NL, backed by ClientEarth and Reclame.NL, is targeting the company’s Fly Responsibly campaign, which was launched in 2019.
According to the promotion, the airline is “building a more sustainable future” and is on target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
It includes a CO2Zero carbon offset product, which KLM claims funds reforestation efforts or the company’s purchase of biofuels. Carbon offsets compensate for greenhouse gas emissions caused by polluting activities.
However, the organisations say that the claims are grossly deceptive. They claim that the airline’s plan to resume pre-pandemic flight levels contradicts the latest report by the United Nations climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which urges for a quick reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmentalists refer to the advertising strategy as “greenwashing,” or a deceptive attempt to make the corporation appear environmentally beneficial.
They contend that items like CO2Zero do nothing to mitigate environmental damage and that by pushing it to customers, the Dutch airline undermines efforts to mitigate climate change. They’re suing under the EU’s Unfair Consumer Practices Directive.
KLM claims it held negotiations with environmental groups to determine if there was any way to avoid a court fight, but that it “proved impossible.”
“We critically assess all our communications about sustainability, and welcome input from all our stakeholders,” KLM spokesperson Marjan Rozemeijer told the BBC. “We hope that a court ruling in this case will clarify how best to shape our communications policy.”
If the case in Amsterdam is successful, KLM will be required to withdraw the advertisement, cease future similar advertising, and give corrections.
The graphic shows two persons leaning over the board, working on plans, with the words ‘Fly Responsibly’ printed over it.
“Flight emissions cannot be ‘compensated’ if customers just pay extra to plant trees or give money towards the cost of false solutions like what the industry calls ‘sustainable aviation fuels’. With these messages, KLM continues to throw sand in our eyes. We’re going to court to demand KLM tells the truth about its fossil-fuel dependent product. Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest it is not,” said Hiske Arts, a Fossielvrij campaigner.
However, KLM’s Fly Responsibly project emphasises “flying as a conscious choice,” encouraging people to “think twice before boarding an aeroplane.”
Some suggest that carbon offsetting can help mitigate the effects of climate change in sectors such as air travel, where there are no feasible “green” alternatives. However, climate experts point out that for offsetting to work, the trees planted must be maintained over their lifetime, which is difficult to ensure.
Companies, according to Joana Setzer, assistant professor of climate law at the London School of Economics, are in a tough situation.
“They’re forced to show they’re doing something and announce commitments, but it’s not only insufficient but dangerous for them to do so, as they might find themselves sued for misleading information,” Prof Setzer says.
“With greenwashing, it’s a relatively easy and cheap case to bring, but it’s also a case where you can address the advertising as well as the communications around net-zero commitments.”
KLM says it is dedicated to communicate “transparently and honestly” about the company’s approach to sustainability, and that “misinforming customers” is not in its best interests.
Recently, advertising regulators have tightened down on deceptive marketing. The Dutch advertising watchdog concluded in April that KLM advertisements claiming customers could fly carbon-free were deceptive.
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority determined in September 2019 that a Ryanair promotion enticing passengers to fly with “Europe’s Lowest Fares, Lowest Emissions Airline” was deceptive. It determined that the offensive advertisements should not be repeated in their existing form.
According to Prof Setzer, this case could have far-reaching consequences: “One lawsuit launched and won in a country has a cascade effect. Airlines exist everywhere, consumer protection laws exist everywhere. These are easily transferable.”
(Adapted from TravelWeek.ca)