KLM faces a lawsuit brought by Fossil Free Netherlands, which argues the airline’s “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign presents a misleading green claim to customers. On June 7, 2023, Dutch judges ruled that the case has grounds and allowed it to proceed.
Fossil Free originally took issue with the Fly Responsibly campaign for being unacceptable under European Union consumer law. The group considers the ad “greenwashing” as it portrays the airline as playing a role in tackling climate change when the airline, along with the airline industry as a whole, realistically undermines efforts toward combating the climate crisis. The environmental group, among others, argues that there is currently no environmentally-friendly way to fly.
KLM discontinued the Fly Responsibly campaign but has not yet met Fossil Free’s request for the company to halt such advertising, apologize to customers, and print a rectification in major Dutch newspapers.
Many airlines take part in carbon offsetting efforts in their sustainability plan. This may include investing in tree planting and other carbon-reducing projects or mixing small amounts of non-fossil-based fuels with airplane kerosene. Recent accusations against KLM and other major airlines claim these efforts do not realistically offset their carbon emissions.
Industry Greenwashing Accountability
This recent decision is accompanied by other similar greenwashing cases in the airline industry, including another current lawsuit against Delta Airlines for misleading net-zero claims.
Greenwashing cases such as these continue to arise as regulations for defining “green claims” develop and improve. The EU has been working to develop a green claims directive as a 2020 study found that most claims were “vague, misleading, or unfounded.” The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently announced its review of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, seeking public comment on the guidance.
Customers have expressed frustrations with airlines and other major industries for presenting themselves as a “green” option without full transparency about their sustainability efforts. This ruling reveals that climate organizations and customers are able to hold corporations accountable.
“Today’s decision shows that climate organizations do have a place in fighting ‘greenwashing’,” Fossil Free organizer Hiske Arts said in a Reuters report. “As long as the biggest polluters continue to lull us to sleep through their slick marketing campaigns, climate action will not happen.”