KLM denies greenwashing in Dutch court and defends advertising campaign 

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KLM has defended itself against “greenwashing” allegations in a Dutch court on December 19, 2023. Instead, the carrier asked judges to rule against an environmental group that had alleged an advertisement campaign run by the Dutch airline was misleading. 

Climate group Fossil Free’s case against the now discontinued “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign has been viewed as a test case concerning the various environmental claims being made by the aviation industry.  

Fossil Free argued in court that there can be no such thing as flying responsibly, that aviation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and that KLM should be banned from making similar statements including references to becoming “more sustainable”. 

“A plane ticket is the most polluting product that a consumer can buy,” Fossil Free lawyer Danielle Brouwer told judges during the hearing. 

Responding to the claims made by Fossil Free, KLM countered that it does not deny that emissions are an issue, but it has a legal right to advertise changes it is making to promote its green credentials 

“KLM is working super hard to become more sustainable,” said KLM’s lawyer Branda Katan, citing measures such as purchasing more efficient planes and plans to mix more biofuel into the kerosene that fuels its fleet. 

The legal argument between KLM and Fossil Free turns on whether the airline’s future plans are credible and whether it should be able to advertise and publicize them. 

While KLM argues that its green measures will lead to a 12% cut in its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, Fossil Free disputes this claim, saying that the use of terminology such as “sustainable” is too vague and the public does not understand exactly what that means in specific terms. 

The judge is expected to hand down judgment in the case in February 2024.   

KLM and a dozen of other airlines and associations will continue fighting flight caps at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS)
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In recent weeks, various regulators and advertising authorities across Europe have increased scrutiny of companies’ environmental claims. In November 2023, a similar legal case was brought by a campaign group against Virgin Atlantic and British Airways following claims made by both airlines regarding steps both companies are taking to become more environmentally friendly. 

Similarly, in December 2023, the UK Advertising Standards Authority banned advertisements from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, and Etihad after the organization accused the carriers of giving misleading messages in advertisements.  

Previously, in June 2023, European consumer rights body BEUC lodged a complaint with the European Commission against 17 airlines. The claim stated that the airlines were deliberately using terms that were misleading and deceptive. 

While the airline industry has recently become a focus for environmentalists’ actions due to its relative inability to reduce carbon emissions, the advertising of green credentials needs to be more transparent to reflect that reality, authorities have said. 

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