Environmental Groups Take KLM To Court Over Alleged “Greenwashing”

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Environmental groups have launched legal action against KLM, accusing the airline of “greenwashing” and breaching European consumer law. They argue that KLM’s advertising campaigns are misleading, as they give passengers the impression that they can fully neutralize the environmental impact of their flights.

The legal action has been brought by Netherlands-based campaigners Fossielvrij NL and Reclame Fossielvrij, assisted by environmental lawyers from ClientEarth. This is the first major case of its kind in the aviation industry and will no doubt attract attention from airlines across the world offering similar initiatives to passengers.

KLM has come under fire from environmental campaigners over its advertising of its sustainability initiatives. Photo: KLM

According to Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij NL,

KLM’s marketing misleads consumers into believing that its flights won’t worsen the climate emergency. But this is a myth. We’re going to court to demand KLM tells the truth about its fossil-fuel dependent product. ”

Simple Flying has reached out to KLM for comment.

Fly Responsibly

For many airlines, sustainability forms a key part of their brand image, and the topic is something that passengers have become more and more conscious of over recent years. KLM is no different.

Together with its partner Air France, the airline pledged in October last year to align its carbon emission reduction targets with the Paris Agreement of 2015. The aim is to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

KLM’s Fly Responsibly campaign is described by the airline as its “Commitment to taking a leading role in creating a more sustainable future for aviation.” The campaign suggests that the airline is on track to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050. However, environmental campaigners state that such claims are “highly misleading,” given the airline’s planned increase in flying.

Since 2017, KLM has offered its passengers the opportunity to purchase the airline’s carbon offsetting product, CO2ZERO. The money raised is used to plant trees and to invest in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

On its website, the airline explains the CO2ZERO scheme as,

“You pay a small contribution to compensate (part of) your flight’s impact on the environment. This does not affect the direct emissions of the flight itself, but you help by planting trees that reabsorb the CO2 emitted by your flight. ”

Campaigners have targeted both the Fly Responsibly and CO2ZERO campaigns in their legal action.

This is not the first time that KLM’s sustainability initiatives have come under fire. Last month the airline fell foul of the Dutch advertising regulator with its “Be a hero, fly CO2 zero” marketing campaign. The regulator found that although the airline’s CO2ZERO initiative did result in some emissions being offset, it could not claim carbon neutrality.


Together with its partner Air France, KLM pledged to realize its carbon reduction targets with the 2015 Paris Agreement. Photo: Air France

KLM’s sustainability work continues

As part of its Fly Responsibly campaign, KLM has a number of plans to improve its sustainability. These include fleet renewal, operational improvements, carbon offsets, and investment in SAF. According to the airline, replacing existing kerosene with SAF can reduce carbon emissions by at least 75%.

Since January 2022, all KLM flights departing Amsterdam include a small amount of sustainable aviation fuel as standard. However, this amounts to just 1% of the airline’s total fuel consumption. High prices and low production volumes make it difficult for airlines to currently use SAF at scale, however, the airline has made clear its aim for 30% of its fuel to be SAF by 2030.

KLM also openly supports alternative sustainable modes of transport for short distances instead of short-haul flights.

KLM aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Photo: KLM

This legal case launched by environmental campaigners against KLM is sure to be followed intently by the many airlines across the world that offer similar carbon offsetting schemes, and for whom sustainability has become a key part of their brand marketing.

What do you think about the claims made by environmental campaigners? Share your thoughts by commenting below.


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