ClientEarth commences legal action against Dutch airline KLM for greenwashing

Published on May 29, 2022

The airline industry has a climate problem. Aviation relies on highly polluting fossil fuels, and expert studies warn that the airline industry cannot reach net zero by 2050 and align with climate goals without lowering air traffic.

However, KLM’s marketing campaign attempts to convince consumers otherwise, giving a false impression of the sustainability of its flights and plans to address its climate harm.

ClientEarth, along with campaigners Fossielvrij Netherlands, and Reclame Fossielvrij, has therefore written to KLM demanding that KLM stops greenwashing. In the absence of a positive response, ClientEarth will commence legal action. The lawsuit will argue that KLM’s campaigns and carbon ‘compensation’ schemes are misleading, and violate European consumer law.

ClientEarth is 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.

How does KLM claim that sustainable flying is possible?

The legal action focuses on KLM’s Fly Responsibly ad campaign and its offers for customers to buy carbon offset products to reduce the impact of their flight by funding reforestation projects or KLM’s purchase of biofuels.

ClientEarth argues that such products will do little to limit the damage the airline industry causes to the climate, and that by promoting them to customers, KLM’s marketing undermines the urgent action needed to minimise climate catastrophe.

The Fly Responsibly ads also present the airline as “creating a more sustainable future” and on track to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050.

But this promise doesn’t square with its plans to grow its business and increase flight sales.

We urgently need to reduce air traffic to keep a just and liveable world within reach. Airlines cannot be allowed to compete for business on claims that they are tackling the climate crisis, when the reality is they are fuelling it.

KLM’s marketing misleadingly suggests it’s possible for flying to be ‘sustainable’

What are the wider impacts of greenwashing in the airline industry?

KLM and the airline industry continue to pursue growth year after year, relying on a package of speculative future technologies, limited alternative fuels and other flawed ‘solutions’ to make flying sustainable. Whilst doing so, they are also lobbying intensively against aviation climate regulation.

Flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. The coming years in the climate fight are crucial, huge reductions in emissions and regulation to limit air traffic are needed to keep a liveable planet for all. Greenwashing wastes money and delays this critical action and allows airlines to continue to burn increasing volumes of damaging fossil fuels.

Additionally, it is unjust and unequal that the airline industry primarily serves a small group of privileged frequent flyers, when it is people with less money, people in the Global South and future generations that are set to suffer the most as the world gets dangerously hotter. Just one percent of the world’s global population cause 50% of commercial aviation emissions, whilst the overwhelming majority of people have never taken a flight.

What is ClientEarth hoping will happen as a result of this case?

Ultimately, we are calling for a ban on all fossil fuel advertising in the EU to stop companies like KLM from continuing to mislead the public over what is needed to reduce the airline industry’s impact on the planet and people. We need to clean up advertising in order to clean up the climate.

What happens next?

Following the legal letter sent to KLM on 24th May 2022, the claim will be filed at court if KLM does not comply with Fossielvrij and ClientEarth’s demands. The Court will first consider whether the claim has standing to proceed, and then KLM will give its defence. Once the written filings are completed, a hearing will be held, and after that the court will issue its judgment.

Source: Keith Bradley