Dutch judge condemns KLM for greenwashing ads

The court in Amsterdam has condemned KLM for various misleading green claims in advertisements. According to the judges, the Dutch airline painted too rosy a picture of the beneficial effects of, for example, forest projects as CO2 compensation and the use of more sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The ruling states that such measures only marginally reduce negative environmental aspects and wrongly create the impression that flying with KLM is sustainable. The Fossil-Free NL Foundation brought the case on KLM’s greenwashing.

Judgment of principle

KLM has since stopped the advertisements, such as the Fly Responsibly campaign, around which the lawsuit revolved. Rectification is, therefore, unnecessary. The company may also continue to advertise flying. The judges stressed that if they include claims about CO2 reduction, they must be honest and concrete. A general warning that current aviation is not sustainable will not be required.

The case was not so much about penalties or claims for damages as it was about a judgment of principle by the court, a so-called declaratory judgment. Consequently, the plaintiffs got their way.

‘Hugely important victory’

Fossil-Free NL calls the ruling a hugely important victory in the fight against greenwashing. “Companies should not claim that they are tackling dangerous climate change when in reality they are increasing the crisis,” the environmental organization said. KLM’s green marketing describes it as an attempt to “lull the general public and politicians to sleep”. The judge has “fortunately put a stop to that”.

KLM emphasizes that it has already taken steps to make communication about sustainability fair and transparent. The airline is pleased that the court generally allows such communication, provided it is done honestly and concretely.

First for the Netherlands

It was the first time a Dutch judge ruled on misleading sustainability claims by a large company. Until now, complaints about greenwashing in the Netherlands, including against KLM and Shell, have been sent to the Advertising Code Committee. This ruling by a higher legal body is expected to deter companies from making misleading sustainability advertising.

Flying is still one of the most polluting travel methods, and green aviation is not for tomorrow. The claim that by paying a CO2 offset through a reforestation project, the traveler is also doing something to reduce their carbon emissions has long been criticized by various environmental organizations and experts because it is difficult to determine how much greenhouse gases these planting projects generate.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), grouping 290 airlines worldwide, has agreed to make aviation CO2-free by 2050. Last year, an Austrian court also ruled that Austrian Airlines, a subsidiary of Germany’s Lufthansa, could no longer advertise that flying could be “CO2 neutral”.


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