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Greenwashing: KLM ads were misleading, Dutch court says

March 20, 2024

The court said that the Dutch airline painted "an overly rosy picture" of its efforts toward sustainability. However, KLM will not be forced to issue any rectification.

 KLM plane at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. On Friday, August 6, 2021, in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Schiphol, Netherlands. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)
The Dutch airline launched the 'Fly Responsibly' campaign to improve its environmental imageImage: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/picture alliance

A court in the Netherlands has ruled that Dutch airline KLM's "Fly Responsibly" campaign, launched to improve its environmental image but no longer in use, was "misleading" for customers.

The 2022 lawsuit was filed by environmental group Fossil Free. It accused KLM of so-called "greenwashing," arguing that there is no way to "Fly Responsibly" so long as air travel is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.

Fossil Free hailed the Wednesday verdict as "a historic victory over greenwashing by big polluters." However, the court did not impose any punishment on the company, or force it to issue any rectification. 

What did the court say?

The court described the KLM adverts as "vague and general," accusing the airline of painting "an overly rosy picture of the impact of measures such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel [made from renewable raw materials] and reforestation."

"These measures only marginally reduce the negative environmental aspects and give the mistaken impression that flying with KLM is sustainable," the court said.

KLM must be "honest and concrete" about environmental claims in the future, the court said.

The case is mostly centered around KLM's "Fly Responsibly" campaign, described by the airline as an "awareness campaign." The campaign included general statements on sustainability, as well as declarations about KLM's use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

How did KLM react?

Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith called the suit an "inconvenience."

"We are not greenwashing," he said at a press conference. Smith said the company is taking steps to reduce its emissions, disclosing plans to purchase more efficient planes and mix more biofuel into the kerosene that fuels its fleet.

The company also issued a statement on the verdict.

"It is good that the court gives us more clarity on what is possible and how we can continue to communicate transparently and honestly about our approach and activities," said the airline.

Meanwhile, Fossil Free's Hiske Arts welcomed the court ruling.

"The court could not have been clearer: companies are not allowed to claim they are tackling dangerous climate change when in reality they are fuelling the crisis," she said.

rmt/fb (Reuters, AFP)