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Court rules that airline KLM made misleading green claims about its activities

Author: Dr. Angelika Hellweger  22 March 2024
2 min read

Angelika Hellweger of Rahman Ravelli considers the case and campaigners’ efforts to challenge businesses making false environmental statements.

A court has found that the Dutch airline KLM misled customers with vague environmental claims.

In a greenwashing case brought by the campaign group Fossielvrij (Fossil-free), the district court of Amsterdam ruled that KLM had broken the law, with misleading advertising involved in 15 of the 19 environmental statements the court assessed.

Several of KLM’s claims about its environmental ambitions were declared misleading as they were too vague. The airline was found to have painted an “an overly rosy picture” of its sustainable aviation fuel. The court was also critical of KLM’s portrayal of tree planting as a way of offsetting flight emissions.

The court said: “These measures only marginally reduce the negative environmental aspects and give the wrong impression that flying with KLM is sustainable.’’

A KLM Schiphol airport billboard stating “join us in creating a more sustainable future” did not, according to the court, explain how flying with it related to any environmental benefit.

The court added that when KLM informs customers about ambitions to reduce emissions, it must do so “honestly and concretely”.

Landmark

After the court ruling, Fossielvrij said: “Today’s judgment is a landmark victory in the fight against greenwashing. 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.”

Campaigners warned that tackling greenwashing is a “a cat-and-mouse game”, with new misleading campaigns introduced after other ones are halted.

The year 2023 did see a real rise in enforcement action against misleading environmental claims – and 2024 is expected to be another year of the regulators increasing their commitment to tackling greenwashing. The KLM judgement is another indicator of this.

Although the air transport sector currently accounts for only a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions, that proportion is set to increase due to rising demand for air travel. The International Energy Agency found last year that aviation activity has grown at a quicker rate than efficiency improvements in the air transport sector that could lessen the harm caused.

A range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), environmental activists and consumers have been drawing attention to the practice of greenwashing for a number of years. This has been prompted by false claims from all types of companies in various business sectors that their products or services are sustainable. As well as an increased litigation and enforcement risk, the result has been companies losing credibility and public distrust in them rising.

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Dr. Angelika Hellweger

Legal Director

angelika.hellweger@rahmanravelli.co.uk
+44 (0)203 597 9783 vCard

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Angelika is a specialist in international, high-level economic crime investigations and large-scale commercial disputes. She has widely-recognised expertise in representing corporates and conglomerates in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and United States.

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