Dutch court ruling considers national airline guilty of greenwashing

No punishment imposed on firm, which used ‘misleading and therefore illegal’ adverts to bolster green credentials.

A Dutch court has issued a ruling that considers national airline KLM guilty of greenwashing.

The district court of Amsterdam ruled on Wednesday that the flag carrier had misled consumers with adverts intending to improve its environmental image.

The ruling, which has come amid a push by regulators to scrutinise the corporate world’s environmental claims, said that KLM had painted an “overly rosy picture” of its measures and sought to give the “mistaken impression” that flying could be sustainable. However, no punishment was imposed on the firm.

The landmark “greenwashing” case was brought by the pressure group Fossielvrij NL (Fossil-free Netherlands). The court deemed the advertisements, most of which were included as part of the airline’s “Fly Responsibly” campaign, “misleading and therefore illegal”.

KLM “paints an overly rosy picture of the impact of measures such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel and reforestation”, said the court in its verdict. “These measures only marginally reduce the negative environmental aspects and give the mistaken impression that flying with KLM is sustainable.”

“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,” said Hiske Arts, an activist from Fossielvrij NL.


‘Transparently and honestly’

The company, an arm of the Air France-KLM Group, is no longer carrying the advertisements in question and will not be forced to issue any rectification. However, the court underlined that, in future, the airline must be “honest and concrete” about environmental claims.

Statements in the adverts included calls to action, such as “join us in creating a more sustainable future” and declarations about the carrier’s use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, described as a “promising solution”.

Regarding the fuel, the court ruled that while it could contribute to reducing the harmful impact of flying, “the term ‘sustainable’ is too absolute and not sufficiently concrete”.

The firm said in a statement it had not used the expressions at the heart of the case “for some time,” and sought to suggest it welcomed the “clarity” on “how we can continue to communicate transparently and honestly about our approach and activities”.

However, speaking at a news conference, Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith called the suit an “inconvenience”.

“We are not greenwashing,” he said, arguing the company is taking steps to reduce its emissions, buying more efficient planes and mixing more biofuel into the kerosene that fuels its fleet.

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