KLM sued for misleading sustainability claims

As concerns about climate change grow, so does green cleaning as a marketing tactic. And it’s often the most environmentally destructive companies that trumpet the wildest claims – just take a look at some of the ads fossil fuel companies have run in recent years.

But luckily, it’s getting harder for companies to make unsubstantiated eco-friendly claims without being called out. This week, environmental groups filed the first green-cleaning lawsuit against an airline. KLM, the Dutch subsidiary of Air France KLM, is often considered a stable choice compared to other airlines. But the company is now accused of overselling its viability in advertising – to the point of potentially deceiving consumers.

The lawsuit, led by advocacy groups Fossielvrij NL, ClientEarth and Reclame Fossielvrij, centers around KLM’s “Fly Responsibly” ads, published in 2019. The campaign charges consumers to buy carbon credits to offset “flight footprints of their”. easy”, or avoid flying altogether. But mitigating the environmental impact of a flight is much more complicated than that.

Carbon offsets, in general, are murky at first. While planting trees can theoretically remove carbon from the air, there is no clear data on how successful such projects are. Furthermore, offsets that simply protect forests don’t remove carbon from the atmosphere at all—they just prevent more carbon from being released. None of these types of credits can significantly reduce the footprint of regular air travel.

“Attempting to assure customers that a small payment for planting trees or ‘sustainable’ fuel offsets aviation emissions undermines urgent climate action, is grossly misleading and, the claim argues, is illegal,” the lawyer said in a press release. of ClientEarth, Johnny White.

Airline emissions alone account for over two percent of all human carbon dioxide emissions and have doubled since the 1980s, and just one percent of the population accounts for 50 percent of those emissions. A single flight often measures as much carbon dioxide as some people in the global south use in an entire year.

In other words, flying is objectively terrible for the planet—and little consumer choices won’t change that.

[Related: All your burning questions about sustainable aviation fuel, answered.]

But unlike some industries where systemic solutions are clear — like energy providers that can invest in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels — airlines don’t have many options. High-tech solutions such as sustainable fuels, more efficient engines and carbon removal technologies are often featured when it comes to making air travel more environmentally sound. But these technologies are still very much in the early stages and won’t be ready on a scale sufficient to make a difference for years to come, adds Paulina Jaramillo, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon. Sustainable and alternative fuels are still very expensive and rare – KLM used only 0.18 percent alternative fuels in 2019.

“There’s very little they can do right away,” she says.

And greenhouse gases aren’t the only pollution to worry about. Particulate matter from jet fuel puts human health at risk, says Jennifer Rushlow, associate dean for environmental programs at Vermont Law and Graduate School. Switching fuels does not necessarily reduce those emissions.

Of course, KLM is not the only party to blame. A recent study commissioned by Greenpeace analyzed commitments from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, IAG, Ryanair, easyJet, SAS and TAP Air Portugal and found almost all of them pretty unimaginable. Ryanair even had to take out an ad that used misleading information to claim that the airline produced “low emissions”. United Airlines also falsely stated on Twitter in 2021 that they “It would be the first in the history of aviation to fly a passenger flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel,” when in reality only one of the two engines used renewable fuel.

Right now, the only thing that can be done for sure to reduce the environmental impact of flying is to reduce the number of flights. While KLM’s ad urges consumers to fly frugally, recent statements from the company criticizing the Dutch government for reducing traffic at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s busiest, contradict that stance.

“I think the only way airlines are going to have less life is if there’s less demand for them,” Rushlow says. “Why would they return the money? So it will have to be driven by demand. And if consumers are under the false impression that they can continue to fly as much as they have been without being impacted, it’s not going to cut it.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.