Environmental organisations have filed a lawsuit against KLM in the Netherlands after the airline refused to stop advertising misleading claims that it is making flying sustainable.
Dutch campaigners Fossielvrij NL, supported by ClientEarth and Reclame Fossielvrij, filed the legal claim in the District Court of Amsterdam on Wednesday. The filing follows a pre-action letter delivered to KLM during its Annual General Meeting last month.
Hiske Arts, campaigner at Fossielvrij NL, said: “We warned that if KLM did not stop its misleading advertising, we would see them in court.
“KLM has instead stuck by the false message that it is on the path to more sustainable flying. There is no way it can do this while planning continuous air traffic growth that will fuel the breakdown of our climate. KLM will now have to defend its misleading claims before a judge.”
The lawsuit argues that KLM’s Fly Responsibly campaign breaches the Dutch implementation of the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive by giving customers the false impression that its flights won’t worsen the climate emergency.
It also claims marketing of KLM’s CO2ZERO offset product, through which customers donate towards reforestation schemes and ‘sustainable aviation fuels’, is unlawful, as well as the ‘Real Deal’ discount flight sale promoted in May as a ‘sustainable fuel bonus'.
An expert evidence report submitted with the court filing found that KLM cannot validly claim that donating toward reforestation or KLM’s biofuel costs compensates for the climate impact of flying.
Johnny White, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “Offsets marketing is yet another dangerous distraction from what KLM and the airline industry needs to do to address the climate crisis: to stop unsustainable ‘business as usual’ air traffic growth.
“When it comes to offsets claims, the law on misleading marketing needs to be enforced. Trying to reassure customers that a small payment for tree planting or ‘sustainable’ fuel compensates for flight emissions undermines urgent climate action, is gravely misleading, and, the claim argues, is unlawful.”
The legal action also calls out KLM’s promotion of its net zero pledge, arguing that the airline’s plans for continued growth are squarely inconsistent with its claims that the company and the wider industry is taking action that aligns with climate goals.
KLM refutes the claim, and has denied it is greenwashing. In a meeting with Fossielvrij on 24 June, KLM representatives said that they were looking at the reforestation offset marketing in the wake of an ad regulator finding against it. However, they did not agree the airline’s advertising is misleading and rejected the groups’ demands.
The same day, KLM criticised a decision by the Dutch Government to reduce air traffic at Schiphol airport by 12% instead of growing capacity, claiming it would have “dramatic consequences” for the airline.
In addition to the legal action, Fossielvrij NL, ClientEarth, Reclame Fossielvrij and many other organisations are also calling for a European ban on fossil fuel advertising, including all airline advertising.
Rosanne Rootert, campaigner at Reclame Fossielvrij, said: “The only true solution for ending the harmful effects of fossil ads is making them illegal, just like tobacco ads.”
- ENDS -
Notes to editors:
- Following the filing of the writ, the Court will consider the claim’s standing to proceed. If it confirms standing, KLM will have to give its defence.
- A copy of the legal claim filed by Fossielvrij in the District Court of Amsterdam can be found here.
- The lawsuit will be supported by ClientEarth, which will be intervening in support of the claim.
- An explainer about the case can be found here.
- Counsel in the case is Bureau Brandeis of Amsterdam.