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KLM pulls ‘Fly Responsibly’ ads after greenwashing lawsuit


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

April 21, 2023 | 4 min read

The Dutch airline has scrapped an ad campaign telling customers to ‘Fly Responsibly’ after law firm Client Earth accused it of greenwashing.

KLM airline

The lawsuit is the first against the aviation industry over greenwashing / KLM

The original campaign was targeted back in May 2022 by an environmental group in the Netherlands, Fossielvrij, which challenged whether the airline’s claims were acceptable under EU consumer law.

The lawsuit is the first against aviation industry greenwashing and is supported by ClientEarth and Reclame Fossielvrij.

However, despite KLM confirming at the District Court in Amerstand that it would pull its ‘Fly Responsibly’ marketing, the airline offered no commitments about future advertising, despite a recent proposal by the EU commission attempting to clamp down on misleading green claims.

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The airline also maintains its ‘carbon offsetting’ offers, which the lawsuit argues give customers the false impression that they can reduce the impact of their flight by funding reforestation projects or the airline’s costs when it buys small amounts of biofuels.

The validity of carbon offsetting in emissions reductions has been heavily disputed in recent years, and motions to address the use of carbon credits in net zero and carbon-neutral strategies and marketing claims are currently underway in the UK.

Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij, said: “We welcome KLM’s decision to axe its problematic Fly Responsibly campaign. But the truth is that KLM’s greenwashing has not been stopped today.

“Dropping the ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign will not prevent KLM from misleading people about whether it is doing its part to tackle the climate crisis. As long as KLM continues to pursue unsustainable growth, it cannot give the impression it is working towards a more sustainable future.”

While Johnny White, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “The problem with KLM’s sustainability publicity is that the airline ignores the elephant in the room: there is no feasible way the aviation industry can reach climate goals on its current growth path.

“This case is about putting a stop to the aviation narrative that they are tackling climate change whilst they pursue unsustainable air traffic growth. We have to tackle the airline industry greenwashing because it is undermining the world’s efforts to combat the climate emergency.”

The hearing, which took place yesterday (April 20) centered on Fossielvrij’s admissibility to bring the claim, which KLM argued against. The lawsuit is supported by nearly 14,000 people, who signed a petition in support of the case.

If the court decision on Fossielvrij’s admissibility is positive, KLM will be back in court for the final, substantive hearing.

Want to learn more about the most important issue of our time? Senior reporter Ellen Ormesher will explore the role of advertising and marketing in the climate crisis. Case studies, tips, interviews and more. Register your interest.

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