We have recently written about the EU action on alleged greenwashing against airlines.  The Advertising Standards Authority has also been active in this area, and there has now been a Dutch court decision on the same issues.

The Amsterdam District Court was asked to consider a class action case, which Foundation Fossil Free (FFF) brought against Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM). The court considered if certain sustainability claims made by KLM were misleading, and consequently unlawful. 

Under Dutch law, proceedings can be brought for class actions and collective redress, including those which are in the “public interest”.

FFF argued that KLM's claims constituted greenwashing and misled consumers. Examples of alleged greenwashing included claims such as “be a hero, fly CO2ZERO” and “CO2 neutral” in its “Fly responsibly” campaign. The court proceedings followed a Dutch Amsterdam Code Committee ruling that the campaign was misleading in 2022, so FFF were taking advantage of strong tail winds.

So what did the Amsterdam Court rule?  In summary, it said that KLM's marketing claims included misleading environmental claims.  The claims included vague and generalised statements about supposed environmental benefits. As well as this, it said that KLM had overstated the positive effect of actions such as sustainable aviation fuels and reforestation, and this created a false impression of  how sustainable it was to fly with the airline. 

This meant that KLM had failed to provide accurate and specific information to consumers and this constituted a breach of fair advertising provisions in Dutch consumer protection law. No further action was required, as KLM had already grounded the advertising in question. 

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority has recently completed its own work on greenwashing in the fashion sector, and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets has also been considering greenwashing in the retail sector.  Regulators across the world are looking at these issues, so all sectors need to comply with the rules, not just aviation. 

The KLM decision emphasises the continued focus by regulators and pressure groups on environmental advertising and the aviation industry. It is relevant to UK-based businesses too, because they may be advertising to EU consumers and because the ASA and CMA (as well as the FCA) are treating greenwashing as a priority.