KLM defends advertisements in Dutch court, denies ‘greenwashing’

By Toby Sterling and Joanna Plucinska

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -KLM defended itself against “greenwashing” allegations in court on Tuesday, asking judges to rule against an environmental group that has argued the Dutch airline’s “Fly Responsibly” ad campaign was misleading.

Climate group Fossil Free’s case against the now-discontinued campaign is seen as a test of the environmental claims of the aviation industry, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Fossil Free argues that there is no such thing as flying responsibly and that KLM should be banned from making similar statements including references to becoming “more sustainable”.

“A plane ticket is the most polluting product that a consumer can buy,” Fossil Free lawyer Danielle Brouwer told judges.

KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, countered that it does not deny that emissions are a problem but it has a right to advertise about changes that it is making.

“KLM is working super hard to become more sustainable,” said lawyer Branda Katan, citing measures such as purchasing more efficient planes and plans to mix more biofuel into the kerosene that fuels its fleet.

Regulators and advertising authorities across Europe have increased scrutiny of companies’ environmental claims, including an investigation into consumer goods giant Unilever announced last week by Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority.

Airlines have been a focus as aviation is an industry that cannot easily cut carbon emissions. Advertising of its green efforts needs to reflect that reality, authorities have said.

In December, Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority banned advertisements from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Etihad after it accused them of giving a misleading impression.

In June Europe’s consumer rights body BEUC lodged a complaint with the European Commission against 17 airlines, saying they used terms such as “sustainable” deceptively.

KLM and Fossil Free clashed over whether the airline’s future plans are credible and whether it should be able to advertise about them.

Katan said KLM’s plans will lead to a 12% cut in its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

Fossil Free disputes that.

“KLM is planning for growth,” lawyer Frank Peters said. “Its commercials that don’t mention that …are misleading.”

Presiding Judge Mette Jobsis said a decision is expected on Feb. 21.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling and Joanna Plucinska; editing by Nick Zieminski and Jason Neely)