On May 24, 2022, campaigners for Fossielvrij NL issued a letter of summons to Dutch aviation company KLM at a shareholder meeting of AirFrance-KLM. The letter states that KLM will be sued in violation of European consumer law if it does not cease misleading advertisement claims under its ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign to the effect that CO2 compensation measures and alternative fuels can make flying sustainable. The Fly Responsibly ads present the airline as “creating a more sustainable future” and on track to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050.
Environmental organisations FossielVrij NL, Reclame Fossielvrij en ClientEarth claim that there is no such thing as ‘flying responsibly’ at present, and that KLM seeks company growth and increased flight sales, whilst it should be reducing emissions by reducing the number of flights ‘to keep a just, liveable world within reach’. Specifically, the organizations claim that customers are offered to buy carbon offset – labelled ‘CO2ZERO’ – by funding reforestation projects or KLM’s purchase of biofuels, but that such labels are misleading and that such products do not make a meaningful contribution to reducing KLMs footprint. Moreover, KLM’s marketing undermines the urgent action needed to minimise climate catastrophe.
The case builds on a national decision of the national Advertisement Code Commission on 8 April 2022, the Dutch media watchdog dealing with complaints about misleading advertisement under the Advertisement Code. The commission ruled that elements of the ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign violated the codes provisions on misleading advertising, especially those elements referring to ‘climate neutrality’ or ‘CO2ZERO’. This includes slogans like ““Be a hero, fly CO2ZERO” or “CO2 neutral: KLM compensates for the CO2 emissions of your KLM Holidays flight.” The Commission noted, inter alia, that whilst the reforestation program in which KLM invests meets certain recognized theoretical standards (e.g. Gold Standard certification), there exist doubts in practice and amongst experts that emission reduction certificates purchased by KLM, result in the full and permanent compensation 'down to zero' of personal flight footprints in practice, as suggested by the campaign. The absolute environmental claims of “CO2-neutrality” and “CO2ZERO” must be accompanied by sound, independent, verifiable and generally recognized evidence that in practice there is also guaranteed full compensation.
On July 6, 2022, FossielVrij NL v. KLM filed a claim in the Amsterdam District Court on against Dutch airline company KLM.