EU Commission launches action against airline “greenwashing”

Photo: Benjamin van Waart/Flickr

The European Commission and EU consumers authorities have written to 20 airlines operating in the EU asking them to address “several types” of “misleading green claims” made to appeal to consumers, and giving them 30 days to say how they will bring their practices in line with EU law.

The action was triggered by a complaint brought by European consumer organisation BEUC and its member groups against climate-related flight compensation schemes.

It also comes just a few weeks after judges in Amsterdam said KLM had misled consumers by making vague green claims in advertisements in a court case brought by environmental group Fossielvrij NL.

The commission did not disclose the list of airlines targeted by the action because of the “preliminary stage of the investigation,” but the BEUC complaint initially targeted KLM, together with Air Baltic, Air Dolomiti, Air France, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, Finnair, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Ryanair, SAS, Swiss, TAP, Volotea, Vueling and Wizz Air.

The letters were coordinated with the network of Consumer Protection Cooperation authorities (CPC), co-led by the Dutch consumers watchdog ACM, which is responsible for the enforcement of EU consumer law and can take action at EU level.

The CPC network questions claims made by airlines “that the CO2 emissions caused by a flight could be offset by climate projects or through the use of sustainable fuels, to which the consumers could contribute by paying additional fees.”

Other claims in the spotlight concern the use of the terms “green”, “sustainable” or “responsible” in an absolute way; the presentation of CO2 emissions calculators and CO2 performance comparisons; and the prospect of future environmental performance, including net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, without clear and verified targets.

These claims could be misleading because they cannot be proven on “sound scientific evidence,” the consumer authorities argue.

“More and more travellers care about their environmental footprint and choose products and services with better environmental performance. They deserve accurate and scientific answers, not vague or false claims,” said commission vice-president Věra Jourová.

Airlines now have 30 days to say how they intend to resolve the concerns. The commission will then have to monitor that they take action or CPC authorities could impose sanctions.

“The fact that European consumer protection authorities are calling on airlines to get their act together shows there’s a wind of change,” said BEUC’s director general Monique Goyens.

Highly polluting

“Greenwashing is no longer acceptable, and the fact that aviation is one of the most highly polluting sectors makes it even more intolerable. Today’s crack down on greenwashing is encouraging at a time when consumers are expected to shift to more sustainable lifestyles.”

Last year, the European Commission proposed new rules to crack down on misleading green definitions to help consumers better understand how ‘sustainable’ are the products and services they buy.

The European parliament and the council, however, have not started negotiations on the final text yet and the file will be completed after the European elections.

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