Delta Air Lines has until July 28 to respond to a federal class-action lawsuit accusing it of misrepresenting its environmental impact. Meanwhile, 23 consumer advocacy groups from 19 countries last week made similar greenwashing accusations against 17 airlines in Europe.
Part of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), the groups told the European Commission that “misleading climate-related claims” by these airlines “breach the EU rules tackling unfair commercial practices.” Targeted carriers include Air France, Finnair, KLM, Lufthansa, Ryanair and SAS.
“While consumers are led to believe that their flights are ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘compensated,’ the projects in which airlines invest correspond in no way to the climate damage caused by the CO2 emissions of the flights,” according to a June 22 statement from the groups. “Implying that air travel can be ‘sustainable,’ ‘responsible’ and ‘green’ is deceptive. None of the strategies deployed by the aviation sector are currently able to prevent greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to stop these claims, as with air traffic set to increase, emissions will keep rising for years to come. Technological solutions to decarbonize aviation won’t become a massive-scale reality any time soon, so depicting flying as a sustainable mode of transport is pure greenwashing.”
The consumer groups want an investigation across the region. They requested that airlines stop giving flyers the wrong impression about sustainable flying. They called on consumer protection authorities to compel carriers to reimburse customers who purchased “green fares” based on the alleged misleading claims.
Claims that customer-funded offsets can compensate for emitted CO2 “are factually incorrect as the climate benefits of offsetting activities are highly uncertain,” they asserted. Meanwhile, airline claims about sustainable aviation fuels — available only in limited quantities — are exaggerated, they said.
BEUC commissioned a study about the legality of climate-related marketing claims within the aviation sector. Written by Dr. Clemens Kaupa of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and published this month, the study laid out the growing number of enforcement actions against misleading advertising.
For example, in an April 2022 ruling, Dutch advertising regulator Reclame Code Commissie ruled that KLM did not prove that acquired carbon credits associated with an emissions reduction promotion led to “full and permanent removal of emissions that could compensate for the emissions from air travel.” A few months later, Austrian advertising authority Werberat ruled against Austrian Airlines for the carrier’s claims that purchasing SAF meant flying carbon-neutral.
“Statements by business leaders from the aviation and travel industry show that there is full awareness that ‘sustainable’ air travel is factually impossible, and that the only available strategy to reduce emissions from the aviation sector is to reduce air travel,” according to the report.
BEUC members also called out Austrian, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, Norwegian, Swiss, TAP, Volotea, Vueling and Wizz Air.
European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) members participating in the action include those from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. According to BEUC, the German consumer protection organization “issued legal warnings to several traders identified in the alert.”