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A lawsuit against KLM for CO2 compensation

The Dutch environmental organization Fossielvrij NL is taking KLM to court over advertisements and claims about sustainable flying and compensation for CO2 emissions. According to Fossielvrij NL, these are misleading because customers of the airline get the impression that flying is possible without climate damage. 

Under the name CO2ZERO, KLM has been offering customers the option of offsetting the emissions of their flights for years by paying a small amount on top of the ticket price. For example, a return ticket to Barcelona is 3.96 euros. That money goes to reforestation projects.

The company has long touted this service as an opportunity to fly carbon neutral, saying the impact of your flight could be “neutralized” by the offset. Earlier this year, the Advertising Code Committee rebuked KLM for this, because the company cannot substantiate these claims sufficiently. Since then, KLM has adapted the campaigns and web texts. It now states that “the fastest way to reduce flight-related CO2 emissions is not to fly”.

Wrongly reassured

Nevertheless, according to Fossielvrij NL, consumers are still misled. It still states that the CO2 emissions of a flight can be compensated by reforestation. Fossielvrij NL also finds it harmful that travellers can be wrongly reassured by the compensation.

KLM does not agree with the charge. In a written response, the company says that the expressions comply with laws and regulations, especially now that it has adjusted the texts. “KLM strives for transparent and honest communication about our sustainability approach. We have no interest in misinforming our customers.”

Greenwashing?

CO2 compensation is offered by many more companies. For example, people at Shell can pay extra for kilometres driven, at Zalando for the emissions released during the packaging, delivery and return of parcels, and PostNL also offers extra ‘green mail’ for a small amount. It has been criticized for some time because companies that offer it are often major CO2 emitters.

Is it a form of greenwashing, where a company’s marketing message does not match the actions it is actually taking to reduce its climate impact? 

The uses of reforestation projects for compensation purposes do not work because you do not know when you plant a tree, how long it will remain standing and how much CO2 it removes from the air.

Fossil-free Netherlands demands in the summons that KLM completely stop advertising CO2 compensation. It will take at least three months before the trial will start.

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