After a long trial, the judge ruled in our favor on March 20: a historic victory! These are the 8 claims that KLM and other polluting companies are not allowed to make, according to the ruling.


1. KLM may not claim (without proper substantiation) that the company is on its way to a more sustainable future

From the ruling:
It is misleading when KLM says "that consumers are on their way to a more sustainable future with it", while it is "not clear whether, and if so how, flying with KLM contributes to this". The judge says that KLM's claim is too vague and general. Moreover, this is "just an ambition" for KLM.

Making vague green claims while continuing with business as usual is what many polluting companies do. This month, Shell was also reprimanded by the Advertising Code Committee for the slogan: "We change for a cleaner future". The judge also called these kinds of statements, which cannot be substantiated, misleading and a prohibited commercial practice.


2. KLM must not mislead about its commitment to "Paris"

From the ruling:
If KLM says in their communications that it has committed itself to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, consumers can expect that KLM's own goals are also in line with Paris. KLM claimed in court that there is a difference between these two things. But the judge made short shrift of this reasoning: consumers will think that KLM itself is actually acting in line with the Paris objective.

This is a very important ruling by the court, which is not only relevant for KLM, but for all polluting companies that like to communicate about Paris, but do not want to act in line with it. This is not allowed. This is very important at a time when companies are using the Paris Climate Agreement more as a marketing tool than as a policy goal.


3. KLM may not pretend that the emissions of a flight are neutralised or reduced by CO2 compensation.

From the ruling:
It is misleading for KLM to pretend that there is a direct link between the customer's contribution to reforestation projects and the CO2 impact of his flight. KLM pretended that the contribution to planting trees "reduced the impact of your flight". The court ruled that this could not be stated, because it was not clear, for example, whether the trees would remain permanently. The judge also puts a big line through the term CO2ZERO, which KLM used for this CO2 compensation.

In the weeks before the ruling, KLM removed its CO2 compensation program for reforestation from its website. KLM finally says honestly on their website: "compensation through nature development is not possible". It is very important that KLM is now also honest about this: the damage caused by your flight will not be undone or reduced if you plant a tree in return.

This statement is not only relevant for KLM, but also for all airlines and all those big polluters who pretend that it is possible to "compensate" for your emissions.


4. KLM may not promote alternative fuels as "sustainable aviation fuel"

From the ruling:
It is misleading for KLM to present alternative fuels as "sustainable aviation fuel". That is too absolute and too little concrete, the judge ruled. KLM does not sufficiently substantiate claims "such as that 'sustainable aviation fuel' reduces CO2 emissions by 'at least 75%' compared to fossil fuels".

The aviation industry markets biofuels and synthetic fuels as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This court ruling means that fuels may not be marketed as 'Sustainable Aviation Fuel'. Logically, it follows that the English translation of this word, namely 'Sustainable Aviation Fuel', is also misleading. The same goes for the use of the abbreviation 'SAF' in marketing.

Alternative fuels are either biofuels or synthetic fuels. Both do not bring emissions to zero, and also carry risks. For example, biofuels can lead to deforestation, and synthetic fuels are extremely energy-intensive to make. In addition, the use of these fuels still leads to other harmful climate effects, such as nitrogen oxides, condensation streaks due to water vapour and the formation of high clouds. It is therefore quite right that these fuels should not be labelled as sustainable.


5. KLM should not present alternative fuels as a promising solution

From the ruling:
It is misleading for KLM to present alternative fuels as a "promising solution" or as "a big step towards a sustainable future". KLM should not paint too rosy a picture of alternative fuels as a solution for making aviation more sustainable. According to the judge, alternative fuels "only bring about a marginal reduction when it comes to CO2 emissions and the negative environmental aspects of flying".

Although KLM currently fills the tank with 99 percent of its tank with kerosene, it is very happy to advertise the 1 percent alternative fuels that are currently being thrown in. And KLM is not alone in this: other airlines are also actively promoting it. With this statement in hand, they too must be careful.


6. KLM may not present test flights on alternative fuels as an important milestone

From the ruling:
It is misleading that KLM presents the first test flight that took place on partly synthetic kerosene as an important milestone. This gives the customer "positive expectations about flying on synthetic kerosene". This "suggests more than is delivered and thus paints too rosy a picture".

You see it every year, usually just before an important climate conference: the aviation industry presents test flights that partly fly on alternative fuels as hugely important milestones. For example, the first time KLM has thrown a few litres of synthetic fuels into the tank. Other times it's the "first transatlantic flight on SAF", or a flybike that flies 100% on biofuels in a test lane. There are tens of thousands of milestones to come up with, and the media is more than happy to go along with them.

But the judge says that it is misleading to present these kinds of experiments as important milestones. And rightly so: no one doubts that it is technologically possible to fly planes on synthetic or biofuels. The problem lies entirely in the scalability of alternative fuels. Because as long as that scalability is not there, these kinds of experiments are of very little use.


7. KLM's slogan "reduce your impact" is misleading

From the ruling:
It is misleading that KLM pretends that consumers can reduce the impact of their flight, with the firm "reduce your impact" that KLM uses, accompanied by an image of green leaves around an aircraft. KLM is suggesting "more than can be achieved in this way". This gives an "overly rosy picture of the (small) environmental benefits that can be achieved with a customer contribution to reforestation or SAF". The judge adds that "a direct link is suggested between a contribution made by the customer and the impact of his flight on the environment". There is no such connection, so that is misleading.

KLM still uses the slogan "reduce your impact" or "reduce your impact". In doing so, KLM is still pretending that this extra drop of biofuels is going to make a substantial difference, while this is not the case. KLM will therefore have to go back to the drawing board.


8. KLM must not give the impression that flying with KLM is sustainable

From the ruling:
It is misleading that KLM gave the impression during their Real Deal Days "that flying with KLM is sustainable, while in fact it is a price stunt". In these advertisements, KLM sold cheap tickets under the guise of "flying more consciously". The judges ruled that the expressions must be considered in the entire context. Even though some statements may be accurate and informative, they were misleading in the overall context.

This ruling is not only relevant for KLM, but also a warning for other travel organisations that are keen to market their trips as sustainable, more sustainable or conscious.


What's next?

The court only ruled on the 19 statements that we submitted as examples of KLM's deception in our summons. In the course of the proceedings, KLM withdrew some of these expressions and took them offline – some even just before the ruling. KLM has used slightly different words in other communications, but the tenor of their communication has remained the same. Unfortunately, the judge did not look at these new formulations. In any case, the judge spoke clearly about what was misleading about the statements at the time of the summons. The judge took into account the fact that KLM had promised in court to be "on the safe side" in their marketing. This makes it all the more important that KLM does not break that promise. The airline will therefore have to take a serious look at their communication again.

We will review KLM's current communications, and keep a close eye on KLM in new advertising campaigns. With this ruling in hand, the way back to court is easily made.

These statements are not only relevant for KLM, but for all polluting companies that like to market themselves as sustainable, while in reality they are driving us deeper into the climate crisis. This ruling sets new international standards, forcing polluters to rethink their marketing strategy. Don't they do this? Then this ruling will serve as inspiration for new court cases, in the Netherlands and abroad. In Europe, BEUC, the umbrella organisation of European consumer organisations, is already taking action against 17 airlines and their misleading statements. This ruling strengthens their complaint and also increases the chance that regulators will take stricter action.

It is important that politicians, companies and citizens really take action against the climate crisis and that consumers are no longer lulled to sleep with fine words. This important ruling against greenwashing is just the beginning.