“If we want responsible consumers, we need to provide them with accurate information … They deserve accurate and scientific answers, not vague or false claims,” EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova

In their first major coordinated anti-greenwashing enforcement action, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities, prompted by a complaint from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), have sent letters to 20 airlines in relation to their potentially misleading green claims. These airlines have been given 30 days to respond with measures to address the concerns and align their practices with EU consumer law.

The action scrutinised claims about offsetting CO2 emissions through climate projects or sustainable fuels. Authorities believe these claims may constitute misleading actions, as prohibited under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. The airlines must now substantiate these claims with sound scientific evidence.

Potentially misleading practices identified in the letters include:

  • Falsely implying that paying an extra fee for climate projects or alternative fuels can effectively counterbalance C02 emissions from flights.
  • Use of terms like “sustainable aviation fuels” without transparent environmental impact justification.
  • Absolute use of “green”, “sustainable”, or “responsible” without proper context or supporting evidence.
  • Claims of moving towards net-zero emissions without clear commitments and monitoring.
  • Providing consumers with CO2 emissions calculators for specific flights without information on calculation methods or sufficient scientific validation.
  • Presenting flight CO2 emissions comparisons without adequate and accurate details on the comparison criteria.

Following the airlines’ responses, the European Commission will meet with the CPC network and airlines to discuss solutions and monitor implementation. Failure to comply may result in enforcement actions, including sanctions.

This initiative aims to align airline practices with EU consumer law, ensuring transparent and substantiated environmental claims in the air travel sector.

This is the latest news in an increasing trend of crackdown on advertising campaigns in the aviation industry, following the recent Dutch Court ruling that KLM’s advertisements aimed at improving its environmental image were misleading and therefore violated Dutch consumer law.

Recent rulings of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), such as on Deutsche Lufthansa AG in March 2023 and Etihad Airways in April 2023 show that the UK’s own regulatory system also requires that environmental claims be supported by a high level of substantiation.

If you are concerned about falling foul of greenwashing accusations, why not read our 5 tips to help protect your business from ethics washing, and please do get in touch if you have any questions.