KLM ‘Fly Responsibly’ Advertisements are Greenwash, Court Rules


A KLM ad campaign that claimed customers could “fly sustainably” was declared illegal by a Dutch court in historic win against greenwashing, after the company was sued by Fossielvrij NL (Fossil-Free Netherlands) and Reclame Fossielvrij.

“Today’s judgment is a landmark victory in the fight against greenwashing. KLM’s “green” marketing creates a misplaced trust that you can board a plane reassured you are not harming the planet. The judge has put an end to this harmful strategy to lull the public and politicians to sleep," Hiske Arts, Fossil Free campaigner.


KLM, one of the world’s oldest airlines, launched a multimedia ad campaign in 2021 called ‘Fly Responsibly’ in which it ‘invited’ customers to join the company “in creating a more sustainable future.” This campaign included an image of a child on a swing on a green hillside looking out a blue sea that it posted at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.

Aviation Emissions

Environmental experts estimate that the airline industry is responsible for 2.4 percent of global carbon emissions. Within Europe, the airline industry is responsible for as much as 13.9 percent of transport related emissions. And these numbers are expected to grow – industry projections suggest that the number of flights will triple in the next few decades.


Fossielvrij NL (Fossil-Free Netherlands) and Reclame Fossielvrij sued KLM in the District Court of Amsterdam in July 2022 with the support of ClientEarth, an environmental law firm. The plaintiffs noted that the option for customers to buy carbon offsets – via reforestation and biofuels – made no ‘meaningful contribution’ to reducing KLM’s carbon footprint.

“KLM’s climate publicity push extends far beyond a single campaign. This is not an isolated incident in the airline industry. The ongoing struggle to stamp out aviation greenwashing underscores the urgent need to ban fossil fuel advertising and protect the public from misleading practices that subvert climate action," Johnny White, lawyer for ClientEarth.

Successful Suits

The Fossielvrij NL lawsuit is just one of many that environmental NGOs have brought against greenwashing in recent years. Dairy company Arla was sued successfully in Sweden for advertising such as “net zero” milk, Austrian Airlines was sued in Austria for advertising “carbon-neutral” flights, and TotalEnergies in Germany for advertising “climate neutral” heating oil.


At the court hearing in December 2023, KLM lawyers argued that the company was simply advertising the changes that it had made while lawyers for the activists pointed out that the company had failed to mention that it is planning to increase the number of flights. The District Court ruled in favor of Fossielvrij NL on March 22, 2024 and ordered KLM to pay the NGO’s legal costs.

Company Response

“I don’t consider that greenwashing. It’s not a fair assessment,” Ben Smith, Air France-KLM CEO.

"It is good that the court gives us more clarity on what is possible and how we can continue to communicate transparently and honestly about our approach and activities," Marjan Rozemeijer, KLM spokesperson.

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