EU targets greenwashing in aviation industry amid growing environmental concerns


(Photo: Pixabay)

The European Union continues its relentless campaign against corporate greenwashing, with its latest move aimed at the major carbon emitter aviation industry. The European Commission, in collaboration with consumer protection organizations, has announced investigations into 20 airlines suspected of greenwashing. These airlines have been given a 30-day to response; failure to comply may result in severe sanctions.

While the EU has not disclosed the list of the 20 airlines under preliminary investigation, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) indicated that in July of last year (2023), it lodged complaints with the EU against 17 airlines, including Air France, Ryanair, and Lufthansa, for alleged breaches of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

On April 30, in a written statement, they outlined six practices that airlines may be using to potentially mislead consumers:

  • creating the incorrect impression that paying an additional fee to finance climate projects with less environmental impact or to support the use of alternative aviation fuels can reduce or fully counterbalance the CO2 emissions;
  • using the term “sustainable aviation fuels” (SAF) without clearly justifying the environmental impact of such fuels;
  • using the terms “green”, “sustainable” or “responsible” in an absolute way or use other implicit green claims;
  • claiming that the airline is moving towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) or any future environmental performance, without clear and verifiable commitments, targets and an independent monitoring system;
  • presenting consumers with a “calculator” for the CO2 emissions of a specific flight, without providing sufficient scientific proof on whether such calculation is reliable and without the information on the elements used for such calculation;
  • presenting consumers with a comparison of flights regarding their CO2 emissions, without providing sufficient and accurate information on the elements the comparison is based on.

The aviation industry accounts for 2.5% of global carbon emissions, making it not only a high-emission sector but also one of the most challenging to decarbonize.

Vera Jourova, Vice-President for Values and Transparency of the European Commission, stated, " More and more travelers care about their environmental footprint and choose products and services with better environmental performance. They deserve accurate and scientific answers, not vague or false claims. The Commission is fully committed to empowering consumers in the green transition and fighting greenwashing."

The tightening regulations in the European region have compelled airlines to assess their environmental impact. In March, the Amsterdam District Court ruled that advertisements by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines were indeed greenwashing. In December of last year, Lufthansa, Air France, and Etihad Airways were called out by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading consumers in their advertisements.

According to data from The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), climate targets set by major European airlines are not aligned with keeping global warming below 1.5°C. Airlines like EasyJet, Gol, Iberia, and Wizz Air have had their commitments removed from the SBTi website due to failure to update their carbon reduction targets.

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