Peters & Peters

Dutch Advertising Code Committee decision on KLM advert


Key facts:

A complaint was made to the SRC, the Dutch Advertising Code Committee, about advertising statements made on the website of major Dutch airline company KLM.

As part of its “Fly Responsibly” campaign, KLM’s website had claimed that customers could fly responsibly, and “neutralise” their impact on the environment by buying carbon offsets through KLM’s CO2 compensation service, CO2ZERO. These offsets are realised through investment in a reforestation project in Panama and the purchase of sustainable aviation fuels.

Slogans used by KLM included: “Be a hero, fly CO2ZERO” and “CO2 neutral: KLM compensates for the CO2 emissions of your KLM Holidays flight.” KLM also claimed that it was involved in a campaign to ensure that the Dutch Olympics Team’s flights to Tokyo 2020 would be made CO2 neutral through investment in the Panamanian project.

The complainants argued that KLM’s sustainability claims breached the Milieu Reclame Code (MRC), the Environmental Advertising Code, because they involved absolute and misleading environmental claims. They argued that KLM could not fulfil its promise of full CO2 emission compensation via the Panamanian project and that it was misleading to suggest that carbon offsets can prevent climate damage. They also said that the average consumer would consider that complete neutralisation of CO2 emissions of a KLM flight would be achieved if they participated in the CO2ZERO scheme, and that this had not been proven.

KLM argued in response that the contested statements were not in breach of the MRC. It said that these could not be regarded as absolute, that they provided a complete and balanced picture of the CO2ZERO programme, and that they were sufficiently substantiated and not misleading.

The SRC decided in favour of the complainants. It held that KLM had not demonstrated the accuracy of the absolute claims “CO2 neutral” and “COZERO” to the extent required by Article 3 of the MRC. This provision requires an advertiser to demonstrate that its environmental claim is correct.

The SRC also agreed that the average consumer would assume that their CO2 emissions would be completely offset if they booked a KLM flight or package holiday. However, KLM had not shown that this promised result was guaranteed to be achieved in practice. Instead, it had promoted an “overly rosy” picture of its schemes and their impact. The contested statements were therefore contrary to Article 2 of the MRC. This provision states that environmental claims must not mislead the consumer about environmental aspects of the advertised product or about the advertiser’s contribution to maintaining or promoting a clean environment in general.

As a result, the SRC recommended that KLM stop advertising in this way.


RRC ruling

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