European Airlines Accused of Greenwashing

Seventeen EU airlines have been accused by the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) of making false claims about their impact on the environment.



June 23, 2023

DALLAS - The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) and its 23 member organizations from 19 different countries have complained to the European Commission and the network of consumer protection agencies (CPC) about 17 European Airlines' false claims about climate.

PH-BXV KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 737-800 AMS EHAM. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways.

Accused Airlines

BEUC said that 17 European airlines, including Air Baltic (BT), Air Dolomiti (EN), Air France (AF), Austrian(OS), Brussels Airlines (SN), Eurowings (EW), Finnair (AY), KLM (KL), Lufthansa (LH), Norwegian, Ryanair (FR), SAS (SK), SWISS (LX), TAP (TP), Volotea (V7), Vueling (VY), and Wizz Air (W6), violate EU regulations by engaging in deceptive business practices.

Due to this, BEUC has demanded that an investigation be conducted across the EU. It has also stated that the airlines mentioned above must stop making claims that give consumers the appearance that they are traveling sustainably and that those who paid additional "green" fees be refunded.

It claims that airlines have misled consumers by: 

1. Charging extra fees to "offset", "neutralize", or "compensate" the CO2 emissions of a flight 

2. Airlines are charging consumers more to contribute to the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs)

3. Claiming that air travel can be "sustainable," "responsible," and "green" when none of the methods currently employed by the aviation industry can stop the release of greenhouse gasses.

Ryanair (EI-DHP) Boeing 737-8AS(WL). Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways.

BEUC's Deputy Director General Comments

Deputy Director General of BEUC, Ursula Pachl, said, "When it is crystal clear that air travel causes a significant and increasing share of greenhouse gas emissions, it beggars belief that airlines freely lure consumers with climate-friendly messaging such as "CO2 compensated" or "CO2 neutral". We urge authorities to take the matter into their hands and crack down on this greenwashing practice seriously misleading consumers."

"Whether you pay a 'green fare' or not, your flight will still emit climate-harmful gases. Technological solutions to decarbonize aviation won't become a massive-scale reality any time soon, so depicting flying as a sustainable mode of transport is pure greenwashing. At a time when many want to travel more sustainably, airlines should urgently stop offering consumers a fake peace of mind."

"Shifting consumer demand towards more sustainable transport modes is critical to cut emissions. Airlines must stop giving consumers the false impression that they are choosing a sustainable transport mode. In addition, decision-makers must push for solutions to provide consumers with reliable, attractive, and sustainable alternatives such as higher-quality long-distance rail connections."

TAP Air Portugal CS-TUN Airbus A330-900. Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways.

BEUC Claims

The members argue that it is incorrect to claim that purchasing additional credits will "neutralize," "compensate," or "offset" the carbon dioxide emissions of a flight because the benefits to the climate from such initiatives are still very uncertain, while the harm brought on by carbon emissions from air travel is undeniable.

Furthermore, Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) are not yet ready for the market, and recently enacted EU law sets very low criteria for how much of them should make up an aircraft's fuel mix, making it unethical to charge for green fares given that the flight still releases harmful gasses.

The BEUC members emphasized that airlines must stop making such claims and offer customers trustworthy, appealing, and viable solutions.

Featured Image: 17 European airlines including Eurowings, Austrian and Swiss have been accused of "greenwashing." Photo: Christian Winter/Airways.