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Major airlines face legal trouble for allegedly deceiving customers: 'A lot of airlines are making claims'

It seems consumers aren't buying it anymore.

It seems consumers aren’t buying it anymore.

Photo Credit: iStock

Major airlines worldwide are being accused of greenwashing by consumer protection and environmental groups that say the companies have misled customers about the sustainability of the aviation industry, according to Reuters.

While environmental organizations have been going after airlines for more than a decade, as reported by JD Supra, the legal backlash has reached a boiling point in recent years. 

What's happening? 

The Conversation reported that four climate-related greenwashing cases have been brought against major airlines in Europe, one in the U.S., and one in Brazil. 

However, a civil lawsuit brought against Dutch airline KLM by climate action group Fossiel Vrij NL (Fossil-Free Netherlands) is getting the most media attention since it's reportedly the first to confront airline giants about greenwashing, according to AP News

Reuters reported that Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also recently accused Ryanair, Lufthansa, and Etihad of downplaying their environmental impact in advertisements. 

"One of the things we just caught onto was that a lot of airlines are making claims about sustainability and eco-friendly, sustainable choices, greener choices," Miles Lockwood, the director of complaints and investigations at the ASA, told Reuters

It seems consumers aren't buying it anymore, however. 

Delta Air Lines is also facing a class-action lawsuit in a Los Angeles federal court over its deceiving marketing claims of being "carbon neutral" by supporting clean energy projects. Filed on May 30, 2023, the case marks what is possibly the first such greenwashing class action lawsuit against an airline under state consumer protection law in the U.S.

Why are the greenwashing cases against airlines important?

As The Conversation reported, filing greenwashing complaints against airlines is "an effective form of climate action" because of the undeniable power of advertising to influence human behavior. 

For example, a report by Greenpeace and the New Weather Institute think-tank estimated that airline ads contributed at least 11 million metric tonnes (more than 12 million tons) and up to 34 million metric tonnes (over 37 million tons) of heat-trapping-gas equivalent pollution globally in 2019.

Since climate cases filed against heavily polluting companies can reduce the firm's value by 0.41% on average, according to a study released by The London School of Economics and Political Science, the explosion of climate-related litigation forces airlines to either clean up their acts or watch their stock prices plummet. 

The aviation industry accounts for up to 3.5% of planetary overheating worldwide, according to Our World In Data, so continuing to put the spotlight on airlines is crucial to help bring temperatures down.

What's being done about it?

Thankfully, some airplane manufacturers have already made significant headway in reducing pollution. For instance, companies like ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen have completed test flights with hydrogen-powered planes that can seat up to 40 passengers. 

Electric plane developer Eviation designed what is reported as the world's first electric passenger plane that can fly 300 miles on a single charge. 

In addition, several airlines, such as American, Delta, Southwest, and United, have set a goal to significantly reduce pollution by 2050.

In the meantime, putting pressure on the aviation sector helps hold companies accountable and ensures they follow environmentally responsible business practices.

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