Last month 23 members of the “Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs” (BEUC) filed a complaint with the European Commission and various consumer protection agencies alleging that 17 European Airlines were engaged in greenwashing. A recent Cadwalader memo discusses the contents of the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the European airlines were engaged in misleading practices around their environmental messaging. The alleged misleading practices included claiming that passengers could offset the CO2 emissions of their flights by paying additional fees, charging passengers more for the development of sustainable aviation fuels, and implying that air travel can be sustainable.
The memo explains that BEUC takes issue with these practices because the use of carbon credits is highly uncertain and sustainable aviation fuels are unlikely to be widely available until the end of the 2030s. As a result, the BEUC believes that in its current form, there is no way to make the aviation industry sustainable. Therefore, the BEUC believes that any attempt by the airlines to label themselves as sustainable is misleading. The organization is calling for a ban on any claims that air travel is carbon neutral as well as the establishment of high-integrity offsets with robust quality criteria.
Airlines have been seeing an uptick in greenwashing allegations recently as the aviation sector struggles to decarbonize. Hard-to-abate sectors like aviation are heavily reliant on the use of carbon credits which are presently considered unreliable. Until better quality offsets are available it is likely that airlines will see more greenwashing allegations and litigation.