Greenwashing: Airlines face EU probe as Lululemon investigated in Canada

The European Commission confirmed late last week that it is working with consumer standards watchdogs in Belgium, Norway, Spain and the Netherlands to identify misleading statements relating to the environmental impact of aviation.

Claims relating to carbon offsetting and to the use of alternative aviation fuels are the specific focus of the probe.

Reuters and other news outlets have reported that at least 20 airlines have received notice of the investigation, including Air France, KLM, Norwegian, Wizz Air and the Lufthansa Group. However, the EU has not disclosed a full list and has stated this will not be released while the investigations are at a “preliminary stage”.

Companies have been asked to bring their messaging into line with EU and national consumer law within 30 days. The firms also have this same timeframe to provide evidence to back up their claims to the regulators.

The news comes less than two months after Amsterdam’s district court ordered KLM to cease running an advertising campaign on the grounds that it would likely mislead viewers to believe that aviation had a lower climate impact.

This campaign asked passengers to “join [KLM] in creating a more sustainable future” and called alternative fuels a “promising solution”. The court ruled that solutions currently available “only marginally reduce” emissions and said the advert “paints an overly rosy picture”.

Similarly, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned ad campaigns from three airlines on greenwashing grounds late last year, namely Etihad, Lufthansa and Air France.

Green Claims Directive

EU lawmakers recently signed off on legislation that will increase penalties for businesses that exaggerate their environmental claims or produce green claims that are likely to be widely misinterpreted.

The Green Claims Directive will include an outright ban on carbon-related claims backed with offsetting. It will also require businesses to provide more specific, less vague claims on all aspects of environmental performance – and to back these claims with data.

The Directive will apply to businesses of all sectors and sizes unless they are classed as ‘micro-businesses’ by the EU, for having fewer than 10 staff members and annual turnovers under €2m.

The European Parliament confirmed in February that companies flouting directive rules will face significant fines. Fines are set to be of “at least 4% of their annual turnover”. Businesses also risk confiscation of revenues.

Punishments will need to be implemented by national authorities. It is anticipated that most nations will expand the remit of their existing consumer law bodies.

Policymakers are also warning that businesses may lose public procurement opportunities and suffer reputational damage if they make unsubstantiated or misleading green claims.


In related news, activewear brand Lululemon will be subject to an inquiry by the Competition Bureau Canada on greenwashing grounds.

The watchdog will assess whether the firm, which is the official kit provider for Team Canada this Olympic year, has misled customers around its climate impact and its use of synthetic materials derived from fossil-based chemicals.

Lululemon’s own impact report for 2022 shows a significant increase in Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 3 (indirect) emissions on 2022 levels, of 74% and 60% respectively. This is despite the business having almost eliminated Scope 2 (power-related) emissions and having verified science-based targets.

The Competition Bureau Canada investigation has been prompted by a complaint from environmental campaign group Stand.Earth, which has taken particular issue with the slogan Lululemon uses as a blanket label to reference its corporate sustainability strategy ‘Be Human. Be Well. Be Planet.” Stand.Earth wants this campaign pulled completely.

If the Bureau concludes that Lululemon has falsely represented its environmental impact to customers, it could face a fine of up to 3% of its gross annual global profits. The body also has the power to rule that the brand should remove certain messaging or campaigns.

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