Twenty airlines have been told by the European Commission to bring their practices into line with European consumer law, after concerns that they are making misleading claims over sustainability.

The notification to the carriers – which have not been identified – follows a multinational examination of claims that carbon dioxide emissions could be offset by climate projects or the use of sustainable fuels, for which passengers could pay additional fees.

Consumer authorities from countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain are concerned that such practices could be considered “misleading actions [or] omissions” which are prohibited under the European Union’s unfair commercial practices directive.

“On their part, the airlines are yet to clarify whether such claims can be substantiated based on sound scientific evidence,” the Commission states.

Contrails-c-William Hook Unsplash

Source: William Hook/Unsplash

Consumer authorities are concerned about potentially misleading environmental claims by carriers

It lists several potential claims regarding environmental protection which might be considered misleading – a practice informally known as ‘greenwashing’.

These include creating the “incorrect” impression that paying fees, to support alternative fuel use or fund climate projects, can fully offset aircraft emissions, it adds, or presenting passengers with calculations on emissions without proof of reliability.

Greenwashing can take other forms – the use of absolute terms on sustainability, claims of future net-zero performance without clear commitments, or referring to sustainable fuels without justifying their environmental impact.

The notification from the Commission, as well as from the Consumer Protection Co-operation network, is seeking responses from the airlines within 30 days that outline proposals to address the concerns.

Once it receives these responses the Commission will arrange meetings with the network and the airlines to discuss the proposed measures.

Implementation of agreed changes will be monitored, the Commission adds: “If the airlines involved do not take the necessary steps to solve concerns raised…Consumer Protection Co-operation authorities can decide to take further enforcement actions, including sanctions.”