ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance

Dutch consumer protection authority homes in on green claims in travel sector

Gepubliceerd op 26th Mar 2024

Only days after the KLM green claims case, one of the largest online travel agencies takes "Travel Sustainable" programme offline 

Shortly after the District Court of Amsterdam declared certain green claims made by KLM misleading and unlawful (see our Insight),  one of the largest online travel agencies removed sustainability claims related to its "Travel Sustainable" programme worldwide. The claims included pictures of green leaves and a "sustainability score" (from 1 to 3+).

The claims are removed following conversations with the Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets (Autoriteit Consument & Markt; ACM). This case shows that the ACM also remains active in this area.

Misleading to consumers

According to the ACM, the way in which this programme was presented to consumers was misleading. This included the following points:

  • The name of the programme, "Travel Sustainable", gave the false impression that travel and accommodation within it are sustainable. This was reinforced with the use of imagery of green leaves.
  • The programme gave the false impression that accommodation not affiliated to it (that is, accommodation which did not feature the green leaves and claims) did not make any sustainability efforts at all.
  • It was not sufficiently clear for consumers what the scores were based on. The company did not explain this on the general page about the programme.
  • Not all the measures mentioned at the accommodation could be qualified as measures that provide a significant sustainability benefit. For example, abolishing disposable plastic in hotels is already prohibited in the EU and therefore not an additional sustainability effort initiated by the hotel.

The claims will be removed worldwide and will not be used again. We understand that the online travel agency has also indicated that it is working on an enhanced programme that uses external certification and aims to make the accommodation more sustainable.

Osborne Clarke comment

This case has once again provided businesses with more clarity on which claims are and are not allowed. Although the ruling is not surprising (given the ACM's focus on the sustainability transition, its general scrutiny of greenwashing and focus on the sector transport), it is still useful.

Taking into account the approach of not only the ACM, but also of the European Union, we expect more regulatory enforcement, greenwashing litigation and class actions to follow. In this light, businesses may find it helpful to read the ACM's Guidelines regarding Sustainability Claims for further clarification and examples.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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