Environmental Groups Highlight “Greenwashing” by American, United, Continental Airlines

Major environmental groups sharply criticized American Airlines (NYSE:AMR), United (NYSE:UAL) and Continental Airlines (NYSE:UAL)  for the airlines’ efforts to gut anti-pollution programs while simultaneously bragging about their environmental performance.

Six major environmental groups sent letters  to the CEOs of American Airlines and United (which has recently merged with Continental Airlines), denouncing the airlines for bringing suit in a European court to block a law that holds all airlines accountable for their global warming pollution from flights to, from and within Europe. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2012. American and United have also been lobbying the U.S. Congress to declare the EU law invalid.

Both American Airlines and United promoted their environmental initiatives around Earth Day, with American publishing an article, “AA Reduces Environmental Footprint”, in its in-flight magazine American Way, and United promoting itself as an “environmentally friendly company” in its new, widely publicized “eco-skies” campaign.

The letter notes that if American and United are committed to reducing their environmental impact and protecting the earth, “it makes no sense to spend [their] customers’ money on lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to thwart a crucial anti-pollution program.” The environmental groups urged the airlines to drop the lawsuit, saying “Innovation, not obstruction, is what’s needed now… [J]oin the future of low-carbon aviation by making your actions consistent with your words.”

The letters were signed by the CEOs of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Earthjustice, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club. EDF, CBD and Earthjustice have intervened in the litigation, in which oral argument is expected in Fall 2011.

EDF also submitted advertisements to American Airlines’ American Way and United/ Continental’s Hemispheres in-flight magazines, calling on the airlines to “start flying cleaner” and to stop “dragging their wings”. EDF requested that the airlines respond within a week indicating whether the ads will be accepted for publication.

Global warming pollution from aviation is projected to nearly triple in the next few decades.

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