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Selling Sustainability: Why an Airline Wants You To Fly Less


You’d assume that if an airline company launches a new digital campaign, it would encourage you to fly to new destinations. However, when it comes to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, they’re selling sustainability and encouraging its customers to fly less. 

In an open letter sent to newspapers the airline asks “can you fly less?”. The article, paired with a video, went to worldwide press including the New York Times. Whether it’s taking the train or talking over video-chat instead, they want travellers to be more conscious of their carbon footprint.

While it may seem counterintuitive, KLM is only joining a larger group of companies putting sustainability over product sales. This falls in line with wider discussions about climate change and saving the planet from brands and consumers.

For many, this campaign might appear as nothing more than an attempt at shock value. The airline profits from short-haul flights and connecting international passengers. As a result, a successful campaign will negatively affect their profits.

However, when companies choose to take a political stance, it helps their business in the long haul. By openly stating what a company believes in, especially when it goes against their profit margin, it makes customers relate to and trust them more.

It’s no secret that climate change is happening faster than scientists feared and human action has been too slow. As a result, you’ll notice your favourite companies “going green”.

Change the narrative

When we see fast-fashion clothing companies step away from the £1 bikinis and embrace a more circular economy, or a beverage company attempts to make more recyclable products, they’re re-writing their narrative. Despite their contributions to carbon pollution, by addressing it and trying to change, companies evoke public respect for their public political stance.

At its core, sustainability PR is about delivering greater value to customers while maintaining that the brand stays viable over time. In order for the latter to happen, customers have to enlist their trust in your brand. For KLM that was done by acknowledging their impact on the planet and working to change it.

You could choose to launch your campaign with an open letter like KLM to create thought leadership in a growing political culture. Allowing your brand to connect more intimately with the public so they resonate with your campaign choices, or you could write a press release. This allows the media to interpret your campaign in a way that may result in more coverage, but either way, you’re changing the narrative.

Deliver greater value

It is clear that KLM is concerned about their impact on the planet and creating a more sustainable airline. However, it would have been easier for them to raise their prices to compensate for more efficient jets. Especially as people travel now more than ever.

What’s important to remember though, is that in order to create a successful sustainability campaign, your brand must stay viable over time.

It is no longer about delivering expensive alternatives for everyday items in the name of saving the planet. Especially now when sustainability is shifting from a trend to a cultural norm and expectation. In order to find long-term success, your brand has to offer affordable and realistic alternatives.

For an airline company like KLM that has more efficient jets, less polluting fuels and carbon-offsetting projects, passengers are purchasing assurance of their wise choices as well as a ticket to wherever they’re going.

Sustainability must be performative

Thinking about creating a sustainability campaign for your brand? Be mindful of how your consumers will be included in your efforts. When people believe their inclusion will have a positive impact, they are more likely to engage with the message.

Sustainability has become a necessary strategy in any communications campaign. However, the choice to be “good” is what makes sustainability campaigns succeed. When your brand’s sustainability motives are authentic and you bring your customers along for the journey, that’s when campaigns like KLM’s succeed.

Looking to develop an integrated communication campaign and want to have a chat about implementing a winning strategy? Get in touch at or call 0161 850 0565.


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