Delta Air Lines is facing a lawsuit that alleges its $1 billion carbon neutrality claim is “false and misleading” as it heavily relies on offsets that have minimal impact on mitigating global heating.
In February 2020, the US airline made a public commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by investing $1 billion over the next decade to offset all greenhouse gas emissions from its operations worldwide. The plan included measures such as purchasing carbon credits generated from conservation efforts in rainforests, wetlands, and grasslands, as well as reducing jet fuel usage and improving plane efficiency.
The lawsuit, filed in California, takes issue with Delta’s assertion of being “the world’s first carbon-neutral airline,” a claim made in advertisements, LinkedIn posts, in-flight napkins, and statements by company executives, according to the legal action.
The class-action lawsuit argues that Delta’s carbon neutrality claim is demonstrably false since it heavily relies on carbon offsets that do little to address the climate crisis. Plaintiffs contend that customers may have purchased Delta tickets believing their travel would have no environmental impact, and many may not have made those purchases without the carbon neutrality claim.
Delta Air Lines has not yet responded to requests for comment.
The plaintiffs’ attorney from Haderlein and Kouyoumdjian LLP, Krikor Kouyoumdjian, emphasizes the significance of the term “carbon neutral,” stating that it implies the absence of any negative environmental impact. However, he argues that this notion contradicts reality and cannot simply be paid away.
The lawsuit asserts that there is a market premium for environmentally friendly products, and Delta has profited from its allegedly misleading environmental claim. It refers to scientific and journalistic evidence indicating flaws in carbon credits from the unregulated voluntary market that Delta has relied upon for its environmental claims.
In a January investigation, The Guardian, Die Zeit, and SourceMaterial found that Verra rainforest credits, utilized by major corporations including Disney, Shell, and Gucci, were often based on the protection of rainforests that were not under threat, making them essentially worthless according to independent studies. The lawsuit against Delta references this investigation, although Verra disputes the findings.
Haderlein and Kouyoumdjian seek to compel the company to retract its carbon neutrality claim and provide a full disclosure of the pollution generated by its operations.
The attorney, Jonathan Haderlein, explains that the voluntary carbon offset market, as it currently operates, cannot ensure genuine carbon neutrality for a company. He warns that relying on offsets with significant methodological errors, both intentional and unintentional, is reckless when establishing an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy centered on climate change.
The lawsuit not only addresses climate change concerns but also highlights the unfair advantage Delta gains by charging a premium for supposedly greener products. This, the plaintiffs argue, undermines other companies committed to higher-quality offsets or more substantial sustainability efforts, ultimately disadvantaging consumers.
Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, had previously expressed the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability, acknowledging the need for innovation in addressing environmental challenges.
This lawsuit follows a wider regulatory crackdown on green claims in the UK and Europe. Evian is also facing legal action over its carbon neutrality claim that relies on offsets. The water brand’s parent company, Danone, argues for the case to be dismissed, claiming it defies science and common sense.
The progress of the case will now be determined by a judge.