Delta Air Lines faces legal action over carbon neutrality claims

Mayanna Berrin is seeking a class action lawsuit relating to advertisements that the airline has run since early 2020. Her claims are grounded in the fact that Delta stated that is “the world’s first carbon-neutral airline” – a statement made online, in out-of-home advertising and on napkins handed to passengers.

Berrin’s is arguing that the claim is “demonstrably false”, as technology does not exist at scale to enable commercial passenger flights to operate on a low-emissions basis. As such. Delta and many other airlines have opted to invest heavily in carbon offsetting.

Delta pledged to achieve carbon neutrality in 2020, setting aside $1bn for emissions reductions and offsetting over a decade. It stated that it would prioritise investments in nature-based projects that conserve and restore habitats. Shortly after this, the adverts that are the subject of Berrin’s legal challenge began to circulate.

The credibility of some nature-based carbon offsets has come under intense scrutiny this year. In January, a major investigative journalism project spearheaded by the Guardian claimed that carbon credit provider Verra was offering many ‘worthless’ forest credits to corporations.

It alleged that 90% of Verra’s rainforest credits were not delivering the stated climate benefits. Verra has disputed the findings but has, nonetheless, set out plans to replace its rainforest carbon credit methodologies by 2025.

Berrin, represented by legal firm Haderlein and Kouyoumdjian LLP, will argue that Delta customers will likely not have been aware of these controversies and have been falsely misled into thinking their flights had no climate impact.

Delta has argued that the lawsuit is “without legal merit” and has stated that it has “fully transitioned its focus away from carbon offsets towards the decarbonisation of operations”.

Earlier this year, the business published a pathway to net-zero by 2050 and stated it will seek verification under the Science-Based Targets Initiative’s net-zero standard. To do so, it would need credible plans to reduce emissions across all scopes by at least 90% – relying on offsetting for 10% or less of its footprint.

A judge will now decide whether to take Berrin’s case further.

Increasing scrutiny

Delta is not the only airline to face greenwashing accusations recently.

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK ordered Etihad Airlines to remove two of its social media adverts for “exaggerating” the environmental benefits of its flights.

This followed an ASA ban imposed on an ad campaign from Lufthansa stating that the airline was “protecting [the] future” of the planet.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie