A recent consumer class action lawsuit asserts that Delta Air Lines’ carbon neutrality claims are false and misleading to the public.
Glendale, California, resident, Mayanna Berrin, filed the case on behalf of Delta customers who flew Delta while living in the state since March 2020. Berrin claims that Delta’s carbon neutrality pronouncements allowed them to gain market share and charge higher ticket prices. Many consumers, including Berrin, are willing to pay more for flights that are supposedly carbon neutral, but purchased carbon credits were allegedly invalid. The lawsuit claims that the benefits of the offsets were likely temporary and would have happened without Delta’s investment.
“I felt comfortable paying more because I was neutralizing when I needed to travel for work or to see my family,” Berrin told the Associated Press. She explained her frustration and regret when she began having doubts about Delta’s offsets. “They can’t just claim neutrality if that’s not factually accurate.”
This situation, along with other major corporations that have been recently accused of similar actions, sheds light on how “carbon neutral” is realistically defined. In 2020, Delta claimed it would invest $1 billion throughout the next decade to become the world’s first carbon-neutral airline. Like many corporations’ carbon offsetting efforts, this includes purchasing carbon credits, meant to provide funding towards projects which absorb carbon dioxide or prevent pollution. According to the lawsuit, Delta purchases credits from initiatives including wind and solar projects in India and an Indonesian swamp forest.
Consumer Accountability of False Sustainability Claims
Many corporations have capitalized on increased consumer demand for sustainable goods and services by making false sustainability claims. Recently, Nike was accused of illegally labeling collections as “sustainable,” when 90% of products were made from non-biodegradable, plastic-based materials.
With growing concern about climate change, some even experiencing climate anxiety, many consumers seek out environmentally guiltless purchases.
“The language carbon neutral is so provocative. When I hear ‘carbon neutral’, I think you’re not doing anything wrong; you’re not hurting the environment in any way. It’s like you don’t exist.” Krikor Kouyoumdjian, a partner with the lawsuit’s legal firm stated in the AP report. “That’s what the words mean to any rational person: that we can participate in your business without any guilt.”
As part of its sustainability pledge, Delta has taken measures to improve aircraft fuel efficiency, recycle onboard waste, and use more sustainable aviation fuels by 2030. Grant Myatt, Delta spokesperson, described the lawsuit as “without legal merit,” stating that Delta has shifted away from carbon offsets towards decarbonizing operations.
Attorney for Berrin, Jonathan Haderlein, names this lawsuit as the first against a major American airline, and just one such “greenwashing” case based in U.S. consumer protection law. The intended outcome of the case is for Delta to drop its carbon neutrality pledge and fully explain the pollution caused by the company.