US Airline Delta faces USD 1 Billion Lawsuit for Carbon Credit Greenwashing

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by Aaroshi Rathor,

Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Image of Delta Airlines aircraft landing with green field
Image of Delta Airlines, thanks to Corgaasbeek on Pixabay

The US airline Delta has been hit with a USD 1 billion class action lawsuit for misleading consumers and passengers about its carbon-neutrality promises. According to the recently filed case, the airlines used dubious carbon offsets to support their fraudulent and deceptive claims that they were the world's first carbon-neutral airline. 

What the airline had promised with regard to carbon neutrality? 

Delta announced ambitions to become carbon-neutral in February 2020 and pledged $1 billion to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions from its operations globally over the following ten years. It included ideas for buying carbon credits generated by the preservation of wetlands, grasslands, and rainforests, as well as proposals to use less jet fuel and fly more efficiently. 

When the company announced in 2020 that it would go carbon-neutral, Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, stated “There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution. We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation.” 

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What does the lawsuit state with regard to their carbon-neutral claims?

Mayanna Berrin, a resident of California, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that Delta relied on the voluntary carbon market to obtain its carbon offsets rather than fulfilling its initial commitment to achieve carbon neutrality through the use of sustainable fuels and carbon removal. 

According to the class action lawsuit, Delta's claim of being carbon neutral is manifestly untrue because it mainly relies on worthless offsets that have no effect on the global warming situation. It asserts that customers would have bought Delta tickets if they had believed they had no environmental impact, and many wouldn't have without the claim of carbon neutrality

The lawsuit also states that the airlines also promoted these deceptive claims through their in-flight amenities and company executives, along with marketing campaigns and advertisements that convinced consumers to buy more expensive tickets they believed had no impact on the environment.   

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What are Voluntary Carbon Offset Markets? 

The market for voluntary carbon offsets is made up of businesses and nongovernmental organisations that encourage financial support for environmentally friendly initiatives, including renewable energy and the fight against deforestation. Companies earn carbon offsets in the form of credits that prove the quantity of carbon that was prevented from being released in return for their investment in these projects. 

How did Delta greenwash with the purchase of carbon credits? 

Big enterprises now use the terms ‘green investments’ and ‘sustainability’ to deceive their clients about the sustainability of their operations. Delta is no different. The lawsuit claims that Delta has acquired credits from projects like solar and wind farms in India, a swamp forest in Indonesia, and a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia. The corporation made generalisations about buying carbon credits in order to draw in its target market with the phrase "the world's first carbon-neutral airline." The complaint says that the airline is making deceptive claims about its carbon-neutrality and that its actual operations are not carbon-neutral. 

How is Greenwashing taking place in the aviation industry? 

The aviation industry has repeatedly faced criticism for its use of greenwashing techniques. Earlier this year, German airline Lufthansa introduced new Green Fare flights with the aim of compensating for flight-related carbon emissions in the highly priced tickets to fly sustainably. Climate activists, on the other hand, criticised the airlines for allegedly greenwashing their passengers by charging them expensive green fares and leading them to believe that by doing so, they are benefiting the environment and lowering their carbon footprint. 

Similarly, Dutch airline KLM was recently sued for greenwashing by environmentalists due to its deceptive "Fly Responsibly" campaign, which advertised the company's fictitious sustainability activities. According to the advertising campaign, the airline is "creating a more sustainable future" and is on target to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. Due to false promises about how green it is, the advertisement has been removed.  

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Although it will take some time for the Delta lawsuit to support its claims of carbon neutrality, it should serve as a stark warning to the aviation industry not to mislead consumers with bogus green claims as the planet's global temperature continues to rise. 

Yew, we must eliminate greenwashing from business practices, given the rate of climate deterioration we are witnessing, time is a luxury we cannot obstruct with false claims that only add to climate change. Business also needs to be compelled to act better, and the EU’s drive to expel greenwashing and insist on sustainability and durability in product design will undoubtedly set the precedent for punitive, legally enforceable measures that will, we hope sooner than later, expand into the aviation sector. 

For more insight on greenwashing and ESG, visit our Featured Articles page        


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