Earlier this week, a class action lawsuit was filed against Delta Air Lines alleging that the company is misleading the flying public with its claims of carbon neutrality. The complaint is the latest in the growing trend of greenwashing lawsuits filed against companies of all kinds alleging that their environmental and sustainability claims do not actually match with reality.
In the case, the plaintiff, Mayanna Berrin, alleges that Delta’s claim that it has been carbon-neutral since March 2020 is false and misleading. Berrin acknowledges that Delta has been clear that, at least at present, it achieves carbon neutrality largely by purchasing offsets (after all, that language appears right on the in-flight napkin). And she does not allege that Delta is purchasing an insufficient amount of carbon offsets, at least on paper, to account for Delta’s global emissions. Instead, Berrin criticizes the accuracy and reliability of the offsets issued by voluntary carbon offset market and alleges that these carbon offsets often “overpromise and underdeliver” on their total carbon impact. According to Berrin, these market deficiencies particularly apply to Delta’s offsets, making its claims of carbon neutrality false and misleading.
The allegations in Berrin’s complaint are largely based on media reports on deficiencies in carbon offsets generally, as opposed to deficiencies specifically identified in the offsets Delta has purchased. For example, Berrin generally criticizes the offset market for:
- Unreliable accounting and inaccurate projections,
- Double and triple counting of projects,
- The use of non-additional offsets based on reductions that would have occurred regardless of carbon market involvement,
- Failure to provide immediate offsetting, and
- Relying on projects that are impermanent (such as creating of forests that are ultimately destroyed by natural disaster).
Berrin then alleges that Delta’s own offsets fall victim to these deficiencies.
Among other things, the complaint cites to Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s February 14, 2020 announcement that the airline was going carbon neutral by March 2020. The complaint states that, in announcing Delta’s commitment, Bastian noted that carbon offsets are “not the solution.” However, the complaint fails to mention that Bastian also said that Delta would continue to use jet fuel “for as far as the eye can see.”
On behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Berrin seeks unspecified damages, disgorgement of profits, and an order from the court to stop Delta from making any claims determined to be false or misleading.