Delta Air Lines is facing a class action lawsuit over claims that it misrepresented its environmental impact by presenting itself in advertising and promotional activities as being “carbon neutral.”

A complaint filed on behalf of a Delta passenger in a California court, said that the airline “has repeatedly touted itself as “the world’s first carbon-neutral airline” in advertisements, press releases social media posts, and other channels, including in-flight napkins, leading the customer to purchase flights at a premium “due to her belief that by flying Delta she engaged in more ecologically conscious air travel and participated in a global transition away from carbon emissions.”

The complaint states that Delta’s reliance on participation in the voluntary carbon market to offset its emissions makes its carbon neutrality claim false, given the market’s credibility issues, ranging from inaccurate accounting and speculative emissions reduction forecasts to questions about the permanence of carbon reductions and reliance on projects that would have occurred without the investments.

The complaint adds:

“Plaintiff would not have purchased Defendant’s services, or at the very least would have paid substantially less for those services, if she understood at the time of purchase that Defendant’s carbon neutral representations were false.”

In a statement provided to ESG Today, a Delta spokesperson said that the “lawsuit is without legal merit,” and added:

“Delta committed to carbon neutrality in March 2020, and since March 31, 2022, has fully transitioned its focus away from carbon offsets toward decarbonization of our operations, focusing our efforts on investing in sustainable aviation fuel, renewing our fleet for more fuel-efficient aircraft and implementing operational efficiencies.”

The lawsuit comes as companies globally face increasing scrutiny of their environmental sustainability claims, with consumers and regulators increasingly on the lookout for greenwashing, or claims that exaggerate or misrepresent the impact or sustainability profile of products and business operations. A UK advertising regulator, for example, recently ruled that a Lufthansa ad gave a misleading impression of the airline’s environmental impact, and ordered the company to ensure that the basis of future environmental claims in its ads was made clear.

Delta announced in 2020 a commitment to invest $1 billion towards funding efforts to advance clean air technologies, reduce carbon emissions and waste, and establish new projects to mitigate the balance of emissions, and the company has said that it aims to become the world’s first carbon neutral airline. In a recent presentation to employees, the company outlined its roadmap to achieve its goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with efforts focused largely on the evolution to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), as well as on participation in efforts to develop more sustainable aircraft and technologies.

The Delta spokesperson added:

“Delta is a vigorous advocate for more sustainable aviation, adopting industry-leading climate goals as we work towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

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