“ESG But Evil” Delta Air Lines Caught Up In Environmental Scam

Carbon credit fraud has become big news. It involves Delta and also JetBlue. But there was already a lawsuit against Delta for making fraudulent environmental claims.

As the pandemic started, Delta claimed to have gone carbon neutral. I argued that they were using sleight of hand for this – buying carbon offsets, which not only often do not offset carbon, but can increase emissions. For instance, a non-profit may already own forest land. Its mission may be to preserve the forest, so almost by definition it won’t chop down those trees. So it sells credit for saving that forest. And a company claims to have ‘offset’ their emissions by saving these trees that were already saved.

Delta has also used the fig leaf of the environment to mask service cuts, things like announcing that metal cutlery would never return to domestic first class by framing it as ‘replacing’ pandemic-era plastic with disposal wood. (Their announcement about limiting plastics actually featured… plastic cups, because it really was about costs.)

The airline used to brag about its involvement with the Kariba project in Zimbabwe. Bloomberg‘s Matt Levine calls the folks involved “ESG Consultant[s] But Evil.”

As Levine explains, “(1) the money kind of disappeared and (2) a lot of the carbon credits turned out to be fake.” The New Yorker‘s Heidi Blake has the owner of the forest generating the credits on the record, “I don’t know what you’re going to report on this, and I hope to God it’s not all of it, because I probably will go to jail.”

It turns out that they sort of made up numbers as a benchmark for how much deforestation would have happened without a forest’s preservation. There was a reference forest nearby and it basically showed not so much deforestation was happening without the preservations. So the credits weren’t really protecting forests. And they oversold the credits. Matt Levine:

The problem with this anti-deforestation project was that there was too little deforestation. That seems good? For the climate? But bad for the people hawking carbon credits. The idealistic Muench pointed out the problem, and the now-jaded Heuberger was like “meh still fine”:

Greenwashing in the extreme, but that was always the point. However virtue signaling over the environment shouldn’t take precedence over doing things that actually address environmental problems.

American’s efforts working with Google using data for contrail avoidance is actually meaningful. Most of the environmental impact of flying comes from a small portion of trips and can be avoided by changes in altitude. United is investing in direct carbon capture. Environmental problems are real, and deserve serious solutions.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] It wouldn’t at all surprise me if it’s material produced by a consultant, the kind you’ll find at any given major corporation. And I’d be far more concerned with Delta’s greenwashing, wrapping cost cuts in environmental concerns and cheaper indigenous amenity kits, announcing the end of plastic in releases that promote plastic cups, and achieving emissions goals not predominantly by reducing emissions (with an old fleet of aircraft and an oil refinery) but through questionable carbon credits. […]


  1. Like many “sleight of hand” innovations in the industry? DL always seems to be particularly creative in “saying one thing, while doing another”– there’s always been a lot of cynicism around Delta’s claims for the extra money they raised by “selling carbon offsets”.

    Even when there’s a legit “market transaction” behind the scenes? Generally, those markets have no oversight, limited audits and the money either goes into “activities that were going to happen anyway— like your “Preserve the Already Preserved Forest” example– or, worse, into circular shell game transactions where the money doesn’t even prevent the most damaging generation/development from happening.

    The “sales of credits” behind the CAISO “green power grid” scheme are an ideal example– money flows for so-called renewals investments, but actually the coal plants are ENCOURAGED to stay running by the sale of these “offsets”, which are basically a license to pollute.

  2. Can’t wait for Tim to tell us this made great business sense and the other airlines are stupid for not being involved.

    I’m making a pilgrimage through ATL this evening, hoping to be anointed with the honey harvested from the bee hives Delta has installed at its holiest of General Offices and perhaps be permitted to bow before the Service from the Hearth wreath at the Ikea-like entry desk of the Sky Club, provided I be deemed resolute enough in my Amex spend for the blue gates to open.

  3. Carbon offsets are obviously a scam, but so is the idea that CO2 is bad. CO2 does not drive climate. Ice core records shows CO2 changes lag behind temperature changes by hundreds of years. It is the effect of temperature change (from ocean outgassing when temps rise), not the cause. You’ve been duped. Future people will laugh derisively at you CO2 cultists as I do now.

  4. Not surprised that Delta is one of the airlines taking part in shady environmental scams.

    Yet another reason why American is superior.

  5. Delta burned 7% less fuel than United to generate virtually the same amount of passenger revenue. The number will change but the trend will be the same when American reports tomorrow. Delta is genuinely more fuel efficient than its direct competitors

  6. Tim Dunn, totally disingenuous. What counts is fuel burned per passenger mile flown, Delta runs older less fuel efficient aircraft

  7. @ Tim Dunn, Who cares about carbon emissions per revenue. Theoretically, Delta could fly one passenger on A350, charge him $10,000,000 and say they have the best carbon emissions per revenue. That’s an extreme case, but point is there.

    The premium Delta takes (which I applaud) has nothing to do with the environment and emissions.

  8. Calculate fuel burn per ASM. United still falls far below Delta. Delta is also more fuel efficient than American. Delta has the best fuel efficiency advantage where it matters most which is long international routes.
    For everyone except Max that thinks data is all wrong if it doesn’t say what you want, Delta invests in fuel efficiency where it matters most.

  9. Huh? lol. nice to know I reside in your thoughts, Tim. Just randomly bringing me up is so flattering.

    Sorry you hate real data. AA has the newest fleet in the industry including far more most fuel efficient MAXes and NEOs than DL and far more new widebodies as a proportion of their fleet vs DL. AA has no old 757s, 717s, or 767s. Only new generation aircraft yet somehow Tim is even going to try say that Delta is more fuel efficient with their aging planes.
    I don’t need to see your fake data that you make up to suit your narrative to realize you don’t know what you’re talking about.
    Thanks, Tim. Try again. NEXT!
    But I will go ahead and put this on the list of topics you love to randomly spew nonsense about.

  10. Sorry, Tim. I just don’t sit on my couch all day on Gary’s comment section. I have a real job that involves real data, not the nonsense you make up.
    But again… you just gave me such a smile knowing you wanted to bring me up in a section I’m not even active in.

  11. Max
    just calculate AA’s fuel efficiency compared to DL and UA’s tomorrow morning after they report.
    I will guarantee you that they will burn more fuel to generate the same number of ASMs than DL but perhaps slightly better than UA.

    psst… the secret is that DL has far fewer regional jets. All of the big 3 report fuel burn for their ENTIRE network including regional jets.
    Whatever advantage AA has from a newer mainline fleet is more than offset by the lower fuel efficiency of AA’s larger regional jet fleet compared to DL’s.

  12. Again tim
    You made me smile. I remember just a few short weeks ago when you said everyone should ignore AA’s regionals when it came to delta being larger in departures per day
    How you change your tune
    But yes. Per aa mainline. Aa has the newest and most fuel efficient fleet and regional scope delta wants. This isn’t a debate it’s just fact no matter how hard your weird mind tries to skew facts
    Keep dreaming Timmy and stop trying to troll people that actually know something about the industry.
    You’re bad at it
    You live your life in the comments section of good writers. I actually work for a real job and your trolling is just tragic
    But again
    So flattered you think of me on a random Wednesday 😉

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