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Home  » Campaigns » Past Campaigns » Greenwash Awards

Mitsubishi and Laguna San Ignacio

by Joshua KarlinerCorpWatch
March 1st, 1998

Our quarterly Greenwash Award goes to the Mitsubishi Group of Companies for its ceaseless efforts to portray its various businesses -- some of the most destructive on earth -- as environmentally friendly.

More specifically, this award goes to the Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsubishi Chemical, and the Mitsubishi subsidiary ESSA - Exportadora de Sal, S.A (a joint venture with the Mexican government) for their ongoing public relations initiative to convince the world that it is environmentally benign, as well as socially and economically desirable to establish the largest industrial salt evaporation facility in the world in a lagoon that is the last pristine calving ground of the California Gray Whale.

In fact, this facility threatens the Gray Whale, along with several other species of sea life. Moreover, the salt mined will be used primarily as feedstock for chlorine production, which in turn is the element reponsible for industrial society's most toxic chemicals.

Each Award recipient will receive a ton of plankton (the Gray Whale's food source), delivered to their offices.

Greenwash exhibit "A" is a slick full page advertisement that Mitsubishi Corporation placed in the The New York Times in June, 1995, claiming that it has been operating "in harmony with the whales for more than two decades." Greenwash exhibit "B" is a container of ESSA table salt CorpWatch recently picked up in Mexico; emblazoned on the front is the image of a Gray Whale "spyhopping," while on the back the consumer information provided is that the salt is "produced...through a natural process that is completely compatible with the environment."

Laguna San Ignacio is located in the middle of a United Nations' Biosphere Reserve in Baja California; it is in a zone where any kind of development is officially "restricted." What's more, the proposed Mitsubishi saltworks in Baja's majestic Vizcaino desert doesn't only renew a threat to the Gray Whales which migrate to Laguna San Ignacio every year (the California Gray was just removed from the endangered species list, after a multi-decade effort to foster its recovery). The project also threatens the diverse wildlife in the area, which includes green and black turtles, mountain lions, and resident and migratory birds such as the black brant goose, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, osprey and blue-winged teal.

The San Ignacio Lagoon and adjacent coastal areas also host lobster, abalone, scallop and clam populations which provide various local fishing communities with 75 percent of their livelihoods. The salt works project threatens to undermine the sustainability of these communities, while fundamentally altering the social, economic and physical landscape of the area.

Mitsubishi, through ESSA, already runs a massive salt works operation adjacent to the Baja town of Guerrero Negro in Laguna de Ojo de Liebre, the second of three calving grounds for the Gray Whale on the Baja peninsula. Thus, the Mitsubishi claim that it has been operating "in harmony" with the whales for years. Yet on closer inspection, Mitsubishi and the whales are singing discordant tunes.

When operations began in Guerrero Negro, the whales stopped frequenting a relatively small lagoon there in response to the industrial activity. Current operations are conducted in the much larger Laguna Ojo de Liebre, a lagoon which is also significantly larger than San Ignacio. Therefore, it is quite possible that a new facility in the up until now pristine Laguna San Ignacio will affect the whales in a far more serious manner than the saltworks in Ojo de Liebre.

Furthermore, the plans for San Ignacio are big. According to the current scheme, 6,000 gallons of saltwater per second will be pumped out of the lagoon by a battery of 17 loud diesel engines. Earthen dikes created by earth-moving machinery to contain the 116 square miles of evaporating ponds will radically alter rainfall drainage patterns. A 1.25 mile-long pier for transporting the salt to ocean-going ships will be built in a key abalone and lobster fisheries area, and in the whales' migration paths. All of this threatens to disrupt the whale's migration and calving patterns, while potentially destroying the livelihood of local fisherfolk. It is estimated that overall, the project will create only approximately 208 jobs.

Salt Container - Mitsubishi
See text of salt container

Where Does All That Salt Go Anyway?

Mitsubishi officials would lead one to believe that they're extracting salt to keep the world's households stocked with seasoning for their food, and to keep roads safe during icy conditions. However the vast majority of the seven million tons a year of salt that Laguna San Ignacio is projected to produce, is destined to be used as inputs to chemical products such as chlorinated compounds.

As a study of the Mexican salt industry explains, the salt coming from Baja California is some of the purest in the world. Therefore, "a major part of all exports will always be consumed by the chemical industry and only a fraction will be used as de-icing salt or for nutrition." Or as Dr. Mark Spalding, a Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert on Mitsubishi's salt operations in Mexico comments, "if you want chlorine to bleach paper, you want salt from Baja."

The expansion of Mitsubishi's salt operations is occurring in tandem with the global expansion of the chemical industry, including chlorine production. For instance, new chlorine facilities are currently being built in Mexico, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Thailand, and Taiwan, to name but a few. All will require salt to produce various chlorinated products. Mitsubishi's current operations in Baja already provide at least 50 percent of Japan's industrial salt. ESSA also exports to the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and various countries in South America.

In this respect, the expansion of Mitsubishi's Baja saltworks to Laguna San Ignacio, would not only affect the Gray Whales and ecosystems of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, but would contribute to a series of local toxic problems around the world. Mitsubishi's salt will also become an even more significant contributing factor to the global proliferation of persistent organic pollutants such as dioxin -- a byproduct of chlorine production and use.

One might say that the Gray Whales are but an indicator species of the tremendous impacts Mitsubishi's proposed saltworks will have.

Global Greenwash

Thus in a classic piece of obfuscation, while Mitsubishi is extracting a raw material that is a primary input to chemicals whose highly hazardous byproducts permeate all the world's ecosystems, it trumpets its “long standing commitment to the conservation and the wise use of all natural resources.”

This spin is all the more masterful when one begins to understand just how widespread and destructive Mitsubishi's activities are. The Mitsubishi trading company, known as Mitsubishi Corporation, by itself is the largest corporation in the world. The Mitsubishi group or "family" of companies is made up of about 160 Mitsubishi corporations -- such as Mitsubishi Motors, Mitsubishi Bank, Mitsubishi Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The group is gigantic: for instance, the combined revenues of just the top twelve Mitsubishi companies are comparable to the Gross Domestic Product of Mexico and Central America combined.

Overall, Mitsubishi may well be the most environmentally destructive corporate force on the face of the Earth.

Take forests as an example. Despite the recent agreement of two U.S. subsidiaries -- Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Electric -- with the Rainforest Action Network -- an agreement where these Mitsubishi companies agreed to use tree free paper in exchange for RAN ending its boycott (an agreement which should be applauded for its positive aspects, yet examined with a critical eye) the Mitsubishi Group of companies, is still one of the top destroyers of forests on the planet. Thus when Mitsubishi Corporation claims that it has a “long standing commitment” to resource conservation, its rhetoric defies reality.

Saving the Whales (and the Planet) From Mitsubishi

None of Mitsubishi's whale oriented greenwash would have occurred had it not been for the pressure that communities and environmental groups in Mexico, as well as concerned organizations in the United States put on this giant corporation. The campaign to protect Laguna San Ignacio has also compelled the Mexican government's environmental agency to reject the initial environmental impact assessment, and to appoint an international panel of experts to assess the project. Mitsubishi has been forced to redesign the project in an attempt to ameliorate the worst parts of it. Nevertheless, the changes it has made are reported to be minimal relative to the project's impact. Most every group involved still wants to see the project cancelled.

The new environmental impact assessment is due in the Spring of 1999. Until then, continuing public pressure on Mitsubishi and the Mexican government, along with support for the Mexican activists organizing on the ground is essential.

More CorpWatch information and analysis on the issue:

New York Times Ad - Tuesday, June 27, 1995, pp. A9:

Every winter, the gray whale migrates south to mate and calve.

Some of these great mammals stop in quiet lagoons in Baja, California. We know because Mitsubishi Corporation, working with the Mexican government, has supported a salt production facility in the region, in harmony with the whales, for more than two decades.

The joint venture company, Exportadora de Sal S.A. de C.V. (ESSA), is proud of the existing Baja solar evaporation salt collection facility at Guerrero Negro. Mitsubishi Corporation is please to support this effort to harvest a valuable renewable resource. Recently, ESSA has begun to explore the development of new salt production in the region near San Ignacio lagoon that will result in improved economic conditions and a better future for local families.

But first, we must ensure that the gray whale and other wildlife populations will not be harmed. In accordance with guidelines from the Mexican environmental authorities on this project, ESSA will commission a further environmental impact assessment of the proposed new facility, which will be reviewed by a group of internationally recognized scientists and members of the academic community. This new facility must be compatible with the local Vizcaino Desert Biosphere Reserve, the gray whale, and other natural assets. Mitsubishi Corporation takes its responsibilities for environmental stewardship very seriously. Until we are sure that nature and mankind can live in harmony, we will not go forward.

"We believe a business cannot continue to exist without the trust and respect of society for its environmental performance." ---Mitsubishi Corporation

In text box:

Statement of Environmental Principles

Sustainable environmental stewardship has to integrate environmental, economic, and a broad range of social considerations. Mitsubishi Corporation has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to conservation and the wise use of all natural resources. This philosophy of stewardship governs our trade and investment activities worldwide and leads us to the following commitments regarding the San Ignacio project.

  • Mitsubishi Corporation, along with our Mexican government partners, will proceed only when scientifically documented and approved plans to protect the environment are in place.
  • We support an independent assessment to assure protection of the local environment, gray whales, and other wildlife.
  • We will proceed only if the project is environmentally sound and can be so sustained over the long term.

Sponsored by Mitsubishi Corporation, Corporate Communications Department, 6-3 Marunouchi, 2-chome, Chiyoda - ku, Tokyo 100-86 Japan.

Salt container:

Sal de alta calidad, producia con salmueras obtenidas a partir de la evaporacion solar de agua del mar, mediante un proceso natural plenamente compatible con el ambiente.

High quality salt produced with brine obtained through the natural process of solar evaporation of sea water, which is completely compatible with the environment.

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