Burson-Marsteller claims to be able to help clients all over the world to counteract activist groups. In Australia, Burson-Marsteller’s work on behalf of clients such as the National Association of Forest Industries and various developers has raised the ire of environmental activists. Protesters representing several environmental groups occupied their offices at the end of 1995 to draw attention to their “dealings with woodchipping and freeway-building clients”.
Burson-Marsteller has helped the oil industry oppose environmental regulation of its activities. Its clients have included American Petroleum Institute, British Petroleum, Chevron, Ford Motor Company, Mitsubishi, Occidental Petroleum and Pennzoil. For example, in 1983 Burson-Marsteller led a $1.8 million campaign to defeat a tax on fossil fuels that was aimed at preventing global warming. The National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, 1,600 large companies, small businesses and farmers formed the American Energy Alliance (AEA) to oppose the tax.
The coalition paid more than $1 million to Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm, to deploy nearly 45 staff members in 23 states during the past two months. ... Burson's operatives drafted anti-BTU editorials and sent them to copy-hungry weekly newspapers. They helped school boards figure their estimated annual energy taxes. They commissioned local economists to produce studies about potential job loss and then organized rallies and press conferences to publicize the results. They bombarded TV and radio stations with feeds from local business owners angry about the BTU tax.
Burson-Marsteller has also helped to form various front groups including "Californians for Realistic Vehicle Standards", which opposed restrictions on automobile emissions, and the "Foundation for Clean Air Progress" (FCAP), which opposed air pollution controls and was funded by energy, transportation and manufacturing companies and whose members include the American Petroleum Institute, Petroleum Marketers Association of America, American Trucking Associations, American Farm Bureau Federation and the Transportation Coalition for Clean Air.
Other front groups set up or aided by Burson-Marsteller include the British Columbia Forest Alliance and the Forest Protection Society in Australia, both representing forest industry interests but seeming to be environmental groups, and Keep America Beautiful (KAB), an anti-littering group that shifts blame for pollution away from its corporate members.
In preparation for the Earth Summit held in 1992, the newly formed Business Council for Sustainable Development, a coalition of about 50 multinational corporations, hired Burson-Marsteller to “make sure the corporate viewpoint was well-stated and well received” at the Summit. Burson-Marsteller issued a press release for the Business Council for Sustainable Development, announcing that the Business Council would be playing a key role in the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro (pictured). It explained that the head of the Council, Stephan Schmidheiny, had been appointed principal adviser for business and industry to Maurice Strong, the Summit’s organiser. Strong had no other special advisers and other interest groups had to submit proposals using formal channels.
Joyce Nelson, author of the book Sultans of Sleaze: Public Relations and the Media observes:
With the able assistance of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, a very elite group of business people (including B-M itself) was seemingly able to plan the agenda for the Earth Summit with little interference from NGOs or government leaders.
Organised business interests such as the Business Council, Burson-Marsteller and the dozens of business lobbyists and trade associations that registered for the summit’s preparatory conferences were able to influence the outcomes of the Earth Summit and avoid effective environmental reforms. The Earth Summit agreements support free trade; avoid specific measures to be met, such as greenhouse gas emission reductions; avoid any reference to overconsumption by affluent nations; and perhaps of most relevance, any mention of transnational companies, let alone controls over them.
The Earth Summit was a follow up of the World Commission on Environment and Development, also referred to as the Brundtland Commission after its chair Gro Harlem Brundtland. Nelson has pointed to the connections between Burson-Marsteller and the Trilateral Commission, a sort of top level international think tank founded in 1973 by David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski. It has more than 300 elite members made up of former, present and future national leaders including George Bush and corporation heads, bankers and politicians from the US, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Nelson also connects the trilateral commission and Burson-Marsteller with the Wise Use Movement in the US and the Share movement in Canada. She says that Laurance Rockefeller, brother of the founder of the trilateral commission David Rockefeller, promoted the multiple-use movement from the early 1960s when he inducted business leaders into it. Some of the key funders of the modern wise use movement are members of the Trilateral Commission and also clients of Burson-Marsteller.