Saturday, August 20, 2016

Strongest week for oil since March; Self-driving Ubers have arrived; The evolution of greenwashing

1 Strongest week for oil since March (Gulf News) Oil capped its strongest weekly increase in five months after entering a bull market as investors weighed speculation that Opec talks next month could lead to an output freeze, and US inventories dropped.

Futures rose 0.6 per cent in New York. While Opec is unlikely to reach a deal to freeze production, its plans to hold informal talks in Algiers next month “were the spark” behind oil’s rally, according to Morgan Stanley.

Oil has climbed more than 20 per cent since it dipped below $40 a barrel earlier in the month, meeting the common definition of a bull market. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that the nation was open to discussing a freeze after his Saudi counterpart Khalid Al Falih said that informal talks in September may lead to action to stabilise the market.

US oil drillers added 10 rigs this week, extending the biggest and longest increases since April 2014, Baker Hughes Inc data show. An agreement to freeze output is within reach as Saudi Arabia, Iran and non-Opec member Russia are producing at, or close to, maximum capacity, Chakib Khelil, former Opec president and Algerian energy minister, said.

2 Self-driving Ubers have arrived (Emily Price in San Francisco Chronicle) Starting later this month, a fleet of Volvo XC90 SUVs will be picking up and dropping off passengers in Pittsburgh with one interesting twist: they won’t have drivers.

The cars won’t be completely empty though — there will be a “driver” sitting in the driver’s seat in case things get dicey along the ride. Nevertheless, the vehicles are outfitted with sensors, cameras, radar, and GPS receivers that make it possible for them pick you up and get you to your destination without the help of anyone behind the wheel.

There’s even a tablet in the back of each car letting you know you’re in a driverless car, which suggests you pretend the human driver isn’t even there. So far, he or she sometimes needs to grab the wheel when tackling bridges; that task is still difficult for the car’s computer system.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that the need for the company to develop its own self-driving fleet became apparent when Uber realized Google was planning to get into the ride-sharing business down the line.

If Google was successful, and Uber still relied on drivers, the move would eventually put Uber out of business. Volvo worked with Uber on the SUVs, but it won’t be the only car manufacturer with which the ride-hailing service will be working. Uber began road testing its vehicles in Pittsburg in May.

3 The evolution of corporate greenwashing (Bruce Watson in The Guardian) The term greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, back when most consumers received their news from television, radio and print media – the same outlets that corporations regularly flooded with a wave of high-priced, slickly-produced commercials and print ads.

The combination of limited public access to information and seemingly unlimited advertising enabled companies to present themselves as caring environmental stewards, even as they were engaging in environmentally unsustainable practices.

But greenwashing dates back even earlier. American electrical behemoth Westinghouse’s nuclear power division was a greenwashing pioneer. Threatened by the 1960’s anti-nuclear movement, which raised questions about its safety and environmental impact, it fought back with a series of ads proclaiming the cleanliness and safety of nuclear power plants.

By the early 1990s, consumers were wising up to sustainability concerns: polls showed that companies’ environmental records influenced the majority of consumer purchases. This interest in the environment brought an increased awareness of the greenwashing; by the end of the decade, the word had officially entered the English language with its inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Since then, the trend has only increased: a 2015 Nielsen poll showed that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products. Among millennials, that number jumps to 72%.

One shift has been outreach. Many companies are now working to engage customers in their sustainability efforts, even as their core business model remains environmentally unsustainable. The Home Depot and Lowes, for example, both encourage customers to do their part by offering onsite recycling for several products, including compact fluorescent lights and plastic bags. Meanwhile, they continue to sell billions of dollars per year worth of environmentally damaging products, such as paints that are loaded with toxic ingredients and which release noxious fumes.

Greenwashing may have taken on a new shape in the last decade, but it’s still as murky as ever.

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