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In this episode of Lehigh University’s College of Business ilLUminate podcast, we are speaking with Saif Mir about his research on how messaging can help nudge truck drivers to voluntarily reduce truck idling. Mir is an assistant professor in decision and technology analytics and teaches courses in supply chain operations management. His research interests are in the domain of behavioral supply chain management, examining factors contributing to sustainability and developing buyer supplier relationships.

Mir spoke with Jack Croft, host of the ilLUminate podcast. Listen to the podcast here and subscribe and download Lehigh Business on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Below is an edited excerpt from that conversation. Read the complete podcast transcript [PDF]

Jack Croft: Now, you've talked about how you research is in the context of nudging. I think most of us are familiar with nudging, whether as the nudger or the nudgees or both. But if you could talk a little bit about what you mean by nudging and how it translates into an academic research question.

Saif Mir: When you think about a nudge and just pretty much a literal translation will be a push, right? When we talk about nudging in the academic context, it basically means or implies an initiative or a push to persuade an individual to change behavior, hopefully, in our particular preferred direction, right? An example would be, and one of the most famous studies was, pretty much just seeing the behavior of hotel guests and whether they would be nudged into recycling their bath towels-- well, not recycling-- or reusing their bath towels would be the correct term here, right, and not giving for washing every day. And that would be done simply by putting display cards in the washroom, which would inform them about either the percentage of hotel guests that reuse their bath sheets or also talking about the environmental impact, the water conservation initiatives that the hotel has going on. 

Croft: I was wondering what was it that sparked your interest in the trucking industry and the issue of truck idling in particular?

Mir: if you think about trucking, it's also known as logistics, right? Logistics is such an important part of the community. And I'll also say that even though it is right in front of us, it has been consistently undervalued. I think had it not been for COVID, people would not have realized the importance of supply chain, right? That's when all the supply chains started breaking down and people didn't have their goods. And so when you think about trucking or logistics, you have to realize that it is really, really an important aspect for any nation.

Just if you take U.S., for example, the American Transport Association statistics or reports show that in 2022, the tracking accounted for 72.6% of the nation's freight, right? And we have more than 3.5 million truck drivers that were employed in 2022. Obviously trucking is an important part of-- or trucking industry as such is such an important part critical for the nation's economy. And then when you think about truck idling, well, for one, what is truck idling? Truck idling is instances when the engine is on and the truck is not moving. It has a direct implication because on the fuel, right? And so they're obviously fuel cost associated with that. And then obviously there are environmental and social impacts associated with it too. 

Croft: Could you explain what social norms and personal norms are within the context of nudging, and how the two differ and how they play into this messaging.

Mir: when you think about nudging, nudging can be implemented in many ways. And the way that we were actually going about it in our study was by using messages and specifically using messages which were framed or scripted using normative behavior. And when I say normative behavior, I mean social norms and personal norms. Now, I'll just elaborate a little bit about what social norms are and then I'll talk about personal norms. When you think about social norms, social norms are general beliefs about how somebody should behave in a group or society. And if you think about it, people are concerned about how they are perceived in a society, right? We are always worried about how others perceive us. When it is known to us, what others are thinking about us or what others think about a particular behavior, it is likely that we'll change ourselves to adapt to the behavior.

Now, social norms, again, out of two types, the first is descriptive, which is basically referring to what is our behavior that is observed. And an example would be just by giving a statistic, right? By saying 80% of the drivers reduce truck idling. Or if I go back to the example of recycling towels at a hotel, 90% of the guests at this hotel prefer to reuse the towel. So, it's descriptive because it gives you a definite number of the number of people in the society who think in a particular way. The other type of social norm is injunctive, which talks about behaviors that ought to be done, or behaviors that are approved or looked upon highly in the society. And this can be implemented just by telling them we think that reducing idling is a good way to save the environment, we think, reducing idling is a good way to help the organization. It shows approval for a particular behavior. These kind of messages actually use the beliefs about a person and make it salient to the individual, right? In my case, make the idling behavior, salient to the truck driver, and hope that they will reduce idling.

The other kind of norm is personal norm, which if you think about it, every person has their own value system within themselves, their own beliefs, what they think is right or wrong. And by showing them a message, we might evoke on their personal values and try to reduce idling, right? These messages will just talk about how if you minimize idling, you show that you care about the environment, right?

Croft: What are some of the potential solutions? And we talked about this upfront, but in light of looking at the impact that messaging can have, what are some of the potential solutions that could reduce or someday, hopefully eliminate our reliance on trucks burning fuel while idling just to basically keep their driver safe?

Mir: I think this is a tricky question. I would like to add that idling is related with driver comfort. Right? So, it would be wrong to say that truck drivers should not idling, right? Everybody is a human, everybody has a right to live. Truck drivers are very, very important part of the nation's economy. I think it's just an operational necessity if I can put in that way.

And so when you think about it, I think it has to be alternative fuel sources, right? When you think about alternatives to resources, making APUs or auxiliary power units mandatory, which can actually help in reducing idling. But at the same time, maintain comfortable levels for the truck drivers. I did talk about autonomous vehicles initially, but again, that's a whole different topic, which will require a different podcast about the implications of autonomous vehicles and how it can result in job losses around America. But then also, we have to realize that there's a truck driver shortage going on. There are many different dynamics at play. And the situation is much more critical than we think.

Saif Mir

Saif Mir

Saif Mir, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Decision and Technology Analytics at Lehigh University College of Business.