Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Nudging truckers

February 4, 2010

Marc Gunther at the Energy Collective reports on two interesting case studies of greening company truck fleets. The first strategy was to spark friendly competition

When Chris McKenna, who manages a fleet of trucks for Poland Spring, learned that the company’s drivers were racking up as much as 1,400 hours a month of idle time, he saw an opportunity to make a difference. Running truck engines in winter kept the cabs warm — the company is based in Maine — but it cost Poland Spring money and polluted the air.

To see which of the company’s 65 drivers were racking up the most idle time, McKenna ranked them, based on data from onboard computers. “All we did was talk to them about it, and put a list up in the break room,” he told me. “Human nature, no one wants to be at the bottom of the list.” To sweeten the deal, the 10 drivers with the lowest idling time got a gift card for fuel they could use for their own cars.

The results were dramatic. Idle time dropped from 1,400 hours in February 2007 to 1000 hours in February 2008 to just 380 hours in February 2009. Depending on fuel costs, cutting idle time has saved the company thousands of dollars a year—roughly $20,000 during 2008, for example.

The second strategy was to change the default rule.

I also spoke with fleet managers at Carrier, the global manufacturing firm that’s part of United Technologies, and at health-care firm Novo Nordisk. At all three companies, dedicated fleet managers came up with simple, win-win strategies that saved their companies money and reduced GHG emissions. Carrier took unnecessary parts and tools out of its repair vans, reducing weight. At Novo Nordisk, Donna Bibbo, manager of fleet and travel, made small changes to the list of company cars made available to sales people; those who wanted an SUV or minivan could still get one, but they needed approval from a supervisor. “For the whole year, I don’t think I ordered 25 minivans,” Bibbo says. In past years, she would order 300 to 350.

Assorted links

January 15, 2010

1) A talking plate that tells you when you’re eating too fast. Yes, it actually talks. No, it doesn’t look fun to eat on. Hat tip: Nirant Gupta

2) A pilot program in the U.K. that gives loans to homeowners for buying energy efficient technologies at no upfront cost. Loan repayments are made over time. Hat tip: Kare Anderson.

3) A claim that cigarette warnings might encourage some people to smoke. Hat tip: Freakonomics.

4) Donate to Haitian relief via texting. Consider the American Red Cross and Yéle Haiti. These two options are not scams. Here’s more on what to know about text donations. Hat tip: Amy Schultz.

Assorted links

December 2, 2009

1) A classroom nudge for college professors. Include one lie in each lecture and ask students to point out the error. They’ll pay attention to the material more closely.

Hat tip: David de Souza

2) Enviromedia, friend of the Nudge blog and the creator of, a tool for ferreting out misleading green ads, has unveiled a new web site,, to help people decode the language of climate change. The United Nation’s climate change conference is this month in Copenhagen.

3) Philadelphia now requires that lenders and homeowners meet in person prior to foreclosure. Will these meetings lessen foreclosure rates?

Hat tip: Christopher Daggett

4) Tips for remembering your reusable grocery bag.

Hat tip: Katie Astofer

5) Because it’s just too good to resist. From a 1952 Life magazine.

Hat tip: Thought Gadgets

Assorted links

November 12, 2009

1) Atlanta is testing out an incentivized recycling program where residents can earn and exchange points for “rewards, gift cards, groceries, and products” with participating retailers. (Hat tip: Mike Erskine)

2a) Rewarding first-graders for eating fruits and vegetables with small prizes.

2b) “‘If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,’ says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.” From Scientific American.

(Hat tips: Christopher Daggett)

3) A scale that tells the world how much you weigh via Twitter. (Hat tip: Justin Holz)

4) Photos of calorie counting nudges at Freakonomics.

Musical stairs

October 9, 2009

Thanks to all the Nudge blog readers who pointed us to this terrific video from Sweden that asks: How can choice architects get people to use the stairs instead of the escalator?

For others curious about the background: The videos are part of something called the Fun Theory project (sponsored by Volkswagen it appears) that, according to its web site, is dedicated to coming up with fun ways to do things we otherwise wouldn’t, usually because of sheer laziness. Like throwing away the trash.

Assorted links

October 7, 2009

1) Many readers pointed to a story on a study about the effect of posting calories in fast food restaurants. Customers noticed the signs and thought they influenced their orders. But they actually ordered food with more calories. Reader Paul Zurawski wonders if customers would have eaten healthier if they had been asked to sign a receipt acknowledging their choices and calorie counts.

2) The top ten annoying alarm clocks. Clocky is No. 1. Hat tip: Daniel Lee.

3) Google’s PowerMeter now works with a handheld device that starts at about $200. What this means is that you would not need a utility company to install a smart meter in your building. Hat tip: Christopher Daggett.

4) The San Francisco airport has begun selling carbon offsets at the electronic check-in kiosks. Philip Frankenfeld has many catchy slogans for this nudge including “Pay dime. Help clime” and “You are now free to roam around the carbon”.

Addendum 5) A vase that lets you know when your flower needs watering. As water evaporates, the vase tilts. Hat tip: John Gibbard.

Nudge grants in action: Social norms and cutting carbon

September 17, 2009

Long time Nudge blog readers may remember the London borough of Barnet, which received money last year for nudge grants. One of those grants went toward a pilot project that taps into social norms to reduce residents’ carbon footprints by asking them to walk more, lower the heat, and take other simple steps that can protect the planet.

A traditional persuasive strategy would be based on stressing how this could benefit the environment. But the council is going further in testing out techniques of influence.

The residents are asked to make pledges in a face-to-face conversation with one of the canvassers who have been going door-to-door in this area.

They are only asked to make some limited pledges – to choose three out of nine options on the pledge card they are shown.

And posters on lampposts proclaim the number of households in that street who have agreed to participate.

The BBC just produced a 38-minute program, Persuading Us to Be Good, about this project and other nudge friendly ideas in the U.K. (Richard Thaler is featured in the program.) As Barnet Council leader Mike Freer says, “We’ve got to stop nagging. If nagging worked we’d all be skinny, we’d all be recycling and we’d all be walking to work.” Listen to it here.

The National University of Singapore nudges

September 9, 2009

Marcus Tay Guan Hock, Sustainability Executive at the National University of Singapore, writes in to say that Nudge “gives me hope as an environmentalist,” and explains how the school used principles of choice architecture to redesign its recycling program.

Here at the National University of Singapore (NUS), we designed our recycling bins to tackle the issue of contamination, applying what you called “Expect Error” from users.

When users throw the wrong things in the recycling bins, it wastes the efforts of those who recycled properly. For example, paper bins are often contaminated with food waste, rendering all of the paper unrecyclable.

This situation is rather serious in Singapore. A Straits Times Article on June 15, “What rubbish,” indicates non-recyclable waste found in all 80 recycling bins surveyed.

At NUS, we did the following two things. They have worked wonders.

  • At the point of disposal, we help people decide if the item can be recycled using proper and clear labels. These labels are designed so that before users can throw trash into the bin, they will see the labels which instruct them what can and cannot be thrown.
  • trash bins 2 NUS

  • We give people an option not to throw garbage into the recycling bin if the garbage cannot be recycled by pairing every set of recycling bins with a trash bin as well. Because some people are not yet environmentally conscious, they just want to get rid of the rubbish in their hands, whether it can be recycled or not. trash bins NUS
  • A pre-earth day nudge: “Paper, plastic, or personal?”

    April 20, 2009

    Using canvas shopping bags at the grocery story instead of the usual paper or plastic ones is one small way to help save the planet. Many companies have adopted strategies for encouraging people to bring their own bags from home by giving small rebates, charging small fees for plastic bags, or placing displays for reusable bags near the checkout counter.

    Reader Will Katz sends along another approach stores may want to consider using. Instead of asking customers if they want to use “Paper or plastic?” Katz suggests that clerks tweak the question by asking “Paper, plastic, or personal?” He says there are lots of advantages.

    -It costs nothing to implement.
    -It plants the seed of an idea in shoppers’ minds and reinforces it every time they shop.
    -It keeps the alliteration, making it more memorable.
    -As more people got in the habit, bag usage would extend to other stores or shopping situations.
    -If the supermarket provided canvas bags for sale at the checkout area, implementation would be immediate.

    And if supermarkets didn’t provide canvas bags in the checkout aisle (say, because the markup on candy is a lot better), reminding the customer about reusable bags would still be a worthy service.