Ames, Iowa
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Ivy researcher impacts European legislation

Like any researcher, Henrik Sternberg was intrigued by a question for which there was no data available to answer it. That question was essentially, “What’s the environmental impact of European legislation on the road transportation sector?”

To answer that big question, Sternberg, an assistant professor of supply chain management in the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business, enlisted the help of volunteers in Scandinavia and beyond to help collect data on truck movements.

Ultimately, the study uses this data to investigate international freight traffic on the road in Scandinavia and to document trucking violations. The research project, titled Cabotagestudien, draws its name from the term “cabotage.” This basically refers to the loading, transport and subsequent delivery of goods in a country that belongs to the European Union but is carried out by a freight vehicle that is registered in another EU country.

The idea for this research came from Sternberg’s doctoral dissertation, where he looked at the use of truck driver time and noticed a lack of efficiencies. He realized that carriers were more concerned with having access to low-cost drivers. For example, the hourly cost for a driver from Denmark is around $50 while one from Bulgaria is as little as $4.00. Having efficiencies would lead to more environmentally friendly practices.

“I saw that as a problem due to the polluting nature and all the externalities from transportation,” Sternberg said. “That’s why I was really passionate about working with showing what this problem actually looks like.”

Since 2013, more than 20,000 people have contributed data to Cabotagestudien. Sternberg inspired participation by reaching out to people he could rely on – truckers who were politically active on social media or in unions – and pitching the project to them as a way to show politicians and police what kind of vehicles are on the road. He ultimately received buy-in from 10 percent of Swedish truckers to use the Cabotagestudien app he created to record and share observations of other hauling units they saw on the road.

Sternberg said the study attracted some devoted people, one of whom has submitted 16,000 observations on the app.

“It teaches us a lot about the power of crowdsourcing and the power of data,” Sternberg said. “We didn’t anticipate all the uses and the kind of dissemination that would come from putting the data in the hands of the users.”

Now the collected data is being used to analyze a variety of topics, including the environmental impacts of the trucking industry, criminal behavior and even the need for parking, and more.

Cabotagestudien has received a lot of media attention for its novel methodology and impact. Sternberg has appeared on all Swedish TV channels and in more than 700 news appearances to speak about the study. It’s also been the basis for numerous pieces of legislation and one of the main factors behind the EU’s large-scale mobility package, which addresses a number of problems in the European road transportation sector.

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