Ashley LaPlaca ’20, Young Do Kim publish research on sustainability and college athletics

The psychology major, minoring in sport management and coaching, collaborated with the assistant professor of sport management to investigate how the pro-environmental initiatives of college athletic departments influence the psychological responses of consumers.

In recent years, North American sport organizations at the collegiate and professional levels have played a sizable role in inspiring fans to embrace environmentally-responsible behaviors, building strategic partnerships to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of organizations or sporting events.

As part of their recent research, Ashley LaPlaca ’20, a psychology major who minored in sport management and coaching, and Assistant Professor of Sport Management Young Do Kim examined how the pro-environmental initiatives of college athletic departments influence the psychological responses of consumers.

Ashley LaPlaca ’20 and Young Do Kim

Their research, titled “Marketing and communicating sustainability through college athletics: The effects of pro-environmental initiatives on the belief-attitude-intention hierarchy,” was published in February in the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, a well-established multi-disciplinary publication highlighting the marketing of higher education.

In collaboration with Changhyun Nam, a teaching faculty member at Florida State University, the research by the co-authors found evidence that consumers who believe the environmental benefits of the athletic department’s pro-environmental initiatives have a positive attitude toward the initiatives. In turn, the positive attitudes of consumers lead to their behavioral intentions to engage in environmentally responsible behaviors through forms of volunteerism and donation.

According to the authors, the research provides three important managerial implications. First, college athletic departments in North America are highly visible and serve as a social force and strategic communication platform to induce their stakeholders to engage in environmentally responsible behaviors. Secondly, consumers’ intentions to involve in environmentally responsible behaviors tend to be triggered by the perceived beliefs about the positive consequences of the environmental initiatives. Finally, the college athletic departments continue their efforts into advancing green initiatives as well as effective messaging strategies to build a strong consumer belief system regarding the essence of environmental stewardship.

From a practical point of view, the college athletic department as a leverageable asset plays an important role in helping bolster institutional identity and achieve an institution’s environmental goals and objectives. In their literature review section, LaPlaca and Kim highlighted the Schar Center’s LEED Gold certification.

According to the authors, their research can be used in a variety of ways but, in the simplest form, it indicates how college athletic departments can be a vehicle for environmental efforts. Consumers of college athletics, especially students, are likely to notice the profound impact their athletic departments have on the environment.

LaPlaca and Kim initiated the research project in fall 2018. During her junior and senior years, LaPlaca took on intellectually challenging tasks and put tireless efforts into this research project, Kim said.

“She had invaluable scholarly experiences and learned essential research techniques and procedures from the Elon IRB approval to a yearlong peer-review publication processes,” he said. “Thanks to her passion, work ethic and intellectual ability, she was named the 2020 Provost Scholar and awarded the 2019-20 Sustainability Research Scholars grant.”

LaPlaca also received a competitive SURE grant and gave research presentations at the 2019 SURE symposium and the 2020 SURF Day. According to Kim, LaPlaca’s scholarly accomplishments and professional development as an undergraduate researcher were not possible without unparalleled support from the Undergraduate Research Program and the Elon Sustainability Department.

“My undergraduate research experience was one of the most enriching things I have done during my time at Elon,” LaPlaca said. “Working with Dr. Kim allowed me to further my knowledge in the growing field of sustainability in sport and helped me develop a newfound passion for this field.”