Can ESPN Become “The Worldwide Leader” in Green-Sports?

ESPN, in its 37 year existence, has evolved from quirky curiosity (“A 24 hour sports network?? Nah, that’ll never work!” “What’s Australian Rules Football, anyway?”) to omnipresent media (television, mobile, radio, print, film, etc.) and cultural behemoth.

With that size and stature comes responsibility, especially since the problems that plague the “real world” (sexism, racism, bullying, etc., etc.) find their way into the “play world” of sports with regularity. ESPN has earned high marks from many observers for the way it has handled some of the dominant social issues of the day, with its recent Town Hall Meeting with President Obama on the subject of Race in America being just one example.

Where does the environment and climate change fit in? Sustainable business professionals may be aware of ESPN’s record on greening its operations, and for its support of green issues, but my sense is that fans/viewers know little if anything. Engaging its millions of viewers, listeners and readers on green issues is a huge #greensports opportunity for ESPN. That’s why we talked with Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship.

Kevin Martinez, vice president of Corporate Citizenship at ESPN, is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) All Star. He’s worked in CSR roles at high levels in the public, private and political sectors, holding CSR/Community Development jobs at Eddie Bauer, Home Depot and Starbucks. He also worked as Director of Community Relations of the King County (Seattle, WA) Executive Office on behalf of County Executive Gary Locke, who later became Washington’s Governor and the U.S. Ambassador to China.

When Martinez arrived at ESPN’s Bristol, CT headquarters in 2010, he brought an aggressive mindset to the company’s CSR and corporate citizenship efforts. “Our support of the V Foundation for Cancer Research had long been a big success at ESPN,” said Martinez, “But the common understanding was that we needed to move bigger, broader and faster on CSR. Our goal was to become a leader in the overall ‘Sport for Social Change’ space, not just cancer research, within 3-5 years.’ We decided to focus on four pillars in addition to The V Foundation: Access to Sports, Leadership Through Sports, Good Neighbor grants (i.e. getting employees engaged in their communities), and Sustainability.”

Bristol, CT - March 5, 2013 - Photo Studio: Portrait of ESPN's Kevin Martinez (Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images). .

Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship (Photo credit: Rich Arden, ESPN Images)

 

This approach reflects ESPN’s, and its corporate parent The Walt Disney Company’s, pragmatic view of sustainability. “Any sustainability or environmentally friendly efforts at ESPN have to be endemic or organic to our business. We realize that generating live sports content the way we do, at the volume we do, no matter the medium, uses energy, sometimes lots of it. Our approach is to be efficient in our efforts to measure waste, emissions, water and energy with the goal being able to ultimately reign in our carbon footprint.”

In fact, sometimes ESPN has its announcers call games from its Bristol studios rather than flying them out to the game site. Greening ESPN’s high profile events like the annual ESPY Awards and the X Games has also been a focus. According to Martinez, “Our goal is to leave as minimal an impact as possible at all of our owned events and to let our stakeholders know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

x-games

Recycling and composting at the X Games in Austin, TX. (Photo credit: ESPN)

 

ESPN is continuing to make its 120+ acre/1 million square foot Bristol, CT campus more energy efficient. “We are revamping our offices with new, high tech windows which allow more natural light in. This makes the workforce more productive while improving our energy efficiency,” said Martinez, “And, in response to a severe drought in Central Connecticut, we have been and will continue to ramp up our water efficiency programs and channel water runoff to the wetlands located on campus.” He also mentioned growing ESPN’s collaboration with the Green Sports Alliance (GSA) as a key next step. “We are excited to continue to work with the GSA. They’ve helped us with sustainability audits for our special events, measuring our waste and recycling.”

ESPN deserves plaudits for these greening efforts but, tell you the truth, I expect nothing less from them. They should be a leader in greening their operations, especially given Disney’s strong commitment to sustainability.

It says here that, to fulfill its promise of becoming a difference-making, green-sports leader, ESPN needs to feature green-sports on its air more frequently. Martinez reports they are already doing so—when the news warrants: “We won’t talk about climate change to talk about climate change. That’s not our beat. But if an environmental story is organic for us, we don’t hesitate to cover it. ESPN certainly covered the [polluted] Rio Olympics water story. And we’ve talked about the important conservation and sustainability assets of many new stadiums. We also are very supportive of sports leagues efforts to green their sports like the NHL and NASCAR as examples.”

Looking ahead, as climate change’s impacts very likely lead to more severe and frequent extreme weather events, sports will no doubt be affected. And that means ESPN will cover them as they relate to sports coverage. Will ESPN continue to make the link between extreme weather events and climate change on air? Will we see Climate Change + Sports-themed segments on ESPN’s issue based programs Outside The Lines (OTL) and/or E:60 in the next year or two? After talking with Kevin Martinez, I believe the answers to both questions will be yes.

^ The V Foundation for Cancer Research was formed by ESPN and former college basketball coach Jim Valvano in 1993 with the goal of finding cures for cancer. Coach Valvano, who was battling testicular cancer at the time of the foundation’s founding, died later that year.
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