It’s almost poetic justice that the day we caught up with Kate Sackman at Market House, the brightly shining sun was doing its best to bring on spring. “It’s not quite as cold,” she says cheerfully, her sheer optimism for what’s possible environmentally gleaming through.
It’s this very optimism that sent Kate in the direction of the path she’s on today as the president and founder of EcoMyths Alliance, a nonprofit media company that specializes in producing entertaining and witty environmental science education for print, radio, Internet, and video. EcoMyths’ goal is to overcome the negative environmental messages in the media by providing positive bites of information that connect the dots between people’s daily actions and their impact on the environment.
The initial ruminations for EcoMyth Alliance began when Kate was chair of the Lake Forest Open Lands Association Board. “I’m not an environmentalist by training,” she says, whose entrepreneurial spirit began to show itself in her years after Wall Street and successful stints with Baxter and Kraft Foods. “When I became chair, we began to explore what types of things we could do in science. We’d never really focused on it before, even though there was a lot of interest in it.”
Kate set up an environmental science committee and proposed the idea of doing a “mythbusters” for Lake Forest Open Lands, inspired by the Discovery Channel’s wildly popular program by the same name. “Have you noticed that they never use the word ‘science’ on that program?” Kate asks. “But they’re actually teaching science in a very fun way.”
This idea of making science approachable—and mainstream—was exactly what Kate was looking for. She wrote a proposal to create the “EcoMyths” program for Lake Forest Open Lands, where environmental myths would be exposed with a sense of humor—namely a cartoon and a simple actionable step one can take after reading the myth. After a nationwide search for a design element to brand the program, Kate and her board of select environmental scientists and educators landed on a blue-spotted salamander, a species native to the wetlands in the Great Lakes’ states. “We wanted something fun and fresh and not weighted down with some guilt-ridden agenda,” she says. Over time, their tagline grew to be “just the facts. naturally.”
EcoMyths launched with exposing myths related to Lake Michigan. “Readers were engaged right away,” Kate says. “Even though EcoMyths began as an Open Lands’ project, it quickly grew beyond that.”
It wasn’t long before Kate set up shop independently of Lake Forest Open Lands and registered EcoMyths Alliance for it’s not-for-profit status, assembled a communications team, enhanced its website, and created influential partnerships. Today, EcoMyths’ partners include 20 of the most respected environmental institutions in the country, including the Field Museum, the Chicago Botanic Garden, National Wildlife Federation, and the Morton Arboretum, and Northwestern University.
EcoMyths Alliance has most recently partnered with Eco-Schools USA and Second City to create EcoMyths’ eco-myth-busting curriculum and witty science videos. “Our hope is that our program will be national—soon,” says Kate, who currently oversees all of EcoMyths efforts with a small but mighty team. “We’re inspiring green living by making science fresh and funny. When people have a deep connection to nature, they tend to lead more sustainable lives.”
The EcoMyths Alliance is hosting its “First Annual Naturally Funny Gala” on Tuesday, April 8 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Second City to raise funds to expand its efforts. To learn more about EcoMyths or how you can support this event, visit ecomythsalliance.org.
-Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kristin Ulve