“5 things we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment” With Ford Seeman & Penny Bauder
Show your children where their food is coming from. As parents, we want to shelter our children from the harsh realities of the world. I remember driving past cow farms and thinking how pretty they were. I didn’t think of them as food. Maybe if I had an understanding of the harsh reality that is our meat industry, I wouldn’t have let so many steaks go to waste. I would have had a better appreciation for our food and where it comes from. Maybe it would have been the foundation of an urge to become vegetarian or vegan, two of the best decisions a person can make for our planet and individual carbon footprint. My parents would take me out to an amazing farm, Terhune Orchards, in Princeton N.J., every summer. I loved it and seeing all of the animals. I saw the chickens laying their eggs and the goats frolicking in the fields. I remember seeing goat meat on a menu and being repulsed as a kid. But this same lesson didn’t stick to me like a cow. Our parents have a responsibility to help shape our world views. Maybe if more parents were willing to expose their children to hard truths, like the meat industry, there would be a more natural feel to the call to eat less meat and it wouldn’t feel so forced on us.
I had the pleasure to interview Ford Seeman. A self-professed contrarian, Ford is determined to challenge the idea that we can’t do anything as individuals to save our planet. To empower people and businesses with tools to track and negate their carbon footprint, Ford created Forest Founders — a straightforward, subscription-based service where users can plant trees and earn rewards through a personalized dashboard. Raised in the concrete jungle of New York City, Ford still found a way to develop an affinity for nature. He fondly recalls a summer spent in an Outward Bound program. Somewhere between canoe trips and treks through the wilderness, Ford developed a lasting appreciation for nature and a sense of responsibility to our environment and its trees, the ultimate carbon reducer. After studying political science and psychology at Lesley University, Ford went on to explore many professional paths — including working as an associate broker on Wall Street and co-founding an energy drink company. Troubled by the greed and waste he witnessed in these fields, Ford was inspired to create Forest Founders, a company that seeks to align nature with capitalism and help both businesses and consumers become carbon accountable. By connecting users with an engaging, actionable way to reduce their carbon footprint, Ford hopes to heal the planet for future generations — including his three-year-old daughter, Leena. Ford lives in New York City with his wife, Lyndsey, their daughter, and a Siberian Husky, Foxy Lady.
Thank you so much for joining us Ford! Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in New York City but my parents made sure that I experienced and appreciated nature. They bought a house in Princeton that we would go to in the summer and I spent about seven summers of my youth going to sleep-away-camps on beautiful lakes all around the North East. Being in the city for the majority of the year was a stark contrast. In NYC it is sink or swim. No treading water allowed. It is a very unforgiving city, which creates your priorities. There aren’t many New Yorkers who have the privilege of getting out into nature. That’s one reason Central Park is one of my favorite places. You can get lost in The Ramble and experience what Manhattan was before we turned it into the financial capital of the world. I have many fond memories of that place as a kid.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
My mother was hit and killed by a drunken driver in 2010. It started a dark chapter in my life. I felt like I was untethered for a number of years after that. There were moments of clarity and joy, like my wedding, but even that had a bittersweet undertone. It wasn’t until the birth of my daughter, and I became the parent, that I was able to apply the life lessons my mother had taught me and bring them back as a central theme in my life. My mother was an enlightened being. Everything she did throughout her day was genuine, something we sorely lack in this day and age.
I was a general manager at a restaurant when my daughter was born, but I realized I wanted more. My life felt empty and unfulfilled. I decided to attack my feelings of inadequacy with the life lessons my mother had left me and asked myself two questions, what would make my mother proud and what was the legacy I wanted to leave behind for my daughter?
In my years floating through life, after my mom died but before my daughter was born, I had experienced many contrasting career opportunities. I was a junior broker on Wall Street, a real-estate agent in two cities, and co-founded an energy drink company, among a few others. The one constant between all the endeavors was a feeling of waste. There was no real value created.
I turned back to my vision of the good old days, walking through Central Park with my mom and enjoying nature. I wanted my daughter to experience that, too. I decided then and there to dedicate my life to something more, not less; something of value. I wanted to give back to nature. There aren’t enough ways for us to offset our carbon impact. We can take small steps like taking shorter showers, eating locally grown produce and switching to LED light bulbs, but we need to do more. That’s when I decided to create a nonprofit dedicated to building the tools to allow businesses and individuals to become carbon accountable. This is how Forest Founders was born.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
It starts with passion. What environmental problem connects with you the most? Then define a problem that has a scale, one where you can start with baby steps and build up to more widely impacting work. A lack of opportunity for individuals to negate their carbon footprint in a meaningful way depressed me. It started with a feeling of overwhelming sadness that blossomed into something beautiful when I decided someone needed to take responsibility and create the vision. It hasn’t been cheap or easy, but not many things in life worth doing are. Find something that makes you want to get out of bed, find something you connect with at a visceral level that you would be proud to champion.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
We have built a subscription service for people that plants enough trees per month on our members behalf to negate close to three times the average American’s footprint. This is an easy way for people to buy peace of mind when it comes to their carbon output. For less than the cost of a tank of gas, $20 monthly, our members can know that they aren’t contributing to the carbon problems plaguing our world. We have gamified environmentalism. We offer rewards points that can be spent on more trees or used on our exclusive merchandise that can only be earned, never bought.
We are currently developing a mobile application that will act as an environmental rewards program for businesses. We are looking to harness the power of consumerism to plant trees, allowing our economic system to work with nature for a change.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
The majority of our carbon emissions come from our highly refined and entitled attitude toward food. We need to eat responsibly. This means waste less, eat locally sourced fruits and veggies and try to eat fruits that are in-season, so they don’t have to be imported from other countries. Globalization and our palate have created the majority of our emissions, start there.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1. Encourage your kids to shop locally. Our parents shape our eating habits. When a child tries to change them, it can be very hard to do so without parental support. We all need to be more malleable in how we live our life. Too many people have comforts that they aren’t willing to part with. We need to look at climate change as the elephant in the room it is and acknowledge it as such. We can’t put comfort over science any longer.
My daughter has a rare eating disorder (FPIES) where we have only found about 50 safe foods for her to eat. Luckily for us, eggs and peanut butter are two of her favorite foods so she can source the protein she can’t get from meats. While there are a few staples that can be secured locally year-round, like peanut butter, when our farmers market closes up shop for the winter it becomes harder to source some of her staple foods locally, like eggs. We do our best. If more people were willing to go out of their way to find solutions, more solutions would exist. If we can keep pigeons on city rooftops, why not chickens?
2. Teach them to value the beauty of nature. A large percentage of kids grow up in urban environments and don’t have the luxury of being exposed to nature and the wonders of our planet on a daily basis. Parents have the responsibility to ensure that their children are familiarized with the beauty of nature. Share the majesty of our natural lands with your kids, help open their eyes to the natural wonders our Mother Earth has to offer. My wife and I were married at the Mohonk Mountain House near New Paltz, N.Y., one of the most beautiful old-world resorts I have ever seen. It is a castle on a lake on the top of a mountain with stunning views of the Shawangunk mountain range. We bring our daughter there every chance we get to get her out of the city and into a fairytale-like setting. I just hope she grows up to appreciate it and not take it for granted.
3. Help them recognize how good we have it. One thing we forget living in the U.S. is to have compassion for people living in other countries and in places that are more heavily impacted by global warming. There are entire island nations that need to uproot their communities in search of more stable land and higher ground. These are stories that need to be shared with our children to help them understand the impact of global warming.
Growing up I couldn’t conceive how other people lived. Manhattan became an experience that trapped me. My parents always told me how much quicker I grew up having had all the experiences NYC had to offer. But it also stunted me. No one is better than anyone else. We are all on level ground. It is what you make out of yourself that is important. This understanding helped me see that as a New Yorker I was also at the greatest risk of not thinking about how my urban style of living was affecting our planet. I founded Forest Founders as a way to allow people like me to do their part to negate their carbon footprint.
4. Show them where their food is coming from. As parents, we want to shelter our children from the harsh realities of the world. I remember driving past cow farms and thinking how pretty they were. I didn’t think of them as food. Maybe if I had an understanding of the harsh reality that is our meat industry, I wouldn’t have let so many steaks go to waste. I would have had a better appreciation for our food and where it comes from. Maybe it would have been the foundation of an urge to become vegetarian or vegan, two of the best decisions a person can make for our planet and individual carbon footprint.
My parents would take me out to an amazing farm, Terhune Orchards, in Princeton N.J., every summer. I loved it and seeing all of the animals. I saw the chickens laying their eggs and the goats frolicking in the fields. I remember seeing goat meat on a menu and being repulsed as a kid. But this same lesson didn’t stick to me like a cow. Our parents have a responsibility to help shape our world views. Maybe if more parents were willing to expose their children to hard truths, like the meat industry, there would be a more natural feel to the call to eat less meat and it wouldn’t feel so forced on us.
5. Advocate for their beliefs. It is up to our parents to shape our values system. My mother was a fierce advocate after 9/11 to not allow our neighborhood, Battery Park City, to be turned into a living memorial. She helped ensure our parks stayed open and weren’t used as staging grounds for the new construction efforts, and organized rallies and picket lines to make sure that they didn’t turn all of our open spaces into memorials. She showed me what it meant to stand up for something you believe in, no matter how many people were willing to tell you off and scream in your face. Be proud of yourself and stand up for what you believe in.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The goal of my nonprofit is to help build an environmental rewards program for all businesses. If businesses can use environmental marketing in a way that doesn’t just greenwash the issues, but plants trees on their consumers behalf, we can make nature work with our economic system for a change. Nature and economics have always been at odds. Our goal is to harness the power of consumerism as a driving force for nature. In a similar way that YouTube uses marketing to allow for free video hosting and sharing, we want to create a way for businesses to advertise and reward their environmentally conscientious consumers to allow their business to harmonize with nature. If every business planted trees on their consumers behalf, we could negate a large portion of the emissions our American economy emits. Harnessing American consumerism to benefit nature is an extremely powerful concept.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was adopted at birth. The two people who have had the greatest impact on my life are my two mothers, my birth mother who found me the best possible home, and the mother who inspired me to become the man I am today. I am a momma’s boy for life, and even though she isn’t physically here with us anymore, I make sure her enduring and indomitable spirit lives on through me each and every day.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want to bring people the tools to allow themselves to feel liberated from our carbon oppression. We didn’t ask to be born into a world where consumers rule, and the planet suffers. The most powerful journey I have ever been on is the one I am fighting for each and every day. It is my goal and passion to inspire every global citizen to take accountability for their carbon, whether they asked for it or not, and provide them with the tools to become carbon accountable.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
As an entrepreneur, the most important lessons I can share are to always keep learning and never give up. Every failure is a learning opportunity and a chance to get back on your feet stronger than you were before you got knocked down. Your personal conviction is your best tool. Don’t let the doubters make you second guess yourself. You are strong, you are brave, and above all, be proud of yourself. If you find that you aren’t proud of yourself, challenge yourself to find your inner passion and fire and pivot to a direction that makes you wake up in the morning wishing there were more hours in the day.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Don’t follow me, follow Forest Founders. My project was not built from ego. It was built to inspire and allow us to all feel that we could become carbon accountable. Become a member so we can plant trees on your behalf. Follow our social media accounts (@forestfounders) to hear our updates and learn about the new tools we are constantly developing. Join Forest Founders, today. Forestfounders.org