Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Michael Ziman of One Tree Pledge Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine
Published in
17 min readMar 20, 2022


Align your actions around your beliefs. This sounds intuitive, but it takes real conscious thought, work and effort. To me, I was and am always drawn to nature. I would rather be outside on a nice day versus sitting inside. I would rather be skiing on a mountain than sitting on a couch. I had to think about why this was — and what inspired my true love and awe of our diverse planet. I was taking nature for granted. With research, I realized that my actions are not protecting nature but rather harming it. I had to really look at both my business and personal actions and bring them into alignment.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Ziman.

Michael Ziman is a pioneering sustainable home builder in Long Beach Island, New Jersey and President of Ziman Development, a home building company specializing in beach homes. He is also the Founder of One Tree Pledge, a sustainability initiative that encourages everyone to mitigate the carbon emissions from energy use in their own home by planting one tree for every square foot of the home. Since Earth Day 2020, over 119,000 trees have been planted.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the suburbs of northern New Jersey. It was pretty typical. We would spend family vacations on Long Beach Island (LBI), where I currently work, as well as visit many national parks and places around the country. I never really noticed my “draw’ to nature, but it has become very evident as I have gotten older. I notice the locations that make me happy are almost outside — skiing in the mountains, visiting beautiful beaches, hiking through the woods and/or mountains.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

One Tree Pledge is my sustainability mission to help mitigate the carbon emission from our homes. It is a simple way that we can all do our individual part in helping combat climate change. It started for my own business, but when I realized it was easily scalable, I decided to invite others to join me. Our homes emit carbon from our use of electricity and natural gas, but Nature gives us an easy way to mitigate those emissions by planting trees because trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere. In my research I determined that if we plant one tree for every square foot of our homes, over their lifetime, the trees will sequester more carbon than the home emits. So, I partnered with One Tree Planted to make it easy and affordable. For every $1 donated, 1 tree is planted. People can make the pledge, and plant all the trees at once. Or plant however many trees they can afford as often as they can until the total square footage of the home is achieved.

It’s your home — they are your emissions. If everyone takes responsibility for their own home, we can make a big difference in the health of our planet.

People can learn more about my research and what I call the Carbon Math on my website. I used very conservative numbers, too. So, I am confident that we can all significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our own homes by making the One Tree Pledge! So far, we have planted over 119 thousand trees, which will sequester over a million pounds of carbon every year from the atmosphere, as long as those trees live!

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I am a homebuilder creating beautiful, sustainable homes for people and their families where they can enjoy each other, experience nature, and make beautiful, life-long memories. During the start of the pandemic, I took a pause and really thought about our environment, and the impact we have on it. I knew I needed to align my business with my personal belief that we humans are ravaging our planet. We need to do better and give our future generations a fighting chance of enjoying the same natural beauty that we enjoy today. I spent a lot of time reformulating my business activities to be a true benefit to society.

For me, this meant sourcing sustainable products and local products, reducing our greenhouse gasses from the building activity and from the electricity and natural gas we use in our homes. I also wanted to create ways to offset and/or negate the impact we create with our modern lifestyles. That inspired me to create my sustainability campaign OneTree Pledge.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

The trigger was my personal realization of what our actions are doing to the planet. During the original lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw pictures of the smog dissipate in India and China. I saw pictures of the Venice Canal starting to clear up, with fish and dolphins coming back. This was the result of a “lack of human activity,” our pause in destroying our environment. Nature is sustainable if we can just get out of the way. This was my epiphany, my “aha” moment. I chose to NOT be a part of the ravaging. I knew I needed to realign all my actions — and I truly believe there are many people coming to the same realization. Climate Change has moved front and center in many discussions, and many people, not just me, are waking up to this fact.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Just take actions. Make a list of your goals and then create 4 easy milestones to get there. Write it down, and just take actions to reach that first milestone. Once you do, repeat the process for the 2nd milestone. This is a very easy and simple process, and it works!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Once I put it out there and started talking about what I am trying to accomplish — creating a website, doing some interviews and podcasts — I started to have people and organizations get in touch with me about my actions, joining the effort, supporting the cause, etc.

I encourage all people to decide what is important to them. Then to be aware of their own actions, and start making conscious decisions about their actions, bringing them into alignment with what is important to them.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I have made lots of mistakes. At the time, I didn’t really find them funny, but there is always a lesson learned from every mistake. Starting out building beach houses almost 20 years ago, I always wanted to make my clients happy. After working with hundreds of clients, I realize that I needed to be upfront, and tell people the reality, not just what they wanted to hear. The pandemic brought this full circle. In my market, I build seasonal beach homes, or most people use them seasonally, mostly in the summer. In a perfect world, clients want to build or rebuild their home after one summer and be in by the following spring. In the past, this was somewhat doable. But the pandemic put a major slowdown in all aspects of construction, problems with sourcing, material delays, orders not coming in correctly, labor shortages, and the list goes on. Promising someone or telling a client that they can “probably” get in by the following spring is something everyone in my market wants to hear. I learned to be practical instead. I told my clients that this most likely would not happen. I lost a couple clients this past year, where another builder told them he could deliver. These clients called me back, after working with the other builder, and talked about the regret they had for not working with me. The other builder did not get them in by the promised dates and even gave them an inferior, non-sustainable product, that didn’t meet their expectations.

While this isn’t funny to me, I know that it will pay future dividends. The universe has a funny way of bringing everything full circle.

Another mistake / funny story is I had a project I finished just before the spring. I was able to move the people in, just before the landscaping was complete. As part of the landscaping, we were installing a paver driveway. I showed up on the job site when we were to start installing the pavers. My client came outside, and showed me this very large tomato plant, that just “randomly “grew on the side of their house. They had a bunch of tomatoes, and offered me some…. But I couldn’t bring myself to have any because….

We had a sewer clean-out line, where we had placed a cone in front, so no one would drive on it until it was locked into the paver driveway. The client didn’t realize why the cone was there, so they moved it, and inadvertently drove over the sewer clean-out. Before it is locked into the pavers, it is susceptible to damage, and that is exactly what occurred. Someone in their house apparently ate some tomatoes before the sewer line was crushed with a small leak. Tomatoes seeds are fairly resilient and survive the human digestive process. Human detriment leaked out, the seeds grew naturally, and that was the beginning of their lovely tomato plant. I told them that unfortunately, we had to remove the plant to put the pavers down. I didn’t have the heart to tell them exactly how the plant came to be, I just repaired the sewer line, installed the pavers, and corrected the problem. But I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the bounty of tomatoes.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have a business coach named Ed Bohlke who has helped me tremendously, in both my personal and professional life. He is a truly special individual who is invaluable. Ed is a major driver in my success and the basic formula is very simple — it just takes actions and work. He taught me to consciously decide what I want and then work backwards to achieve it. This is the example I gave above about setting a target, and then figuring out 4 milestones or benchmarks, in sequential order to achieve goals. Then, take the actions to arrive at each benchmark. In the beginning of the pandemic, I had some extra time as the world appeared to be shutting down. I spent time with my family, as well as on the internet. One of the sites I was on was broadcasting various pictures of nature, and I was truly mesmerized by pictures I saw. There were views of the Himalayan Mountains being seen from over 50 miles away in India. This was a site that was never viewed from 50 miles away, due to all the smog and pollution over the past several decades, all caused by human behaviors. There were numerous other pictures of the canals in Venice with clear water with schools of fish in them. I remember a past trip to Venice, and the canals were some of the most polluted waters around — absent of all fish and marine life. There were also views in Los Angeles — smog free! Basically, pictures of nature being beautiful; so many sites not realized from this distance as the earth’s atmosphere cleared up for a bit. My coach Ed worked with me to help me realize why I am drawn to these images, and what they meant to me. I was drawn to them for multiple reasons. First, the beauty of nature. Second, the realization that nature has a way of being sustainable and healing the planet. Third, that the results of human activities greatly affect the nature on our planet. I then started to do some of my own research on human activity and climate change. I was dumbfounded to learn how naive I was about our planet. I decided right then and there that I was not going to be part of the problem any longer! That I wanted to be part of the solution! I made that decision almost 2 years ago and haven’t looked back since. I worked with Ed on many fronts, and with his help, I have drastically changed the way I operate my homebuilding business. The changes have multiplied all the success I’ve had!

Figure out what you truly want….and then define actions and milestones to get you there.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Climate change is a problem without a single solution. We need many solutions for our future generations to flourish on Earth and to experience our planet in the same manner our generations and past generations have. I don’t think we can wait for “someone else” to solve the problem for us; each of us needs to understand the magnitude of what we are facing.

Politicians — we need to stop burning fossil fuels at the current rate, a rate that continues to grow every year. We need more incentives for clean energy, and negative consequences for buying gas and coal — the cheapest energy available. I don’t know how to work the politics to stop burning coal, but this is an obvious first step.

We also need politicians to help fund research into other forms of clean energy. There are many people, a lot smarter than me, that think the answer lies with nuclear power. Nuclear has a bad reputation due to the association of nuclear bombs and nuclear leaks at various plants around the world. As technology improves, there can be a real benefit with safe, clean nuclear energy.

Community — we need more discussions and information on how our actions are destroying nature. It is hard to see from a distance, but there is a lot of information online. Science has proven it. The amount of Carbon in our atmosphere has increased dramatically since the start of the industrial revolution when we started burning coal and other fossil fuels. We need to teach this in our communities and in schools. Some governments have made commitments to clean energy, and this is a great first step. There are so many actions we can take as a society, as a community, and as individuals. We just need to start making better choices. Sharing knowledge at the community level is a great place to start.

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?

We are at the beginning of an incredible opportunity to help ease climate change while doing great business. The economic climate is changing — In the past, it was all about sourcing the cheapest materials. This tends to come from oversees by exploiting cheap labor and shipping products all over the world cheaply.

There are several forces currently changing the game such as the Russian/Ukraine War, increasing oil prices globally. These things make the shipping of these cheap items more expensive, costing more to get them to the end user. Trade Wars with China and the growing economic deficit is drastically increasing shipping prices. Labor shortages also are increasing the shipping costs dramatically.

Couple this with the fact that attitudes in the global market are changing, as well. These “cheap goods” do not appear so inexpensive compared with responsibly sourced materials. People and society are becoming more aware of responsible sustainability — and given the choice, more and more people will choose the sustainable product. This trend is only going to continue, and the end user is willing to pay a small premium for sustainable and environmentally responsible products. Once people realize the good your company is doing, the word will spread, and more clients and customers will come knocking at your door.

In my business, I instituted a number of changes to make my homes significantly more sustainable and more air-tight while using less electricity. As a result, I saw my business greatly expand. I even attracted clients that really care about being environmentally conscious. I am working with them to do some pretty creative stuff — while being a great steward to our planet. Doing the right thing will attract other people, clients, and customers. This is a fact. There are many companies instituting many “green measures” and in turn, their business is expanding. We are at the very beginning of this cycle. I highly suggest that everyone reading this get in on the ground floor. There is only going to be major expansion on all our green and sustainable initiatives.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) That the current ways of doing things, building beach houses, can be improved. I was originally under the mindset, if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. I first looked at my market and hired experienced tradesmen in their field. I relied on the “old way of doing things” I did this for over 10 years, gaining my experience and learning from each job. But, I wish someone had told me to always be improving on efficiency and sustainability. After I mastered my craft, I was then open to making things better. Having an approach to always be improving would have been great to know at the start of my career, and maybe I would be farther along than I am now. But, everything happens for a reason, and there is no better time than now to start making better decisions and improving one’s actions.

2) I wish someone had told me to always buy local. Back in the late 90’s or even before, a lot of manufacturing moved overseas for cheaper labor. As a result, these products needed to be moved across the world, greatly contributing to greenhouse gases. Additionally, the Pandemic greatly shut down travel and shipping, and caused many delays with the global supply chain. I was lucky to start sourcing everything I could domestically, and as close to my market as I could. Knowing this earlier would have helped alleviate some supply chain issues, as well as cut down on the green houses gasses as a result of moving these materials around the globe.

3) Align your actions around your beliefs. This sounds intuitive, but it takes real conscious thought, work and effort. To me, I was and am always drawn to nature. I would rather be outside on a nice day versus sitting inside. I would rather be skiing on a mountain than sitting on a couch. I had to think about why this was — and what inspired my true love and awe of our diverse planet. I was taking nature for granted. With research, I realized that my actions are not protecting nature but rather harming it. I had to really look at both my business and personal actions and bring them into alignment.

Aside from building sustainably, I needed a way to help negate and offset my own activities. I did a lot of research on the amount of greenhouse gasses my business and homes are contributing to the problem. I then worked with some companies in carbon capture, as well as some environmental groups to figure out the appropriate offset for this. By planting 1 tree for each sq ft of the homes I build, I am more than offsetting my greenhouse gasses and pulling out a significant amount of CO2 from the atmosphere each and every year, well in excess of what these homes will put out through living and electrifying them.

4) All of my actions have a multiplier effect. I started One Tree Pledge for myself and hoped others would see what I am doing. I am a leader in my market, and many people essentially copy what I am doing. I found a great siding product and decking product that is made from recycled materials. Once I started putting this on my homes, many other homebuilders started copying me, using the same sustainable products.

I also have other homebuilders emailing me about One Tree Pledge, and they are staring to plant trees, as well.

I even have clients that have told their friends about my initiative, and they started planting trees, as well. Each action I take, no matter how small, seems to have a multiplier effect and other people follow. Then ,other people follow the people that followed me.

5) Take actions — stop thinking, just do it. I wish I had known that the hardest part is just taking the first action. Once you do, everything else becomes easy. I remember switching out my decking material for a more expensive, sustainable material sourced in the US. At first, I was hesitant because of the price. Once I did, each decision to be more sustainable came easier. As a result, my clients appreciated what I was doing, and it had a nominal impact on the overall price of each project.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

First, decide what is important to you. If making a big impact is important, or if helping to alleviate what climate change is doing to our planet is important… whatever it is, start immediately. Climate change has already done a lot of damage, and it is going to open up so many opportunities in almost every industry. We are at the beginning of real change. There is no better time to get in on the ground floor, which is where we currently are. If you do what is in alignment with your core beliefs, you will be successful! The opportunities will continue to present themselves to you. Do what makes you happy, and everything else will come very easy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Treat other people the way you want to be treated. My Dad always told me this, and it rings true to my heart. Ever since I was a little boy, this phrase has echoed and followed me my entire life.

Also, try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is especially true in times of frustration. In these situations, seeing the other’s point of view makes me realize how good I have it. Most of my “stressful” situations in business tend to be with government employees regarding permits or with my subcontractors. When I understand their point of view, there is always a “work around” or another way to achieve the end result I desire. Additionally, by understanding the other’s point of view, it allows me to be more respectful at arriving at a workable solution.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Elon Musk — There is no greater businessperson who is in complete alignment with his own beliefs. He has done so much, single handedly changing the auto industry. Despite being one of the richest people on the planet, he is committed to going to Mars to colonize it. He sold all his homes, as he doesn’t want to be “attached” to anything that will get in his way of his core mission of going to Mars. And the real reason he feels that humanity needs to colonize Mars is that we are destroying this planet we all call home. He believes this creates chance of long-term survival for humanity.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please follow @OneTreePledge on Instagram and Facebook and visit Please also follow @ZimanDevelopement to see some of the cool initiatives we are doing with our beach houses.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!



Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts