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What We Do, Values & History


We envision a thriving, collaborative community where local businesses are prosperous, and contribute to a healthy environment and the well-being of all citizens.


To be the local forum where businesses come together to transform and model an economy built on sustainable practices.

We work with local, independently owned businesses that have the autonomy to make any transformational change in their business that they can imagine… reexamining where we buy goods and services, how we consume energy, grow and distribute our food, build homes, and even, how we define success in business.  Sustainable Connections is supporting a community of innovators in green building, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, supporting independent businesses in town centers, and mentoring a new breed of entrepreneurs that have designed their business with a sustainable vision.

Core Competencies

As a non-profit network of local, independently owned Whatcom County
businesses and supporters, we facilitate sustainable economic development
by providing:

  • Education: Providing technical assistance for businesses and partner
    organizations that builds our community’s capacity to participate in the
    opportunities of a sustainable economy
  • Connections: Connecting businesses to each other to share best practices
    and do more business together
  • Market Development: Engaging in public promotion and education that
    creates opportunities for sustainable economy businesses

Guiding Principles

  • Focus on place-based solutions: We align with the quote – “find your place in the world, dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
  • We meet businesses where they are: We’re all on a path; our job is to help them make progress with specific, practical and measurable solutions.
  • Lead through positive example: We focus on and say what we’re for, not what we’re against. We develop creative and practical solutions that are useful across multiple businesses and industries and are communicated in a positive, inspiring way.
  • Support continuous learning with a bias for action: There is not one solution, there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, and so we try something, apply lessons learned, and then try again for continuous improvement.
  • Bring people together: we recognize that relationships are what best motivate people to take action and that we’re just one part of the puzzle. We build and honor powerful partnerships, work with decision makers, and bring the right people together to move the work ahead.
  • Measure results: We are fact based and data driven while frequently asking our members, partners, participants, and the community whether we are achieving our intended impact and how to be better.
  • Good ideas spread fast: We document what we do so that others can take advantage of what we are discovering.
  • We are non partisan: We work primarily through the marketplace with limited policy work where it helps to meet the mission of the organization.
  • Make it a better party: This work is challenging and people want to be happy; let’s take time to relax and have a celebration occasionally.


    Whatcom County has a long, rich history of community and business innovation from a wide variety of organizations and volunteer initiatives. Building on this momentum, in early 2002 a small group of local business owners surveyed other Whatcom business owners; they found demand for the idea of forming a network of place-based businesses that could support each other toward a shared vision of a sustainable local economy. In April 2002, Sustainable Connections signed up its first business member with early programs that focused on connecting values-aligned businesses, and taking individual steps – “pledges” – to improve the sustainability of member businesses. The approach was based on the principle of reciprocity. The goal was to support local business owners with their stewardship of our place, and in turn, ask our community to support them.

    At almost the same time, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), was forming with a mission to catalyze, strengthen, and connect local business networks focused on building local living economies. Leaders from each group brought their ideas together. During the first two start-up years of both organizations, BALLE and Sustainable Connections operated independently out of the same Bellingham office with Michelle and Derek Long as shared leadership staff to both organizations.

    Today, almost 10 years later, Sustainable Connections has grown to 650+ local, independently owned business members, a team of fourteen staff, an Advisory Board of local community and government leaders, a Board of Directors of business owners and community leaders, and an annual budget nearing $1m/year. Our members have led Bellingham in becoming the nation's top EPA-certified green power community (2008), a leader in green building, in fostering hundreds of new relationships between farmers and food-buyers, and in shifting the purchasing behavior of 3 in 5 households toward choosing independent retailers and services whenever possible. In 2009, The National Resources Defense Council named Bellingham the #1 small City in urban progress toward sustainability in the nation. BALLE, now headquartered next door to Sustainable Connections has grown to 75 networks in North America with no sign of slowing down (Michelle Long is their executive director), and Sustainable Connections, one of BALLE's largest and most successful networks, is recognized as a model.

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