Sustainable Connections


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 forum where businesses come together to transform and model a vibrant local economy built on sustainable practices.

We affirm and promote our mission through these Guiding Principles:

o   WE CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS with people and organizations to create and spread solutions. We strive to work in an open, respectful, non-partisan way that meets people where they are, builds trust and has meaningful impact.

o   WE SEEK CREATIVE SOLUTIONS that are place-based, practical and help us spring into action. We think and plan, try it out, learn from the experience, apply fixes, try it out again and the cycle continues.

o   WE STRIVE FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT as we adapt to changing community needs and preferences, markets, regulations, and the environment. We measure and evaluate our activities against our goals consistently.

o   WE FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE in our work and communications to engage and inspire people. We promote what we stand for over what we are against.

o   WE HAVE FUN because although our work may sometimes be challenging, keeping a sense of humor and enjoying the experience is critical for success. We are always aiming to “make it a better party!”

Sustainable Connections often uses the term People, Planet, Profit to describe managing business with a triple bottom line that sets goals and measures performance against not only the traditional profit bottom line, but also for social and environmental goals. Sustainable Practices is also an interchangeable term in this plan.

The success of locally owned businesses (50% of the ownership lives in Whatcom, Island, San Juan and Skagit Counties) is critical to the purpose of Sustainable Connections and the success of local communities. Sustainable Connections supports a wide variety of businesses and provides extra services, namely the Think Local First campaign, to locally owned businesses.

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


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, over 10 years later, Sustainable Connections has grown to 400+ local, independently owned business members, a team of sixteen staff, 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 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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