The future of business is better than you think


Since signing up its first business member seven years ago, Sustainable Connections has worked to support local businesses in transitioning to healthier, “greener” business practices, while simultaneously encouraging our community to support these local businesses first. In addition, we’ve worked to boost the knowledge base and capacity of our business community to lead in the new green jobs and sustainable industries for tomorrow — green building services, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture.

And over these seven years, we’ve experienced fundamental shifts in our cultural, economic, and environmental landscapes — locally and nationally.

In October, the US Conference of Mayors released a report that said “the United States is clearly heading toward a new era … The good news is that traditional industries continue to be replaced by new opportunities, and we have only just begun to tap into many of them. … Green jobs … could be the fastest growing segment of the United States economy … and provide as much as 10 percent of new job growth over the next 30 years.”

Two months ago, Washington state’s Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development’s “Green Economy Strategic Framework,” reported, “Change is inevitable: Washington state must make the transition from an industrial economy to a more efficient, greener and sustainable economic model. In doing so, we also will create economic opportunities.”

A separate report, “Carbon Free Prosperity 2025” projects that Washington can create between 41,000 and 63,000 direct jobs by 2025 in just five clean-tech sectors including green building services, energy efficiency and renewables.

In February, a Business Week article by John Tozzi, “To Beat Recession, Indies Launch Buy-Local Push,” included an interview with Bellingham’s own Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books. Tozzi noted “While sales have dropped 4 percent since Jan. 1 at his 40-employee, $3.5 million bookshop and adjacent card store, he says that’s less severe than other booksellers he’s talked to in places that don’t have buy-local efforts. According to a national survey, independent retailers in cities with buy-local campaigns saw holiday sales fall 3.2 percent from the prior year, while those in cities with no such movements recorded a 5.6 percent drop.”

More good news about thinking local first — in a survey Sustainable Connections just completed of its 700 local business members, 91 percent said they always or often considered whether a product was locally made/grown/ manufactured/owned when they made business purchases last year.

Green jobs and supporting local businesses first — two ideas now receiving national attention, two ideas for the future of business and community. On April 17, Sustainable Connections will be hosting its 6th annual business conference (now the largest in the region) at Whatcom Community College. For the first time, the Spring Business Conference and the Green Building Conference will be together in one location and under one theme: “The Future of Business: Green Business and Sustainable Industries for the 21st Century.” This year the focus will be one, the tools businesses need now to weather challenging economic times, and two, what changing consumer attitudes, the current economic turmoil, and a new administration will mean to our businesses.


Special presenters include

  • Michelle Barry, senior VP, The Hartman Group, a pre-eminent market research firm that studies consumer values and says we’re experiencing a fundamental cultural shift toward “sustainable” purchasing decisions
  • Dave Williams, CEO of ShoreBank Pacific, the first commercial bank in the U.S. with a commitment to environmentally sustainable community development, (They’ve found “sustainable” businesses are doing better today and believe this is an indicator about the future of business.)
  • Jason McLennan, CEO of the Oregon to Alaska Cascadia Green Building Council and creator of the Living Building Challenge.
  • Paul Saginaw, co-founder and president of the Zingermans’ Community of Businesses, featured in the New York Times and the Oprah show for their unique customer service recipe and reputation for helping other businesses learn how to do the same.
  • Martin Melavar, CEO and author of Living Above the Store: Building a Business That Creates Value, Inspires Change, and Restores Land and Community.
  • Rud Browne, founder and chairman of The Ryzex Group, based in Bellingham, and personally committed to ensuring local businesses thrive through challenging times.

And many more …

We’ll also share a host of local case studies about the amazing innovations already happening here — local “cow power,” creative health care models, a newly ignited community energy challenge, courses in weatherization and certificates in sustainable business launching at local colleges, WWU’s Vehicle Research Institute, a “new farm incubator,” and much, much more.

And a personal note: If something in this article piques your interest, I hope you’ll come to “The Future of Business” on April 17. I believe this community has an opportunity to seize this moment, build on the innovation that has occurred, set an audacious goal to become an influential national center of excellence for sustainability that shows the world that clean, green and local means health, happiness, and a world that works for all living things. I really do … and that will take all of us. You can register at


Michelle Long is the executive director of Sustainable Connections. She can be reached at 647-7093 or at


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