Derek Long grew up in a one-stoplight town in Ohio before pursuing a career in business and economics. Much like the Pacific Northwest, Long’s hometown barely saw the sun. However, it wasn’t until after earning his degree from the University of Toledo and traveling around the world for more than a year that Long accidentally ended up in Whatcom County.
Like many post-grads, Long took the opportunity to travel early in life. For a year-and-a-half he backpacked “on the cheap” throughout East and Central Asia and New Zealand.
The trip awakened him to how economies function in developing nations like Nepal and Indonesia. “Our Western-style capitalism was not working for these developing countries. I felt like we could and should do better for people,” Long said. His experience inspired him to ask, “What does an economy look like that works for everyone?”
After returning to the States, Long searched for a city to call home. On one of his trips of exploration he found himself driving into Seattle on I-90 on a beautiful July day. The mountains and friendly people reminded him of his favorite destinations abroad, Nepal and New Zealand. “I looked at other cities, but nothing compared to Seattle.” As for landing further north, Long purchased a mountain cabin in Whatcom County while living in Seattle, before stumbling onto Bellingham.
When he moved to Bellingham full-time, Long was between projects. His online fair-trade retail service, Viatru, was on its way out and he was in the market for a new project. With the values he had learned abroad, Long focused on local businesses. “As I learned more about climate change, I questioned how much international trade we should really be doing.” And so, his search for his next vehicle for change turned inward toward Whatcom County’s business people. He asked the community what they wanted for their business. In 2002, Long co-founded Sustainable Connections with a vision to connect and educate the community in order to create a more socially beneficial economy.
Sustainable Connections seems to be everywhere. It runs a number of programs including Energy Efficiency & Renewables, Think Local First, and Food and Farming, all aimed at supporting local businesses. From a simple introduction between farmer and chef, to providing a technically qualified staff member to help a business become energy efficient, Sustainable Connections provides an array of tools. “I think Sustainable Connections and myself are manifesting what our community wants to be,” he said. Whatcom County has become a leader in sustainability, and Long hopes that Sustainable Connections can act as a vehicle to continue to achieve similar goals. Beyond business, Long strongly believes that commerce is about social connections—we should know the people we do business with. “Commerce can be a strong force for creating social connections. Life is fulfilling when it is face-to-face with friends and neighbors.” In addition to his role at Sustainable Connections, Long has served on numerous local boards including the Washington Business Alliance, Waterfront Advisory Group, Countywide Housing Affordability Task Force, Community Food Co-op, and the Cloud Mountain Farm. His dedication to lifting up the local community is manifested in his many hats. In this region especially, Long believes that we can develop better economic strategies to take care of people and the environment. “People in Bellingham, Whatcom County, and the greater region are game to experiment in order to find an economic strategy that works for everyone.”
1701 Ellis St. Suite 221, Bellingham
360.647.7093 | sustainableconnections.org