by Bob Banner

I first came across Michelle Long in the film Independent America (which will be part of the LOCAL Film Festival). She was talking about BALLE. I immediately did some research with not only BALLE but to Sustainable Solutions in Bellingham, WA, whch she heads. She is a powerhouse, very active and very successful in getting her city Bellingham to become the model for local living economies. She and her band of social change agents created a most successful local coupon book which is not your typical business coupon book but is filled with ideas and education seminars and forums to help educate business people to become more sustainable. I wish to start a BALLE group in SLO. We have about 12 people on our emailing list. We have met once. If anyone is interested please ask to join by emailing [email protected] with BALLE-SLO in the subject box.

1. What got you involved with the BALLE group?
Great people, great ideas. I had just started working with some local people in NW Washington on some similar ideas. I met Laury Hammel (BALLE co-founder) [see his article on Judy Wicks in this issue] when he was passing through and people thought we should connect. We had similar visions. BALLE was mainly an idea then — both our local Sustainable Connections and BALLE were just getting off the ground. My husband Derek & I signed on to be the first national coordinators of BALLE.

We were doing that half-time and Sustainable Connections [http://www.sconnect.org] half-time. We were really framing and defining what a network would be and what it would do. After a few years, both organizations were to a size where they needed their own full-time focus. We felt most passionate about the local work to come up with new models. At that point we were lucky enough to find Don Shaffer, BALLE’s current E.D. Under his leadership, BALLE has really taken off. He’s taken those early programs and definitions and spread them far and wide. BALLE has tripled in size in the last year! Now I’m co-chair of the Board. I love the people on the board, a great, smart group, and Don has built a fabulous staff as well.

2. What is the most exciting thing that has come down the pike for your
group in Bellingham?

We started a Green Power Community Challenge in September, and now our City and County government has switched to 100% renewable energy and so did hundreds of local businesses and residences. This month Bellingham has become the leading EPA-certified Green Power community in the country! [For more details please visit http://www.sconnect.org/practices/greenpower .]

3. What is the most challenging for your group in the years to come?
We won’t know until we get there. Really, isn’t challenge just opportunity in disguise? My excitement will be in seeing our business members who now have this incredible base of peer support and who see this way of doing business as normal and encouraged even, innovating from this base. I am excited to see the new ways people innovate toward greater community and health, and modeling those methods within their industries.

4. I see you have a book listed as The Busy Business Owner’s Handbook for Sustainable Practice, to be out soon. Do you know when, and can you tell us a bit about it? Did it grow out of businesses’ concern for being more “sustainable”?
This is actually going to become more of a web database. We’ve had versions of it since we started. We started Sustainable Connections with programs that connected and educated businesses. We connected businesses that share values and gave them additional information and inspiration to increase their stewardship. Over time, we asked the community to support them through the Think Local First program, and the sector-by-sector work going deep into food and farming, green building, and energy.

5. What one thing has made this BALLE chapter so successful?
Well, one thing we have going for us is that we were in at the ground floor. Plus, we have a great community that is ripe for new models. But really, many of these ideas will hit center for people if you can propose them in ways that are intelligent and solution-oriented, fun and fast-paced, and genuinely show a desire to make participating businesses the most successful in the region. I think these ideas are going to work in a lot of places. I think we are in the midst of a big change vehicle and it’s going to be very exciting to be a part of this for a long time.

See the ad in the back cover about the BALLE Conference at UC Berkeley or visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Alliance_for_Local_Living_Economies