Bellingham Washington: A Sustainable Living Community

Learn about Bellingham Washington, a sustainable living community. Beautiful scenery, access to an abundance of local food and a strong commitment to water and energy efficiency makes Bellingham really stand out.
By Dave Wann
August/September 2007
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Mount Shuksan and Picture Lake, Bellingham, Washington.
Photo by Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism

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A great place to live you've never heard of is Bellingham Washington, a sustainable living community. Bellingham features stunning outdoor scenery, delicious local food and a strong commitment to water and energy efficiency.

Bellingham Washington: A Sustainable Living Community

Some locals insist that snowboarding was invented and perfected on the slopes of Mount Baker, a 10,800-foot glacier-covered mountain clearly visible from the streets of Bellingham. Others have little interest in snowboarding but love to sail, kayak, watch Orca whales, see great art, go to the farmers market or see concerts at Mount Baker Theater. Bellingham, just south of the Canadian border and 90 miles north of Seattle, supplies all these possibilities.

“A lot of people move here, then figure out how they’ll make a living,” says Michelle Long, executive director of Sustainable Connections, a nonprofit organization based in Bellingham whose mission is to promote the economic benefits of choosing local, independently owned businesses.

What makes Bellingham a great place is the deliberate effort to include sustainability and quality of life as part of every community discussion. With community enrichment as the overall goal, groups such as the Whatcom Coalition for Healthy Communities identified a “dashboard of indicators” for tracking the community’s health in terms of crime rate, civic involvement and infant mortality. Recognizing the need for a new generation of farmers to provide locally grown food, Sustainable Connection’s “Food to Bank On” program has offered apprenticeships to 23 new organic farmers in the past three years.

Bellingham and all of Whatcom County have created a local culture with a bright new ethic. Sustainability has become a way of life. Even in an environmentally active state, Whatcom was the first county to offer curbside recycling. According to a website pooling the data of retailers of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, Bellingham ranks 11th nationally in per capita sales of CFLs. The City of Bellingham has opted to purchase 100 percent green power from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind for city government operations, and Western Washington University students agreed to raise tuition slightly to fund a campus powered entirely by renewable energy.

Do you live in Bellingham? Have you visited? Please post your comments below.

Bellingham, Washington

Population: 72,992
Climate: Mild weather with a long rainy season. January average temperature: 35 degrees. July average: 62 degrees.
Median House Value: $252,000
Natural Assets: Access to Bellingham Bay, San Juan Islands and Mount Baker as well as the 241-acre Whatcom Falls Park that features four waterfalls and well-maintained walking trails. During the summer, Whirlpool Falls is a popular swimming hole where locals jump off cliffs as high as 50 feet into the natural pool below.
Sustainable Initiatives: Strong municipal and county commitment to resource efficiency and stewardship. Bellingham has signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and administers the Voluntary Metering Program that promotes residential and commercial water conservation.

Check out the other towns on our 2007 list of Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of.

David Wann writes and produces documentaries about sustainable lifestyles. His most recent book, Simple Prosperity, is a sequel to the bestseller Affluenza that he co-authored.

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Post a comment below.


8/22/2007 3:02:46 PM
I grew up in Bellingham. It's very pretty, but although it's changed a lot one thing I don't miss is the sexism. My mom is a CPA and has gotten flowers on secretary's day every year of her working life. If you think that's reasonable compensation for making half the wage of your male colleagues and sitting in a cubicle by the front door instead of an office (or that women should stay home where they belong), Bellingham is the town for you. Also, I sure hope the schools have improved.

8/20/2007 2:03:02 PM
I am in my late 30s and moved here 2.5 years ago. if you're an outdoor enthusiast, with an independent source of income, this is a great place to live. However, unless you share a house with roommates, or enjoy commuting, the housing costs are getting prohibitive, and finding a job that pays more than 10 bucks an hour is still a challenge, even with high tech degrees like my partner and I have. caveat emptor. It's also a very close community where people have the friends they've had since high school, and well into their 40s that's just plenty for them. Count on a year to two just to break into the community.

8/4/2007 1:51:11 AM
I am 24, and I have lived in Bellingham most of my life and I recently graduated from Western Washington University. Bellingham is the greatest town if you love the outdoors, cool people and great beer (Boundary Bay Brewery). If you are visiting Seattle, its totally worth the trip up to do some hiking and have fun.

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