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Coliseum to showcase greener living

By PAUL SWIDER
Published June 14, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Over the quarter century since the first Earth Day, environmentalists have fought against big business but are now realizing that changing the world might be better achieved through business.

"You do things because they help you, not just because they feel good," said Steve Plice, the main organizer of the Pinellas Living Green Expo, which will showcase environmentally tuned products and movements this weekend at the Coliseum.

Plice has gathered 74 exhibitors for the two-day event and actually had to turn down others; such was the demand for a display of green initiatives. Of those at the event, more than half are businesses, selling services, consulting or products. Plice said the idea is to inform consumers about green living options and increase demand for green business.

"We're trying to persuade retailers that they ought to carry products like this," said Plice, who had to raise about $60,000 in cash and kind under the banner of the Council of Neighborhood Associations to organize the expo. "The time has come. It's now very mainstream."

Some who will be at the expo have toiled for a long time, waiting for green products to catch on. Rich Glueck of Solar Energy Systems in Gulfport has been installing solar water heaters, pool heaters and solar electric systems for 18 years, but has been seeing business increase in the past few. He said he does most of his business with commercial properties because they can more easily absorb a capital investment, while homeowners may not have several thousand dollars to spend even if a green installation will save them more in the long run.

"I have been getting a lot more calls, because of the cost of fuel and increasing cost of electricity," Glueck said.

Tom Chasm of Healthy Home has been selling healthy paints for 12 years and has seen demand grow enough that he has had to move his shop three times seeking more space. He's now branching out into other green home products, like flooring and even pest control, because his customers, particularly the soccer moms that are his core, are demanding cleaner lifestyles for their families.

"There's nothing that's going to change a woman's views of the environment more than having children," Chasm said.

Plice's description of green business as a pocketbook issue is also reflective of a larger understanding of environmental effects. Society is coming to grips with the idea of "lifecycle costs" of consumption, said Mary Anne G. Bowie, who will represent Sarasota Green Marketplace at the expo. Understanding not just the price of a product but its full environmental impact, from production to disposal, improves accounting and shows that green living is often less expensive than people thought, she said.

"When you look at the broader perspective, there is no question we're moving that way," Bowie said, adding that green business is the basis of the future economy and engaging in it is an economic development strategy. "What is going to happen is the big boys are going to get into it."

For instance, all the oil companies are now manufacturing photovoltaics, or solar electricity panels, said Wayne Wallace of Largo's Solar Source, which installs PV and will also be at the expo. He said most of the manufacturing is done overseas and most of the demand is outside Florida in states like California, where there are government inducements.

"The bottom line is it's all about money," Wallace said, adding he's expecting Florida to initiate its own subsidy program this year to encourage green technology. "People are going to wake up when there's $5-a-gallon gas."

Plice said the expo will discuss the Florida subsidy and a federal tax credit people can use to help green investments.

Among the participants will be Grady Pridgen, a developer who espouses efficient development but who has sometimes been criticized by environmentalists for his business practices. Plice said that some diehards were offended that Pridgen would be attending.

"I'd like to think that, over time, Grady could become a tree hugger," said Honey Rand, with the Environmental PR Group that represents Pridgen.

Rand said Pridgen's La Entrada development on the Sod Farm in St. Petersburg is an example of a green development. She said its solar-powered streetlights and water heaters and green-roofed buildings are about Pridgen's catering to tenants and their desires.

"There's an additional cost to these things," she said, "but people will pay a premium for them. People will pay for quality."

Rand is an environmentalist herself, while working for businesses, and has studied the history of the movement over the decades.

She said the old "moral argument" of environmentalists has given way to something much more pragmatic.

"In Florida, our economic sustainability is based on protecting our environmental resources," she said.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

If you go: Pinellas Green Living Expo

WHEN:9 a.m. to 5 p.m.Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.Sunday.

WHERE:The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

COST:Admission and parking, free.

[Last modified June 14, 2006, 07:40:16]


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