TAMPA — Anyone can recycle and bike and calculate carbon footprints. But leave it to the wealthy to go green in style. Paris Hilton is driving around in a hybrid SUV, and Jennifer Garner was spotted cruising in a BMW Hydrogen 7, a hydro-powered car not even on the market yet but being tested in limited leases by celebrities. This according to celebrity sites that keep track of such things — tmz.com, theinsider.com and hollywood.com, And ecorazzi.com, a blog that deems itself "the latest in green gossip," says Pamela Anderson is building a green hotel in Abu Dhabi. If what they say is true, stars aren't the only ones indulging in eco-luxuries. Even in Tampa, those who can afford to are showing how saving the world never seemed so good for you — or looked so good on you.
Davis Islands resident Sara Scher wanted a Lexus, but it lost points on mileage. So she bought a Toyota Prius with all the gadgets: reversal camera, MP3 and Bluetooth hookups, GPS.
The Prius is the king of hybrid cars, so popular that Toyota of Tampa Bay on Fletcher Avenue keeps a waiting list six- to nine-months long. "For the most part, we've stopped taking orders because our list is so extensive," said manager Jon Maffei.
Customers cite gas prices as the primary reason for their choice, but Maffei noted that most of the cars they're trading in are already fuel efficient.
Scher said she didn't buy hers because of its popularity, but she does feel a bond with other Prius drivers.
"I know that they think like I do," she said.
According to a 2007 study by Scarborough Research, a joint venture with Arbitron Inc. and the Nielsen Co., 42 percent of households in the United States that own or lease at least one hybrid vehicle have an annual income of more than $100,000, twice the national average.
Many hybrid owners are older than the average car buyer, politically liberal and more than twice as likely to have a college degree, the research shows.
And they're ready with quips about the gas-guzzling, status-symbol-turned-pariah Hummer.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said she was with her husband when their Prius rolled up to a Hummer. He joked about rolling down the window and offering the driver carbon credits.
And Scher's latest catch phrase: "Only Republicans drive Hummers."
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Last year, thousands worldwide lined up to buy a limited edition canvas grocery tote by British designer Anya Hindmarch for $15. The slogan read, "I'm NOT a Plastic Bag."
Shortly after, the bags began appearing on eBay for four times the price. Then came the knockoffs. Then the buyer guides analyzing the curves of the letters.
"BEWARE!" one reads. "100% AUTHENTIC HANDBAGS can be 100% FAKE!!"
Other "green-friendly" bags have been elevated to status symbols as well. Hermes sells its silk interpretation of the reusable bag for $960, and Juicy Couture's "Go Green" tote costs $75.
At Kit's Well-Heeled & Well-Dressed in Hyde Park, green products sell quickly, said manager Sara Quintero, half an hour after selling a plain, long-sleeved organic cotton T-shirt for $110.
Organic cotton, grown without pesticides, is more expensive. But Quintero says customers just need to hear the magic word.
"When you tell the customer they are organic," she said, "they're like, 'Okay.' "
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Far from Pamela Anderson's supposed green hotel in Abu Dhabi, environmentally friendly architecture is making its way to the Tampa Bay area.
A new apartment development called the Circle will average $1,100 a month for rent. It's just off the Crosstown Expressway in the Brandon area.
The apartments will feature recycling programs, green-friendly cleaning products and paint, and front row parking for hybrids, and will emphasize community activities like volunteering and pet happy hours.
The Crescent Multifamily Development Group recently launched the concept and also plans to build in North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and other parts of Florida.
Managing director Todd Farrell isn't sure who the Brandon development will attract when it opens next year, but he envisions young professionals between 25 and 35 "with fairly decent jobs" for the Charlotte, N.C., location.
In South Tampa, people schedule tours just to behold the new 8,400-square-foot Walker Brands building on Kennedy Boulevard, with its floors made of rare 100-year-old heart pine found at the bottom of the Suwanee River and a conference table that's actually the recycled rudder of a World War II-era bomber plane.
Owner Nancy Walker admits that the environment was only part of her motivation for building green. Her company brands buildings, and she sees this $3-million edifice as a symbol of creativity.
Mark House, managing director of the Beck Group architecture and development firm, said he encourages green building not because it adds value, but because it soon will be the norm in construction.
"You're not cutting edge if you go green," he says. "You're just keeping up with the Joneses."
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.