CLEARWATER — Del and Beverly Baker recycle. They care about the planet. But it wasn't any twinge of tree hugging that prodded the retired Largo couple to the Pinellas Living Green Expo on Saturday.
It was their $150 electric bill.
"It's doubled in the last five years," Del Baker said.
Mother Earth, thank the recession.
Polar bears trapped on melting ice may not move some people to change their consumptive, Earth-wrecking ways, but a bum economy might. And expo organizers, expecting a record turnout of 10,000, say the end result is the same.
"The sustainable goals that we have are going to come about because they make good economic sense," said Steve Splice, president of Pinellas Living Green Inc. "People get green when they start seeing it's in their self-interest."
Since it drew 5,000 to its debut in 2006, the expo has become a beacon for some stripes of environmentalists.
Saturday's browsers could snack on $2 granola packs, buy bamboo shirts or get free pine seedlings from a shaggy-bearded arborist with arms like Popeye. They also could consider the carbon footprint of a hybrid electric yacht, or calculate how long it will take for the energy savings to pay off a $20,000 geothermal cooling system.
"This is what they want to know about," said Todd Boudreau, president of Air Conditioning Solutions, as he tapped his wallet.
Surveys suggest Boudreau isn't off base.
A Pew Research Center poll in January found 41 percent of voters said "protecting the environment" was a top priority, down from 56 percent last year. When asked to rank the country's 20 biggest concerns, they put global warming dead last.
And yet, the expo was humming.
"I believe in all of us doing something," said Bruce Hause, 55, decked out in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt. The owner of a Clearwater software company, Hause said he was scouting out solar power systems because "the technology has caught up to where it's economically feasible."
Businesses know what's up. In 2006, the expo didn't have a single air-conditioning contractor. This year, there are six.
Even the free tree guy was talking money, passing out pamphlets titled, "A Tree Left to Grow Is Worth $196,250."
Expo exhibitor Matthew Nichols sees both strains of green at his Vespa dealership in Clearwater. Some Vespa scooters can get 100 mpg, and the company is planning to roll out a hybrid next year that gets 150 mpg.
Whether buyers are motivated by living green or saving green, "it achieves the same goal," Nichols said.
Maybe, said Richard Blackham, 82, the closest thing to a naysayer on Saturday. He said he only had a few minutes to check out the exhibitors before heading back to a mission he was running for the homeless in the woods.
Without money, the homeless don't consume much, and they tend to put our waste to good use, he said.
"They're the biggest environmentalists we have."
Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes or (727) 893-8873.