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Graham Buksa focuses on the task at hand while testing his product.

How a local skateboard maker learned to waste less by tapping UBC's MBA talent and skillful hands in the Downtown Eastside

Graham Buksa, owner and founder of Rayne Longboards, had a problem. Building skateboards at his North Vancouver factory created a lot of scrap wood. "Maybe it's the engineer in me, I don't like waste," he says. He knew there had to be a use for the off-cuts and he thought the proceeds from whatever he came up with could fund a program at the University of British Columbia that teaches business skills to Kenyans. But despite years of brain storming none of his ideas—belt buckles, ping pong paddles, cribbage boards—panned out.

So earlier this year he took on a couple of MBA interns from the University of British Columbia and charged them with solving the riddle of his waste problem with a social payback. Their brilliant solution: task at-risk youth from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to turn the off-cuts into architectural wall panels, the sale of which will go to the Sauder-Africa program. "I thought if it can contribute to the Africa program, great," Buksa says. "If I can get rid of my waste problem, even better. If it can help less fortunate kids in the Downtown Eastside, that's fantastic."

Dubbed Ollitecture, a nod to an ollie, a classic skateboarding trick, the wall hangings are fabricated by Tradeworks Training Society, a Skills Canada funded program that helps marginalized youth deal with their social issues while teaching them carpentry skills and eventually transitioning them into the workforce. "This is a great opportunity and one of the most innovative things we've done," says Maninder Dhaliwal, Tradeworks executive director. "The students like the coolness of the project. I think it will double our success rate."

Supervised by a red-seal carpenter and graduates of the program in a 6,000-square-foot shop in the Downtown Eastside the students take Rayne's waste, cut it into squares and rectangles, sand and stain each piece and then emblazon it with discontinued Rayne skateboard graphics. The pieces are typically mounted on a wall in a mosaic of colour and texture.

"As soon as I heard about it I needed to be involved immediately," says Jared Kress, the owner of The Eco Floor Store, a wall, floor and counter covering boutique in Vancouver. "There's nothing else like it." Kress has been selling similar decorative wall panels for a couple years and the idea was named a top trending item for 2013 at Vancouver's annual Interior Design Show West. "Gone are the days when you hang pictures on the wall and call it art," he says. "Now you can make the whole wall art."

But existing products were more modern and staid—reclaimed barn wood, printed cork boards. He expects that "the hipster demographic," skate shops and outdoor stores like Mountain Equipment Co-Op will love the combo of art, waste reduction and social aspects. He's so confident of the product's chances that he signed on as the B.C. distributor and is helping show Ollitecture at IDS West 2013. Buksa hopes the new business, launching this fall, diverts 50 to 70 per cent of Rayne waste, generating $80,000 per year in the process. It's enough to pay an employee to take orders and market the company and still donate $30,000 to the Sauder-Africa program. "If we can do all that, I'll be super-tickled," he says. "It's a brilliant use of resources," Kress says. "[It's] upcycling to the max and an absolutely empowering story."

IDS West runs at the Vancouver Convention Centre West from Sept. 19 - 22.