Dead wood given a new, ‘green’ life

A pair of Richmond 20-something entrepreneurs are giving new life to old, dead wood, while trying to promote the “green” idea of buying products made from sustainable materials.

McNair secondary grads Gleb Vaguine and Pierre Lai joined forces about a year ago to form Killwood Inc., which uses mountain pine beetle-damaged wood in their small line of modern design furnishings.

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Vaguine, who studied film at Langara College in Vancouver and worked in the local film industry before earning a degree in psychology at UBC, said he became interested in how to apply the concept of sustainability after taking a class in environmental psychology and later linked it with the plight of B.C.’s pine forests.

“A lot of the facets in the class involved the idea that making people more sustainable is more than saying reduce, re-use and recycle,” Vaguine said. “And a lot of people can feel anxiety when you use blame tactics to try and get them to do something like that. They can get defensive.”

Instead, the course presented the aspect of more positive means to influence change.

“You give someone something cool and awesome and sustainability becomes something easy,” Vaguine explained. “They get something neat that they can use during their day and they are being sustainable. That’s how you motivate people and drive something like the concept of sustainability.”

The link with pine beetle damaged wood came from the fact Vaguine works out at the Richmond Oval where the roof is made from the reclaimed wood.

And when he talked with Lai, who went to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied industrial and product design, the pieces fell into place to start a small enterprise using wood that has been virtually left to rot on the forest floor around B.C. where it emits environmentally harmful CO2.

According to B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the mountain pine beetle is a naturally occurring insect of the Rocky Mountain ecosystem.

In the late 1990s, after several relatively warm winters, a massive outbreak resulted in the loss of millions of hectares of pine forest in British Columbia over the next 15 years.

The beetles are killed by very cold winter weather, which historically has kept their numbers in check. They attack mature trees by boring through the bark and mining the phloem (living tissue in vascular plants that carries organic nutrients).

“By 2021, there will be about a 57 per cent reduction of pine trees in B.C.,” Vaguine said. “That’s a huge concern from an economic aspect because it’s all lumber that could have been sold for export. Plus, the amount of trees devastated releases CO2 equal to 3.7 million cars on the road per year.

“Imagine, that’s like huge parking lots of cars, all idling. And people are trying to limit their impact on the environment by showering for a little less time, when realistically, there’s a tree out there that is producing CO2 emissions.”

Their answer was to try and bridge that gap between consumerism and environmental stewardship. And one of the links was through creative and appealing design.

“I started looking around and noticed that no one was making everyday products out of this wood,” Vaguine said, adding that one trend he saw was for wooden covers for laptops. “I thought that was so cool – integrating natural wood into technology, because tech seems to consume just about all of us today, while we also tend to lose that sense of nature.”

To help get things off the ground, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign last July which promoted a wooden bike rack. Called Bika, it is mounted on a wall and a bike can be hung from its middle bar. A small cubby hole provides storage for a helmet and other small items. And a magnet on the underside of the rack can suspend a ring of keys.

The campaign sold out, raising money which paid for materials to meet their orders and also allowed the duo to spread the word about their products and philosophy. And that drew interest from international magazines, such as GQ in the U.K. and other publications in Singapore, Korea and Australia.

“The exposure has been absolutely fantastic,” Vaguine said, adding they were also featured in Bloomberg Business magazine.

Two other products were then launched —Planta, a small desk-top planter that organizes charging cords for electronic devices, and Botto, a bottle opener fitted with a magnet to retain the metal cap once it has been removed.

In addition to all the products being sold online at Killwood.ca, the bottle opener is also available from Richmond craft brewery Fuggles & Warlock.

The distinctive, blue-tinged pine beetle wood Killwood Inc. uses comes from a supplier in Kelowna. And so far, they have purchased about 1,000-board feet.

All of the manufacturing is done in B.C; the bike racks and planters are made in Prince George and the bottle openers are produced in east Vancouver.

To help revitalize the forests and offset the CO2 emissions already released by the fallen pine trees, Killwood Inc. plants a tree for each product they sell. So far, they’re on schedule to plant 220 trees.

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