Connecting the Dots Between Design and Sustainability

Todd Barsanti

Today’s guest speaker came from an unexpected source. Todd Barsanti is a Sheridan Grad and Professor who recently trained with Al Gore on the topic of climate change. He did his masters at York University in Environmental Studies, and spoke to us today about climate change and sustainability — I know, it kinda seems unrelated to web design, but it actually has a lot to do with the industry if you take a step back and examine the impacts of our energy consumption in the environment.


In the design industry, there’s a lack of understanding in terms of sustainability, which refers to something that will last for future generations, and deals with social, economic and environmental concerns. Something as mundane as buying a coffee cup can lead to unnecessary waste overtime. Just think about how many cups of coffee you buy from Tim Hortons every week to keep you awake during those early morning classes–yeah, it’s cringe-worthy. Switching to a portable and re-washable coffee holder can reduce your ecological footprint. You’ll also look pretty shnazzy with your reusuable container that could come in a design of your choosing (or your making–now there’s a design opportunity!). Also, reusing bags while grocery shopping can reduce the amount of plastic bags that are dumped in our landfills.


Okay, we don’t just need to think of the koalas when we’re out making the world a greener place. But this photo just tugs at my heartstrings and shows the interconnectedness of our lives and that of animals and the environment.

Thisty koala gets a drink

Badly burned and thirsty after an Australian bushfire, Sam the koala gets a drink from firefighter David Tree. Photograph © Mark Pardew.

We need to learn how to live sustainably and watch what we carelessly throw into the environment. Even a single campfire left unattended could cause an entire forest to burn down. We’re not the only ones living on this planet; animals and plants have as much right to live here as we do. It breaks my heart to see animals lose their homes as a result of careless human mistakes.

Okay, I’m done with the sad animal photos. This isn’t a Sarah McLachlan SPCA animal cruelty guilt-trip ad. Let’s get back to talking about how design can be used to make sustainable things.


Todd told us about boys in poor villages in India and Africa who built their own makeshift wind turbine to generate electricity to their community. One of those boys was William Kamkwambe who had lived in an impoverished and famine-stricken community in Masitala, Africa. He had to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the tuition fees. During this time he began to frequent the library and taught himself how to build a windmill out of recyclable parts to generate power for his community.

 William Kamkwamba

William’s windmill was built using blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials from the local scrapyard.

Once his story reached international fame, he was given an opportunity to speak at a TED Talks conference in the U.S. There, he was blessed in many ways as people who were touched by his story offered to support him financially so that he could continue his education. He went on to study at the African Bible College Christian Academy in Lilongwe, got a scholarship at the African Leadership Academy, then studied at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. You can watch his TED Talks video here.


We may not have to go out and build a windmill for ourselves, but my point is that one person can make a difference, and that difference doesn’t have to come from something new. Like William who built his windmill out of recycled materials, what materials can we reuse to make our lives a little greener and less excessive? Do we really need to use a fresh sheet of paper to scribble down some wireframe ideas, or can we use the back of an already existing sheet? As an avid doodler, I have my own bin of used papers that I just flip over and reuse. It’s the little things that often makes a big difference. Here’s another way to go greener in terms of web design:  GreenGeeks is a Canadian web hosting company that uses green energy hosting through wind power! It might help you sleep easier knowing your websites are powered by green energy.


• Consider the environmental impacts of the things you buy
• When you buy something, make sure it lasts for a long time and is not easily breakable
• Commute to school or work if possible
• Use reusable waterbottles and coffee holders instead of opting for paper cups
• Turn off the lights when they’re not being used
• If something’s broken, try to fix it instead of buying a new one
• Reduce, reuse, recycle

This might all be common sense, but it’s good to be reminded every once in a while.

Stay Social! Visit Todd on twitter @SustainblDesign and check out his blog posts.

Take care of the earth, it’s the only home we have in this life.


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