Exploring Design Thinking for Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Transportation and Climate Change Innovations

Innovation and design thinking plays a pivotal role and are powerful tools that can revolutionize the way we approach or solve various environmental problems in Africa and by extension the world. When applied to these thematic areas of sustainability: sustainable energy, sustainable transportation, and climate change, these tools can drive transformative change, fostering creative and sustainable solutions. With the increasing need for sustainable solutions, the concepts of innovation in sustainable energy, sustainable transportation, and climate change have become intrinsically linked. By harnessing the power of innovation and design thinking, young people can drive sustainable solutions and make a significant positive impact on the environment to create a more sustainable future. Their passion, creativity, and willingness to challenge the status quo make them catalysts for change. In this resource, we will explore the tool of innovation and design thinking in sustainable energy, sustainable transportation, and climate change, focusing specifically on how these approaches can empower and engage youths in solving environmental problems as well as showcase what other youths have done in the past cohort of the EcoHeroes Initiative.

Innovation is the execution of novel ideas on how to make something better. Good ideas are not just enough, in executing these ideas lies the heart of innovation. Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on finding innovative and user-centered solutions. Design thinking puts human needs and experiences at the forefront, emphasizing empathy, creativity, and collaboration. Design thinking is a big part of innovation, one won’t happen without the other. With design thinking you can address process problems, mindset change and culture. For example, some youth’s mindset is that they cannot create jobs or there are no green jobs in the world, or nature-based solutions cannot be a solution to unemployment and job pressure, with design thinking you can change such mindset.

Empathy is the very first step of design thinking, this involves putting oneself in the shoes of the beneficiaries of the designed solution, hence its being user centered. Empathy requires mapping out what the exact problem is, observing, exploring the potential challenges, by doing this, one “stays” in the problem. It also requires interviewing people who are already being affected by the problem; understanding who they are and falling in love with the problem.

A design thinking tool specifically emphasizes the need to understand the problem more before jumping into the solution. The next step is to define your users’ needs and challenges by accumulating the information gotten during the empathize stage, observing and synthesizing them to make problem statements. After this step you ideate by thinking outside the box to brainstorm, view the problem in an alternative way and get an innovative solution to the problem. From here you create a prototype through experimenting and putting into action the generated innovative idea. This could involve simply paper prototyping. Finally, you try out the solution by testing your prototype. It is essential to adapt this process in enhancing innovation for sustainable development in all spheres. After coming up with an innovative solution, one can always go back to the first stage, depending on how confident and effective the solution is.


The Power of Innovation in Sustainable Energy:

Energy is one of the contributors to climate change, but it can also mitigate climate change impacts. As the world continues to grow and as the population in her increases, the economy continues to grow, we need to ensure that there are stable secure supplies of energy services to meet these needs. At the same time, we need to ensure that by doing so, we do not contribute to the worsening environmental situation. Thus, sustainable energy brings about the nexus between climate change interventions, addressing societal needs and energy conservation that should be duly considered in any innovative solution that will be created.

Today Africa emits 48 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases each year, having several sectors that are considered as contributors to these greenhouse gases, the energy sector and transportation sectors are one of the highest contributors. Efforts are being made to reduce this impact through sustainable energy innovation which has become a cornerstone in combating climate change and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. From renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power to advancements in energy storage and grid integration, innovation is transforming the energy sector. It is therefore worthy of note that youths are instrumental in all sectors in applying their classroom knowledge as well as green skills to identify energy related challenges, create innovative breakthrough technologies and solutions. This will enable the transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy systems, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and promote a greener economy, hence, the need for early engagement of youths.

Find below some of the projects youths in across Africa have done in the past cohort to mitigate climate change effects and reduce dependence on fossil fuels:

  1. #GreenGrowthAfrica’s EEP (now EcoHeroes Initiative) student team at Christ Apostolic Church Secondary School, Makurdi, Nigeria developed a Bionet Flexi-Digester; a cost-effective equipment for converting biodegradable waste (animal dung) to cooking gas and lighting (sustainable energy for cooking) through fermentation using a decomposer gel (based on secondary school chemistry – STEM). The project was implemented to reduce the high rate of deforestation which reduces adaptive capacity to combat climate change and the indoor carbon emissions that results from using fuelwood for cooking. See a video presentation of the project and a detailed report in a blog published by the students’ team.
  2. With the aim of reducing the use of firewood in their school kitchen and the associated health risk, the Nakuru Day team in Kenya built a biogas plant from cow dung. The plant produces sustainable energy for cooking (biogas), reduces fuelwood use and carbon emission by 20%; hence saving forest population for adaptive capacity to combat climate change. See a video presentation of the project.
  3. Student team in Business Senior High school, Tamale in Ghana 108,000kg recycled agricultural waste (mainly rice and groundnut husk) through destructive distillation and carbonation [– two chemical concept in Chemistry (STEM)] to produce 36,000kg of Smokeless Charcoal (Briquettes). The project conceptualised based on the students’ identification of the over reliance on fuelwood for cooking in the northern region of Ghana. The resulting decline in forest population reduce the capacity to capture carbon emissions as an adaptation mechanism against climate change. Similarly, the increased use of fuelwood for cooking results in further carbon emissions which exacerbates climate change. See a video presentation of the project. Also see a newspaper report of the award received by the school from the government of Ghana based on the project

Click here for more sustainable energy projects.


Climate Change: Innovating for a Resilient Future

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, demanding urgent action. Innovation is essential in developing solutions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. As of 2020, the United Nations estimates indicated that 47.7 % (191,841,724) of the African population is urban bringing about economic growth and development, population growth and population increase and a spatial dispersal of the rural population. The negative effect of these brought about the presence of slum quarters in the urban centers, civil unrest, insecurity, traffic congestion, weather inconsistency resulting in flooding, drought, and deepening poverty. Even though Africa as a whole is not a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for only 2–3 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sources, Africa is still at risk to the effect of climate change which threatens sustainable development. With the growing population of youth in each country in Africa, policies are being enacted to encourage individuals especially the youth, to achieve the three principal objectives of sustainable development, namely, economic development, environmental protection and preservation, and social improvement, according to AGENDA 2030, launched by the United Nations in 2015. Additionally, innovative approaches in sectors such as agriculture, transportation, waste management, and urban planning are essential for reducing emissions, conserving resources, and building climate resilience.

Please see case study projects conceived and implemented by students in African secondary schools to inspire your project ideas:

  1. #GreenGrowthAfrica’s Student team at Nova Pioneer Tatu Girls school in Tatu, Kenya applied Gay-Lussac’s law of ideal gases and the greenhouse effect – two theoretical concepts learned in chemistry to home-made and affordable water filtration system that is affordable for low-income rural dwellers. The project was conceptualised and implemented to address drinking of increasing unclean and untreated water for drinking among rural dwellers due to water scarcity because of drought occasioned by climate change. See a video presentation of their project.
  2. The student team at GBHS Belabo in Cameroon established a scheme and sustainable strategy for empowering their local community with requisite knowledge and skill to combat the decline of natural resources in Belabo, Cameroon. The decline and extinction of species have been partly attributed to climate change. The project covers activities of logging companies, sport hunting outfits and commercial bush meat hunters in the exploitation of natural resources across Cameroon forests. These problems are also associated to the fact that the local and indigenous communities are not aware of the long-term impact of these activities on their health, wellbeing, livelihood and environment. This project empowered the students with an in-depth understanding of the negative role of poor waste disposal and management, and to develop skills on waste management. The project also helped to build the sense of responsibility and advocacy in the participants to better engage in environmentally friendly practices.See a detailed report of the project has been published in a blog authored by the students’ team.
  3. The student team at Ngora Girls Secondary School in Uganda identified the effects of deforestation to the pollution and evaporation of water wells in Ngora. The team set out to increase suitable vegetation cover around the water Wells in their community. The student team planted 55 Paspalum (a type of grass known for erosion control) around the water wells in their community. This was achieved in addition to educating 483 students, 50 adult community members and 24 teachers on environmental protection, as well as mobilising them to clean up the wells within the Ngora community by removing silts and other non-biodegradable materials therein. The overarching goal of the project is the protection of biodiversity leading to the conservation of aquatic organisms such as frogs, snakes, earthworms, amoeba, and other animals that contributes to the water ecosystem. Kindly see representative pictures of the projects below while detailed report of the project has been published in a blog authored by the students’ team.

Click here for more projects related to climate change


Design Thinking: Creating Sustainable Transportation Solutions

Design thinking is a dynamic approach that can transform the transportation sector by fostering sustainable solutions. By understanding the needs and aspirations of commuters, pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, and urban planners, young designers can craft innovative modes of transportation that prioritize environmental preservation. Developing eco-friendly vehicles, optimizing transport networks, reducing congestion, and promoting active transportation are some examples of design thinking for sustainable transportation. This approach takes into account the entire lifecycle of transportation, from design to end-of-life considerations, ensuring sustainability across the board. The transportation sector plays a significant role in environmental challenges, particularly carbon emission in urban areas. However, the creativity and energy of young minds are already driving positive change. From electric vehicles to smart urban planning, developing sustainable and durable materials that can be used for roads, developing alternative cleaner and cheaper fuels that can be used instead of petrol, sustainable transportation is no longer just a concept but a tangible reality. These innovations not only address environmental concerns but also enhance accessibility, convenience, and overall quality of life for communities.

Examples of sustainable transportation projects:

  1. Building a solar-powered car: Build a Solar Car (greenlearning.ca)
  2. Building electricity-powered car: Electrifying the Future of Transportation Guide (greenlearning.ca)
  3. Replacing fossil energy production, renewable energies have to be scaled up to industrial scale through the development of Airborne Wind Energy Systems to meet the demands for megawatt projects onshore and offshore. Energy from airborne controlled wind energy ship: Wind Power has a new Game Changer | SkySails Power (skysails-power.com)


Please, note that as you apply for the 2023/2024 EcoHeroes Initiative, the projects exemplified in the web links above are not to be duplicated in your submission, they are only to inspire your thoughts.

Projects selected for the programme would be innovative projects focused on Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Transportation and Climate change.

We look forward to receiving your applications and ultimately working with you to create innovative solutions in these three thematic areas across Africa.

Proceed to apply here.




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