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Carbon Handprint

A handprint denotes the positive environmental effects that organizations can create and convey by providing products and services that diminish the ecological footprints of others.

Specifically, a carbon handprint signifies the decrease in the carbon footprint of others.

What is Carbon Handprint?

Unlike an environmental footprint, which signifies the adverse environmental effects occurring throughout a product or service's life cycle, the concept of handprint embodies the positive environmental impacts generated.

A footprint represents absolute emissions, while a handprint varies contextually, signifying the difference between two solutions. The handprint approach focuses on enhancing others' performance by reducing their footprint, not merely one's own. It assesses positive impact by comparing the baseline footprint with the offered solution. Defining the baseline is crucial in evaluating the handprint's effectiveness.


What generates a handprint?

Various methods can enhance a handprint, particularly in reducing carbon emissions.

These methods involve efficient material and energy use, avoiding harmful substances, minimizing waste, extending product lifespan, and encouraging reuse. Additionally, carbon capture and storage are becoming increasingly significant contributors to a carbon handprint.


Material use

Replacing non-renewable or GHG intensive materials / Avoiding material use / Increasing material-use efficiency


Energy use

Replacing non-renewable or GHG intensive energy and fuels / Avoiding energy use / Increasing energy efficiency


Lifetime and performance

Lengthening the lifetime of a product / Enabling the performance improvement of a product / Efficient use of side streams



Reducing waste and losses / Contributing to recycling, reuse, and remanufacture


Carbon capture and storage

Contributing to GHG sinks through land-use change / Removal of carbon into biomass / Storing of carbon into products

A handprint can result from offering a lower-footprint solution (turquoise bar) or assisting users in reducing their process footprint (green bar), or both. For instance, eco-friendly food packaging not only has low emissions but also extends food shelf life, reducing food waste.


What is a handprint used for?

  • environmental strategies based on facts and science

  • identification of improvement potential

  • product and production development

  • comparison of alternative raw materials, technologies, and business solutions

  • ensuring and planning for compliance with future regulations

  • marketing and communication

  • supporting political decision-making

  • supporting decision-making of customers and other stakeholders

The target audience includes potential customers (B2B or B2C), as well as various stakeholders like organizations, political leaders, and communities. Handprinting not only aids communication but also identifies development needs. It assesses whether a product creates a handprint compared to other options in the market, offering crucial insights for product developers striving to meet future sustainability standards.

Handprint aims to evaluate the positive effects resulting from the use of a product or service by a customer, whether existing or potential.

Who can calculate handprints?

Quantifying the handprint requires expertise in life cycle assessment (LCA) methodologies and knowledge of ISO standards (14040-44, 14046, 14067, 14026). Involvement of experts familiar with the product, application, and market is crucial for understanding the context and establishing the baseline.



Tiina Pajula, saija Vatanen, Katri Behm
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
P.O. Box 1000, FI-02044 VTT

Kaisa Grönman, Laura Lakanen, heli Kasurinen, risto soukka
LUT University
P.O. Box 20, FI-53851 Lappeenranta

Through collective efforts, businesses can play a crucial role in creating a more sustainable and greener future, promoting environmental consciousness and fostering a culture of responsible stewardship for the planet.

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