Carbon handprint – a promising approach to indicate positive environmental impacts

A blog posting by Anne Tuppura from the LUT University

People walking on city streetAchieving an ability to offer products and services with relatively good environmental performance requires long-term and goal-oriented development work from companies. Companies that have proactively invested in improving environmental performance, may benefit from methods and tools that enable credible and transparent ways to communicate the environmental performance. One such approach is carbon handprint, which is developed to showcase the greenhouse gas emission reduction between alternative solutions.

As part of the ongoing Carbon neutrality empowered by handprint project, we interviewed informants from seven Finnish companies to learn how the early adopters of carbon handprint have experienced the use of this relatively new approach. By interviewing the users, we wanted to identify both the benefits and challenges related to the implementation and use of the carbon handprint approach.

Calculation requires effort

The user experiences indicate that the implementation of the carbon handprint approach requires effort in terms of learning to use it and – as it is a relatively new concept – in terms of increasing awareness of it among the stakeholders. In the beginning, handprints and footprints get easily confused. Further, the calculation appears challenging in cases where either data or other needed information are missing. This happens e.g., when the customer does not have the data, or the company does not have information on how the product or service will change the customer’s processes (i.e., how the emissions will change).

It appeared, that the effort needed to provide the calculations depended on the characteristics of the product or service, but also on how well the company understands the customer’s business. Sometimes thorough familiarizing with the customer’s business was required to understand the influence of the product or service on the customer’s business and emissions. As the carbon handprint calculation can be laborious, it may be justified to carefully select the customers or customer groups to whom carbon handprint information is offered.

Carbon handprint can have an eye-opening effect

The respondents found that the handprint approach and the new way of thinking adopted with it can have various kinds of benefits. The possibility to examine the positive impacts alongside the negative ones enables a more holistic view on the company’s environmental impact. Further, being able to measure the positive impacts enables monitoring their development and setting goals accordingly. Adopting the handprint mindset can enable the consideration of positive impacts already at the planning phase, or facilitate decision making, e.g., enable comparing the impacts of alternative options at the product or production process development phase. The carbon handprint mindset may further promote identifying new business opportunities.

The previous research shows that practices that promote responsible business operations targeted at the company’s external stakeholders can have various positive effects on the company’s employees as well. The results of the current study indicated that making the positive environmental impacts of business operations visible could increase positive emotions related to work, such as feeling inspired by the work, or finding the work meaningful.

Awareness of the carbon handprint is growing

Many of the interviewees found that while the awareness and use of the carbon handprint approach is still low, the awareness is currently increasing. Companies already applying the approach promote the diffusion by communicating about the approach when interacting with different stakeholders. The threshold for new adopters to adopt the handprint can be further lowered by publishing information on the benefits of the approach and the best practices related to it.

In the future, the benefits of the carbon handprint approach may increase further as the European Commission’s recent legislative proposal to curb greenwashing (Green Claims Directive) progresses. The carbon handprint approach includes several elements in accordance with the Directive, as it is based, among other things, on life cycle modelling and includes the use of a reference point in the calculation. Another advantage of the carbon handprint with regard to the directive is that the calculation always aims to use the most accurate available data, and the calculation does not include compensation for greenhouse gases.


Read more on the topic from this recently published article in Journal of Cleaner Production

Communicating positive environmental impacts – User experiences of the carbon handprint approach
Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 434, 1 January 2024