11/01/2019 – News / Environment / Sustainability / Climate / Carbon Handprint / Finland

The ‘carbon handprint’: A new indicator for evaluating the positive climate impacts of products


VTT and LUT University, alongside a handful of top Finnish companies, have developed a method and guidelines for evaluating and communicating on the ‘carbon handprint’ of products. Unlike its forbears, the new environmental indicator describes the positive climate impacts of a product, as companies strive to step up their sustainability efforts.


Environmental impacts are often expressed through footprint indicators describing a negative impact – as in the familiar carbon and water footprints. Until now, companies have lacked the means to present positive effects. In step the so-called ‘carbon handprint’.


Since the handprint is a new and evolving environmental indicator, Finnish companies have the chance to profile themselves as pioneers by communicating positive environmental effects. And the use of the handprint clearly looks set to increase. For example, the carbon handprint can be used for marketing and communication purposes, and to make product development more climate-friendly.


The bigger the handprint, the better


The idea behind the carbon handprint is that a company develops products and services that allow its customers to reduce their carbon footprint. The calculation gives the size of handprint caused by the company’s product: the bigger the handprint, the better. When a customer starts using the product, its own footprint decreases.


Actions such as improving energy efficiency, reducing the use of materials, making climate-friendly choices when it comes to raw materials, developing product recyclability, reducing the amount of waste material, lengthening product lifespans and improving product usability can all have an impact on a product’s carbon handprint.


The new tool for highlighting climate benefits


And it appears that major multinationals are already singing the praises of the new environmental indicator.


“The Carbon handprint project has been highly useful from Nokia’s perspective, since it has provided us with tangible assistance in evaluating the environmental impact of our products. VTT’s calculation methods have made it easy to demonstrate reductions in carbon footprints due to new products in particular,” said Pia Tanskanen, Head of Environment at the Finnish multinational telecoms firm. “Cooperation with VTT and other companies involved in the project has been smooth and helped us to understand the challenges faced in other industrial sectors.”


Asta Soininen, Sustainability Researcher at Neste – an oil refining giant that is pioneering clean fuel solutions and is involved in the project – added that the carbon handprint would be a “useful tool for highlighting the climate benefits of lower-emission products”, such as fuel made from renewable raw materials. “Hopefully, highlighting positive carbon handprints will help consumers to make decisions and guide them in choosing more responsible products and services,” she said.


Expanding the carbon handprint approach


While corporates have sometimes been criticised for not leading the sustainability drive to clean up their respective industries, the new initiative for the development of a carbon handprint actually originated with a group of Finnish companies. It is based on existing, standardised life cycle assessment methodologies, such as the carbon footprint. The guide on calculating carbon handprints will provide companies with step-by-step instructions on carrying out evaluations.


The carbon handprint method and guide were completed between 2016 and 2018 on the basis of funding from Business Finland, VTT, LUT University and companies. The following organisations were involved in the development work: Nokia, Neste, KONE, Paptic, Gasum, Biolan, AO allover, AM Finland, Metallinjalostajat and Sitra.


VTT and LUT University will continue developing handprint methodologies alongside 16 companies, by expanding the carbon handprint approach to company and project level and to other environmental impacts, such as water, nutrients, air quality and resource efficiency.


To view the carbon handprint guidelines online, visit: https://www.vtt.fi/sites/handprint/

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