What is a carbon handprint and how is it calculated?
The carbon handprint describes the positive climate impacts of a company’s operations. A carbon handprint is created when a company reduces the carbon footprint of its customers through its operations.
Responsible companies strive to reduce their carbon footprint and, at the same time, increase the positive climate impacts produced for customers, in other words, the carbon handprint. Thus, the carbon handprint does not mean reducing the company’s own carbon footprint. The carbon footprint and the carbon handprint are also not subtracted from each other; they are separate indicators of the company’s climate impact.
The handprint approach was created to emphasise the positive effects produced by companies alongside the negative footprint concept. The positive approach of the handprint highlights the potential for improvement and encourages companies to face global challenges, such as climate change, the water crisis and biodiversity loss.
The carbon handprint approach is necessary particularly because it enables the genuine scaling of an actor’s positive societal impacts. The handprint can also serve as a strategic tool that guides the company’s operations.
According to OpenCo2.net, which maintains the emission factor database, Finland is a forerunner in using the calculation methods. The model developed by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and LUT University was published in autumn 2018 and expanded in 2021. In the calculation of the handprint, the model takes into account not only the climate perspective, but also other positive environmental impacts.
Therefore, the carbon handprint does not mean reducing the company’s carbon footprint.
How is the carbon handprint calculated?
The carbon handprint is calculated by subtracting the carbon footprint of the product or service produced by the company from the carbon footprint of the baseline.
The carbon handprint calculation method is based on the requirements of the product carbon footprint standard (ISO 14067). The carbon handprint of an entire company can be determined by adding the carbon handprints of the products and services produced by the company.
The carbon handprint compares the climate impacts of two similar products or services. That is why the calculation of the carbon handprint requires information on the carbon footprint. The carbon handprint is calculated as the difference between the carbon footprint of the determined baseline of the product or service and the carbon footprint of the product or service rendered. The carbon handprint refers to the difference between the lifecycle carbon footprints of the two options, measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents.
Carbon handprint calculation formula
Carbon handprint = carbon footprint of the baseline − the carbon footprint of the product or service produced by the company
It is not possible to create a carbon handprint with just baseline operations.
What does baseline mean?
Baseline describes what would have happened in a normal situation without engaging in the activity under review. In a comparative handprint calculation, the change is always examined in relation to the baseline. A handprint is created when the carbon footprint of the product or service produced by the company is smaller than the carbon footprint of the baseline. Determining the baseline plays a critical role in the calculation. The choice of baseline depends, for example, on whether the product or service is unique or if there are other similar services on the market.
The baseline influences the size of the carbon handprint. This determination of the baseline is an essential part of the calculation, as a loosely defined baseline, for example, can inaccurately increase the size of the handprint. The advantage of the calculation method is that a well-chosen baseline rewards innovation and, on the other hand, it is not possible to create a handprint with just baseline operations.
In the Framework for Carbon Neutral Buildings and Sites of the Green Building Council Finland, the reference level for the carbon footprint calculation of a building can be set in order of priority at the average emission level, a typical solution used in the market or an alternative design solution for the project. These can also be used as the baselines for handprint calculations in construction projects.
When using a baseline, it is important to note that as the sector develops in a lower-emission direction, the baseline will also become lower in emissions. The handprint impact is reduced as a result. This should be taken into account in the calculations by, for example, annually updating the data on the average emission level to reflect the current state of the sector. In this way, the handprint can be calculated as accurately as possible.
When communicating the calculation results, it is important to explain the method of calculation accurately so that the environmental claims of the handprint are reliable. In the spring of 2023, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive that would require companies to comply with certain minimum criteria for environmental claims. The claims must be supported by scientific evidence and take into account the entire lifecycle as well as key environmental impacts.
What is the carbon handprint of a building?
The carbon handprint of a building should not be confused with the carbon handprint of a company. For example, Granlund’s carbon handprint is created when the services provided by Granlund reduce our customers’ carbon footprint.
According to the Ministry of the Environment in Finland, the carbon handprint of a building refers to the positive climate impacts outside the assessment outline of the building’s lifecycle that would not arise without the construction project. These can include emissions avoided by reusing building products or recycling materials, long-term carbon stores and excess renewable energy produced by the building.
The building’s carbon handprint is part of the Method for the Whole Life Carbon Assessment of Buildings prepared by the Ministry of the Environment, which calculates the building’s carbon footprint and carbon handprint. The final guide to the assessment method will be published when the decrees of the Ministry of the Environment on buildings’ climate reports, material descriptions and carbon footprint limit values enter into force after the Building Act enters into force in Finland in 2025.
Where can I get help?
Granlund offers carbon neutrality consulting services.
We have also started to calculate our own carbon handprint.