Handprint-Based NetPositive Assessment

Every product has a “carbon footprint” measuring its greenhouse gas emissions, a “water footprint” measuring water consumption, and so-on. And if every product has footprints, so too does every person and every organization.

While we can and must work to continually reduce footprints, we will never drive our footprints to zero. However, we can also bring positive change—benefits and healing—to the world around us. Footprint-consistent estimates of the impacts of positive change are called handprints.

If we shrink our footprints while also growing our handprints, we can eventually do more good than harm, becoming NetPositive. To manage for and achieve NetPositive, we need to be able to measure and reduce our footprints while measuring and growing our handprints.

The ability to be NetPositive lies with actors or entities capable of creating change, not products, although actors will often create change through the use of products (goods and services). It is how, and in what context, a product is used (by actors) which determines whether that product's use creates benefits that exceed the costs of achieving them.

Handprint-Based NetPositive Assessment takes the full life cycles of products into account. No part of a life cycle affected by a change or decision is out of scope—indeed, no impact caused by an actor is out of scope.

There are two ways to create a handprint:

  • Preventing/avoiding footprints that would otherwise have occurred, which includes reducing the magnitude of footprints that occur, relative to what their magnitude would otherwise have been
  • Creating positive benefits which would not otherwise have occurred.
Howard E. Stanton, MD

Howard Stanton, M.D., is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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