Footprint & Handprint: two routes to improve Return on Sustainability

 Most companies focus on reducing their footprint. Some even talk about moving towards a ‘positive footprint’. But what is a footprint? And why could increasing your handprint be even more impactful? 

Decreasing Footprint – operational opportunities

The concept of business footprint in sustainability is pretty well-known and established. This footprint refers to the (in most cases environmental) impact that is directly related to a company’s activities, such as land use, carbon footprint.. When referred to as an ecological footprint, it measures a business’ demand on natural capital: the quantity of nature it takes to support a company. 

When we talk about a company’s footprint, we see it as the operational opportunities to enhance a company’s Return on Sustainability. It refers to the sustainability opportunities across all the 4Ps1 that are within a company’s direct span of control to enhance its business in a sustainable way. 
Most often, the impact of these operational footprint opportunities is relatively smaller for service providers. However, improving your own footprint is a requisite to reap the benefits of the more strategic handprint opportunities.  

Increasingly, frontrunner companies aim to reduce their footprint to ‘net zero’ – although not always clear yet how to achieve this in their current context. ‘Positive footprint’ companies are those that have a core business focused on regenerating ecological or social themesTwo clear examples as part of our cases are Ptthee and LoNo Côte d’Ivoire. For Dutch startupptthee the more tea they produce and sell, the bigger the positive, regenerative impact on local biodiversity. LoNo CI4 literally converts (organic) waste to value by turning it into rich soil fertilizer.  

Improving Handprint– strategic opportunities

The handprint of a  business tells a different story: what positive impact does this company make through othersA simple example: a bank can reduce its footprint by installing solar panels on the HQ. But if they were to set attractive conditions for their mortgage clients to install solar panels, their impact would be multiplied tremendously. This is ‘handprint impact’, and the good thing is: the more, the better – and the higher your Return on Sustainability. In the personal domain, an example of ‘positive handprint’ could be to start a community kitchen garden in your neighbourhood.  

Most businesses can make a bigger impact through their handprint than their footprint. Especially service providers, who have less of a tangible & direct sustainability footprint to manage or improve have a much larger handprint impact. 

For handprint initiatives to be successful, they must be aligned with the company’s strategy, as only then they can create a win-win, and lasting impact. We have seen time and time again that focusing on the right handprint initiatives leads to a huge Return on SustainabilityPrerequisite is that sufficient progress and ambition is made on reducing footprint to show that you ‘walk the talk’. 

A tangible example can be found in our casesRotom (a pan-European logistics solutions provder) originally made and sold wooden pallets, now they increasingly help their clients’ supply chains become more sustainable through their circular, logistic solutions.  

Curious to find out what your impact can be?