Greg Norris has worked in the field of lifecycle assessments—what you and I know as "footprints"—for many years. And, not long ago, he started to feel depressed about it. Everything seemed to be in a negative direction, impact-wise. "From the footprint perspective, all you see is bad news," he says. "I ended up feeling like the Earth would be better off without me."
So, Norris came up with what he calls "the mirror image of footprints". Handprints are the positive things we do to reduce damage we inevitably cause from driving, buying stuff, and so on. It’s a form of offsetting. But instead of paying someone to plant a tree in Malawi, you have to take care of the corresponding action yourself.
"I asked myself: How can I make it possible that there would be less pollution because of me? The answer is to stimulate change for the better," he says.
You can create a handprint in three ways. First, you simply cut your footprint: say, by cycling to work, rather than driving. Second, you can champion an action suggested on the platform (carpooling, say). Or, third, you can come up with a completely new idea. In each case, Handprinter calculates the benefit and your part in bringing it about. If, for example, you share a link and someone clicks on it, you get credited with that action. Everything is subtracted from your footprint, which you calculate at the beginning.
The site launched last year, and had an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign. But Norris, who teaches at Harvard, says it’s still early days. His team is now working on new visuals, developing a mobile version, and adding languages. Handprinter already has a corporate app version, which one clothing retailer is now trialing in its stores (see the images above).
Norris sees the platform as a way of inspiring positive behavior. If he can get enough people using the app, he hopes to create a virtuous circle of people proposing and rewarding action. As an example, he points to an initiative in Maine that Handprinter has been involved with. Owens Corning has donated 300 water heater blankets, which schools are giving away to residents in return for nine months’ worth of energy savings. The schools will spend the money on new blankets, setting up a positive cycle. (Students can follow the ripple effects on the Handprinter app).
We’ll come back in a few months to see how Norris and Handprinter are doing.