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Beyond ecological footprint: Embracing the concept of the ecological handprint

Published June 26, 2023

Companies are increasingly disclosing their corporate footprint information. However to fight the climate crisis we should not only focus on negative externalities but also maximizing the positive impact one has on the planet. This is the concept of handprint, which we will introduce in this article.

Although not new, the topic of carbon footprinting remains a controversial one: as Michael E. Mann mentioned in 2021 in his book “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet”, the concept of footprinting has been democratized by the fossil fuel industry itself as of the 1980s. At an individual scale, the concept of footprint puts the weight of the climate crisis on households who have to face an overwhelming burden and responsibility for their own consumption habits. While no individual action is too small to make a change, it is pretty clear that what we need is collective action at every scale mainly from governments and corporations. A good development in the public and private space is that the reporting on corporate footprinting is gradually becoming standard and disclosure regulation on ESG in Europe has been scaling up. 

It is crucial for companies to understand their contribution to climate change and acknowledge their role in delivering the SDGs. At the end of 2021, more than 2,000 companies across 70 countries and 15 industries, representing more than one third ($38 trillion USD) of global market capitalization, had approved emissions reductions targets or commitments with the Science-Based Targets initiative. But on top of solely reducing emissions, corporations have a duty to generate a positive impact on the economy, society and the environment. That’s when the concept of handprint starts to make sense: by shifting our focus from a “footprint-only” approach we will maximize positive impact. 

The well-known concept of ecological footprint

As our planet faces increasing environmental challenges, measuring  footprints  has become a crucial - or mandatory - step towards a sustainable development, understanding, acknowledging and reducing our negative impact on the planet. The concept of footprint was first proposed by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in 1992 and is initially a tool to measure the total area of land and water required to support human activities. However the concept was quickly picked up by fossil fuel industries in the UK, namely by British Petroleum, who according to the Guardian, started a communication campaign to promote the concept of individual carbon footprint.

With growing awareness of the climate crisis and sustainability issues, calculating corporate footprints still seems important for understanding resources consumed, waste produced, or how ecosystems are affected by a company’s activities particularly in sectors such as energy, transportation, or agriculture. Measuring the ecological footprint not only helps businesses become aware of their environmental impact but it also enables them to identify areas where they can take steps towards reducing it. However, this approach only tells part of the story. While it's crucial to minimize our negative impact and reduce emissions by 90 to 100%, we also have the duty to go above and beyond the sheer reduction of footprint and use the power of a business to make a positive impact on nature and society. This is where the concept of handprint comes in.

An innovative and holistic approach to sustainability: the concept of handprint

The handprint is a lesser-known, yet innovative and holistic approach to sustainability that complements the concept of the footprint. It focuses on measuring the positive impact that organizations can have on the environment and society by undertaking actions that not only keep their footprint to a minimum but also generate additional positive externalities. The concept was first proposed by Dr. Gregory Norris in 2008, who recognized the need to inspire and mobilize society to take more proactive steps towards sustainability and promote a more optimistic and solution-oriented approach to environmental issues. 

The climate crisis is not only on our shoulders, it is also in our hands.
Luisa Neubauer

For companies, this concept offers a unique opportunity to truly work on creating a better future for the generations to come. As an example, it is pretty clear by now that reducing GhG emissions to a minimum won’t be enough to keep our planet below 1.5 degree Celsius and that we must also remove CO2 permanently from the atmosphere. Companies engaging in activities or projects that will actively remove CO2 on top of their own emission reduction will have a durable positive impact, a handprint, as well as the ones committing to deliver progress on SDGs.

The handprint can be evaluated looking at different criteria, for example when it comes to the environment, carbon sequestration, water conservation, waste reduction, and biodiversity preservation. For example, to facilitate this process, the Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP) has developed a methodology to assess an  organization’s handprint. It includes a handprint calculator that measures the positive impact of actions and a so-called "handprint label" that, once assessed, can be used to communicate this positive impact to stakeholders, allowing them to make more informed choices about the products and services of the concerned company.

Tomorrow’s approach to handprint

At Tomorrow, we take a comprehensive approach to measure our handprint. Our handprint materializes through three key pillars: Tomorrow accounts, Tomorrow card payments, & investment with Tomorrow. For each of these pillars, we have developed specific impact levers that enable us to measure progress towards creating a positive change and maximizing our handprint.

  • Tomorrow Accounts: We believe in the power of money to drive positive change. Customer deposits are used to invest in social and environmental projects, as well as secondary sustainable investments, with approximately 38% of our overall deposits invested sustainably.

  • Tomorrow Card Payments: Tomorrow offers two main drivers here to fight the climate crisis: the interchange fee allocates a portion of merchant fees towards selected climate protection projects, while the Rounding Up feature enables customers to make a donation with each  transaction to carefully selected projects. Currently the interchange fee helps finance the Eastern Cape spekboom restoration project in South Africa, aiming at removing more than 200,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere in the next 20 years and binding it by renaturalizing old pastures with spekboom plants. With the Rounding up feature, we were able to direct more than 400,000 euros of donations towards climate justice projects in 2022 alone.

  • Investment with Tomorrow: Customers can invest in various investment products via the Tomorrow app, such as the Tomorrow Better Future Stocks, a fund aligned with the Paris climate goals. When selecting investment products, we use a strict catalog of criteria with positive and negative criteria that are based, among other things, on ESG criteria.

Tomorrow is committed to maximizing its customers handprint. As Luisa Neubauer said in her recent speech at the 2023 OMR conference in Hamburg, “Much more interesting than the CO2 footprint for us humans is actually the CO2 handprint. What do we actually do all day? The climate crisis is not only on our shoulders but it is also in our hands”.

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Disclaimer & risk notice: The mentioned investment products are associated with risks as the value of your investments may increase or decrease in value. You may lose your invested money. Price developments in the past, simulations or forecasts are no reliable indicator of future performance.

The text does not contain investment advice or recommendations to buy or sell. Visualizations are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent actual or future performance of the fund.

Our partner Solaris SE is the provider of all banking services. Additionally Tomorrow GmbH offers the brokerage of the Tomorrow Better Future Stocks fund as a tied agent within the meaning of § 2 para. 10 KWG in the name and for the account of Solaris SE and is entered in the public register maintained by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). The register can be viewed at