With the ongoing climate crisis, industries are uniting more than ever before to understand and improve their environmental impact. The emerging concept of a “carbon handprint” is one such initiative, offering a novel lens through which organisations can assess their positive environmental contributions. Let’s take a deeper look at the concept of a carbon handprint, and why for some organisations, it can be as crucial as measuring their carbon footprint.

What is a carbon handprint and how does it differ from a carbon footprint?

Simply put, a carbon handprint measures the positive impact of a product on the environment, while a carbon footprint measures the negative impact (absolute greenhouse gas emissions) of a product on the environment.

Simply put, a carbon handprint measures the positive impact of a product on the environment, while a carbon footprint measures the negative impact (absolute greenhouse gas emissions) of a product on the environment.

You might think that a carbon handprint is just “the opposite” of a carbon footprint, but their distinction is a bit more complex. One of the core differences is that a carbon footprint focuses on the absolute emissions associated with an organisation’s product or activity, whereas a carbon handprint refers to the positive impact (emission reductions) that said organisation’s product has on the carbon footprint of others.

VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland, defines both handprint and carbon handprint separately:

“A handprint refers to the beneficial environmental impacts that organisations can achieve and communicate by offering products and services that reduce the footprints of others.”

“A carbon handprint is the reduction of the carbon footprint of others.”

It’s also important to note that a carbon handprint is not an absolute value and cannot be directly evaluated against a carbon footprint. A carbon handprint is a relative value measured by comparing the impact of the baseline product to that of a new alternative, i.e. the emissions resulting from the current product or system compared to a different one. Such a comparison tells us how much better one product or service can be for the climate over another.

Why focus on carbon handprint?

Understanding your carbon handprint offers you a different perspective on the environmental impact of your company. For example, while it’s true that electronics manufacturers rely on a complex, resource-intensive supply chain to create their products, it’s also true that many of these companies are creating truly impactful solutions that contribute to sustainable development.

In the case of some industries, understanding the carbon handprint of an offering can provide the company with an additional focus area in its sustainability strategy. Ultimately, measuring carbon handprint can help to answer the question of “How is my company helping society to meet climate targets?”.

The most practical way to improve your carbon handprint is to invest in solutions that improve (energy) efficiency or reduce reliance on unsustainable practices, or, in other words, solutions that can help your end customer to reduce their carbon footprint.

Companies can also consider engaging in educational campaigns to boost the awareness and adoption of such solutions among their stakeholders, which could impact the carbon handprint of said company as well as the overall industry.

Raising awareness of the concept of a carbon handprint in general could also be highly beneficial in reaching wider climate goals. With a keener understanding of the concept, companies could better compare and assign resources to maximise their positive impact. Collaboration with other organisations, NGOs, and local communities, for example, could be a great avenue for sharing the message.

What does carbon handprint mean for Helvar?

Helvar are a UKGBC member who provide intelligent lighting solutions for customers around the world. In the smart building industry, lighting solutions can have a strong carbon handprint by improving the overall energy efficiency of a building. In fact, by combining ultra-efficient lighting components, intelligent controls and a digital services platform into an interconnected ‘end-to-end’ solution, Helvar is in a unique position to impact on the sustainability of buildings around the world.

As an example of the impact of lighting controls, we can look to Helvar’s solution for the Allander Leisure Centre in Bearsden, Scotland. Helvar’s intelligent lighting management system provided control over all lighting within the facility, ensuring efficient operation and significant energy conservation. Because the system can now adjust the lighting based on real-time occupancy and available natural light, massive savings are achieved compared to a traditional “on-off” lighting system which operates at a fixed output level. “Helvar’s solutions perfectly aligned with the project’s requirements for creating adaptable lighting environments while maximising energy efficiency” explained Raymund McGrath, Regional Manager, Helvar. 

For the end user, intelligent lighting controls vastly reduce the amount of energy that is wasted and thus their Scope 2 emissions. In other words, by implementing intelligent solutions and reducing their customers’ energy consumption and resulting carbon footprint, Helvar positively impacts the environment through a growing carbon handprint. As such, Helvar’s carbon handprint is truly a core part of the company!

Calculating carbon handprint

In practice, there is no standardised way to calculate a carbon handprint. In Helvar’s case, to evaluate their carbon handprint in the form of saved electricity, they analysed the annual sales of their dimmable drivers and sensors and the corresponding yearly energy savings at the locations where they are utilised.

It’s good to note that the main energy production methods can vary between specific countries or even regions, which can impact both foot- and handprint calculations.

In the case of the United Kingdom, where nearly 40% of energy is generated from fossil fuels, the carbon handprint of any one solution may be higher than say in Finland, where a considerable portion of the energy comes from renewable or nuclear sources. As an example, a study in Finland found that a luminaire’s carbon handprint in the use stage is 5 times greater than its footprint from the manufacturing stage, when it is equipped with a dimmable driver and uses proper lighting controls. Using these calculations it can be concluded that in the UK, because of a different energy mix, the same solution would provide a handprint that is 8 times greater than its footprint.


Although novel and lacking standardisation when it comes to its measurement, the concept of a carbon handprint can be a critically important factor for prioritisation in R&D and solution portfolios, helping companies to focus on opportunities where they can create the biggest positive impact on the planet (while continuing to improve their own operations).

Helvar are a UKGBC member who create intelligent and energy-saving lighting solutions. Learn more about what it means to be a UKGBC member here.