Carbon Handprint Can Measure Companies’ Positive Climate Impact

ACEEE shares how a "carbon handprint" more accurately reflects a company’s contributions to climate change by measuring the impact of the use of goods and services it provides.

By Neal Elliott, Pavitra Srinivasan, and Andrew Hoffmeister
Courtesy of ACEEE

As companies seek to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, there is growing interest in improving the measurement of the climate impact from the use of goods and services that a company provides. This information, which has been labeled the carbon handprint, more accurately reflects a company’s contributions to the climate change problem and its solutions.


Researchers at MIT and at LUT University in Finland have developed methods for using the carbon handprint (also known as scope 4 emissions) as an approach to assess these emissions more accurately and consistently, and complement the more common carbon footprint, which is made up of the emissions resulting from the operations of the company. A new ACEEE white paper reviews the literature on estimating and reporting handprints and recommends that companies factor handprint into corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies.

The companies that take action to shrink their footprint while simultaneously growing their handprint will be those that are most effective at reducing emissions throughout their supply chains (see figure 1). Handprint estimates the environmental and climate impacts caused by a firm’s products and services over their life cycles, with a bigger handprint meaning more impact.

Carbon Handprint
Figure 1. Carbon handprint versus footprint. (Source: VTT 2021 / ACEEE)

A company can create a positive handprint by delivering goods and services to help lower customers’ carbon footprint at its facilities or in the goods and services it sells. A new technology or emissions-reducing solution’s handprint can be estimated by comparing the business-as-usual practice against the new, reduced emissions scenario.

Intelligent Efficiency Is An Important Emissions Reducing Strategy

One key area for which the handprint approach is essential is for intelligent efficiency applications. Intelligent efficiency is a systems-based approach that gives implementers of technologies across the economy access to real-time information on energy use and savings and enables them to reduce energy waste by improving system-level operational efficiency and productivity. By using information and communication technologies (ICT), intelligent efficiency allows companies and their customers to develop unique and powerful ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through responsiveness, optimization, and adaptability…

To learn more about the Carbon Handprint, continue reading this blog post on the ACEEE website.

Carbon HandprintNeal Elliott, Director Emeritus, continues to contribute to ACEEE’s research and policy efforts as an internationally recognized expert and author on energy efficiency programs and policies, industrial energy efficiency and decarbonization, electric motor systems, combined heat and power (CHP) and clean distributed energy.
ACEEEAs Senior Researcher with ACEEE’s Industry Program, Pavitra Srinivasan conducts research and analysis on technologies, programs and policies that facilitate industrial decarbonization. 

American Council for an Energy-Efficient EconomyAndrew Hoffmeister, Industrial Program Research Analyst, conducts research on industrial decarbonization for ACEEE’s industrial team. He focuses primarily on the analysis of emerging technologies, and the study of other prominent decarbonization pathways, including strategic energy management.