Every action we take impacts the world around us. When we drive, fly, buy a can of soda, or even just take out the trash we are affecting the Earth. You may have heard the term “carbon footprint” to describe our environmental behavior. Carbon footprints are a way of measuring our individual and collective environmental harm caused everyday.   Entire companies have been founded on this idea, such as those that offer carbon offset credits. You can even calculate your own or household’s carbon footprint online and see how you match up with the US and rest of the world.

Although we love how informative carbon footprints are, it can be a little overwhelming. The idea of a carbon footprint only looks at the negative ways in which we impact the planet rather than focusing on the positive. That’s exactly what Gregory Norris thought when he decided to found Handprinter.org. The site looks at what Norris calls handprints rather than footprints. Handprints include all the positive things we do everyday that make a difference.


Norris, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, thought of the idea after realizing his students were feeling pessimistic about their effect on the world, even stating that “the planet would be better off if they had not been born.”  Norris felt his students and others looking at only their footprints were concentrating on detrimental actions. “…Something was missing-that we can also benefit the planet,” Norris explained, “I needed to name those benefits to make them as tangible as footprints.”

And that he did. He took his handprints and turned them into a website that not only lets you calculate your own handprint, but encourages others to follow suit. The website promotes spreading one’s positive impact via social media, which in turn increases your handprint the more you share. He hopes to take this idea one step further where organizations, schools, and maybe even cities will compete among each other for larger handprints.

Norris’ handprints are already having the positive effect he was hoping for, as they ended up on Time Magazine’s list of “10 Ideas that are Changing Your Life.”  We love the encouraging message handprints bring, because focusing on the bad news often overwhelms and depresses us, but this idea gives us hope. It introduces a way to look at our actions  in a bright light. Next time someone asks about carbon footprints, make sure to tell them about your handprints. Will you be using handprinter?