Can Your Boss Do a Handstand?

01/31/20

My boss, Sabrina Cowden, used to teach gymnastics, so it’s not too far of a stretch to think of her doing a handstand – literally. But for most people, the thought of bosses, CEOs, boards of directors, senior leadership and managers doing handstands makes you smile, giggle or outright laugh. But metaphorically, this is exactly what this world needs: fewer footprints and many more handprints.

You know about carbon footprints. Your company may already be tracking and working to reduce its carbon emissions. That’s great! Without question, we need each and every individual and business doing their part to reverse the harmful and pervasive effects of climate change.

The handprint terminology is not as mainstream – yet. Handprints are your positive social and environmental actions that offset your footprint. If a footprint is about reducing the negatives, your handprint is about increasing the positives to offset the emissions left by your remaining footprint, and to eliminate the emissions of others.

For example, say you have recently implemented greater use of daylight in your warehouse to reduce the need for electric lighting. You have realized a significant reduction in energy use, which equates to a smaller carbon footprint (and lower energy costs, by the way). Congratulations! A corresponding handprint would be your development of a webinar for your customers and colleagues who also have warehouses, in which you would share how you were able to retrofit your existing facilities to take greater advantage of daylight and the benefits you have realized.

Or say you are a manufacturer of shipping envelopes. Your carbon footprint will include the emissions generated by your manufacturing of those envelopes. But during a visit with a customer one day, you see how they slap on sticky labels, making it harder for those envelopes to be recycled on the consumer end. You have the technology and knowledge to show your customer how they could print address information right on the envelope, eliminating both an extra cost for them (labels) and improving the recyclability of the envelopes. That’s a handprint.

I just returned from the Conference on Health, Energy and the Environment, presented by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), where the focus was on the intersections of health, efficiency, equity and partnerships. By connecting the impacts of climate change with health, the medical profession is taking on community resiliency to improve health outcomes. The potential for handprints in this arena is enormous, and I noted two that are doing this exceptionally well.

My Green Doctor is using waiting rooms to educate patients about energy efficiency and resilience and office green teams to solidify the link between energy efficiency and health for clinicians. The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health is tackling education and advocacy to address heat related illnesses, clean water and clean air through preparedness and prevention with the message that “the sooner we take action, the more harm we can prevent, and the more we can protect the health of all Americans.”1 These initiatives are examples of leveraging knowledge to improve public and personal health by helping others reduce their environmental impact.

While handprints are harder to measure than footprints, they have the potential for greater good. Companies can directly reduce only their own footprints, but with handprints, they can influence and partner with others to reduce theirs.

Handprints are your legacy, your secret weapon for inspiring and engaging customers and employees. They complete your impact assessment and drive stories for your marketing strategy. As a B Corporation and Social Purpose Corporation, Milepost believes that in addition to shrinking our footprints, all companies should grow their handprints by taking positive action for the benefit of employees, customers and communities.

So whether your company is still lightening its footprint, has a single fingerprint or has both hands planted firmly on the ground – we applaud the work you are doing. But until all businesses are turned on their heads in a proud, strong handstand, there is more work to be done, and more bosses to lead the way.

1. American Association for the Advancement of Science. What We Know: The Risks, Reality, and Responses to Climate Change. Page 8. http://whatweknow.aaas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/whatweknow_website.pdf. Accessed February 19, 2017.

Holly Baird
Holly Baird