Footprint and Handprint

One question I hear from a lot of people is: What if I just can’t reduce my footprint any more, or if I can’t reduce it at all in some category? (For example, say you live far from where you work, and there’s no way to reduce your transportation footprint right now because no one lives near you to carpool?)

The fact is, it’s impossible to have a zero footprint. We are always going to have some impact on other creatures. Even carefully walking through my yard this morning, I was surely stepping on bugs or other creatures without even knowing it.

We may not be able to eliminate our negative impact (footprint), but we can always increase our positive impact (handprint).

When an environmental activist decides to forgo flying halfway around the world for a climate protest because she feels that the footprint of her plane travel will exceed the benefit of her physical presence at the protest, she’s reducing her footprint. When 10 or 20 or 100 environmentalists get together and pool the money they would have spent on airline tickets and use it to purchase a compelling call-to-action ad in a high-profile magazine, they increase their handprint. (I haven’t actually heard of something like this happening, but wouldn’t it be a great idea with a lot of potential?)

When you decide to stop driving your child two hours to a play date, that’s reducing your footprint. When you go with your kids for walks around the neighborhood and show them by your example how to make friends right in their own backyard, that’s increasing your handprint.

When you stop purchasing plastic-wrapped produce from 3,000 miles away, and say no to plastic bags at the supermarket checkout, you’re reducing your footprint. When other people see your pretty cloth shopping bags and your smiling face as you walk to the farmer’s market to buy local, you’re increasing your handprint.

When I use my solar oven instead of my electric oven, I’m reducing my footprint. (By the way, I’ve been using a solar oven as my main oven since 2006!) When passers-by see my solar oven out in the yard, or when I tell people about the many benefits of solar cooking, I’m increasing my handprint.

An action to increase your handprint can be something eco-oriented, but need not be. For example, teaching self-defense to kids; volunteering at a shelter; setting up a Little Free Library in your neighborhood; organizing a community potluck to build social cohesion and increase the safety of your neighborhood, are all examples of increasing your handprint. So are organizing a poetry open mic; forming a citizens’ art brigade to paint inspirational murals on blighted buildings; writing songs to highlight the plight of the homeless. Speaking up at city council meetings; writing letters to the editor. Even just smiling at someone in passing, rather than walking by quickly without making eye contact, is increasing your handprint. Every action, however infinitesimal, adds up and has a ripple effect.

Everything you do to reduce your footprint frees up money, time, and headspace to be able to increase your handprint. So, reducing your footprint is a double win. You conserve resources, and you free yourself to maximize your beneficial impact on the world.

How many examples of handprint can you think of from your own life?