12/12/2012 12:51 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2013

Lowering Your Carbon Impact -- What's Your Handprint?


I'm on my first visit to New York City since Hurricane Sandy hit, and I can still feel it in the air. The doorman where I'm staying tells me he lives in Rockaway, right on the beach. The hurricane blasted the boardwalk into the row of houses on his block; he's going to take a year off to rebuild his home.

Back in the Berkshires, where I spend much of the year, we've had a devastating tornado (New England never used to have tornadoes!) and damaging winds from two hurricanes in the last three years.

It's not just that temperatures are higher, but -- most dangerous -- weather events have much more energy: hurricanes and tornadoes are becoming more common and also more destructive. As New York mayor Bloomberg said of Hurricane Sandy, this is all due to global warming.

I've got a way to slow warming: Handprinter. I've just donated to their Kickstarter campaign. Here's why.

We've all heard about our carbon footprints, the sum total of all the carbon dioxide released as we go through a day: driving, making meals, heating our houses and workplace, washing our clothes and dishes, and on and on. The global impact of all such human activity, we're told, endangers our future as a species.

If you start tracking your carbon footprint, the data can be downright depressing. When Gregory Norris, the industrial ecologist who invented Handprinter, has his students at the Harvard School of Public Health measure their footprint, many tell him, "The planet would be better off if I never had been born."

Instead of tracking all the bad news about our carbon footprint, Handprinter puts a positive spin on our environmental impacts, tracking all the good we do. With Handprinter you measure every action you take that lowers your carbon footprint, and keep growing that number.

If you can get friends to do what you've done, you get credits for that, too. A school, store, company, or family can track their handprint - and compete to make theirs the biggest.

Handprints can make us feel good about what we're doing, encourage us to do more to lower our carbon impact, and trade how-to insights. As a psychologist, this makes great sense to me: instead of de-motivating folks with their footprint, keep us enthused and working on building our handprint. is the beta website; the Kickstarter campaign is for a mobile web app-in-progress. A smart way to help keep the planet a bit cooler.