Company-relevant footprints overview

In addition to the carbon footprint, other relevant footprints for companies exist.

Company-relevant footprints overview

An increasing number of companies are now addressing their corporate carbon footprint. But besides this measurement, there are other relevant footprints that should be measured at company or product level for environment, social and governance (ESG). As an overview, we have compiled these footprints in a list.

A footprint is a description of how the human activities of a person, household, company, city or country affect and impact the global 3P (Profit - People - Planet) domains in different ways. Therefore, according to UNEP and the Centre for Sustainable Development, footprints are a measure of sustainability.

A corporate footprint describes how a company's activities impact society as a whole. The corporate footprint includes several footprints that can be used as key performance indicators (KPIs) in the areas of economic, social and environmental impact on society.
The economic impact of a company on society is rarely captured by footprints, as other terms and indicators are more commonly used, for example, The Base of the Pyramid Impact Assessment Framework. For this reason, this article focuses on the environmental and social footprints of companies.

Environmental footprints of companies

The environmental footprint is particularly important for manufacturing companies, as they generally have a greater impact on nature.

Earth Overshoot Day & Ecological Footprint

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity's demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in ecological resources in that year. In 2021, it fell on July 29. It is calculated using the ecological footprint. This footprint documents how much nature exists and how much is consumed by human activities. It is therefore calculated in area totals, whereby used areas are compared to existing productive areas (so-called biocapacity).
According to Earth Overshoot Day (2022), areas are measured in global hectares to make them comparable worldwide. This means that if a hectare produces only x% of the world average, it is counted as x% of a global hectare. Although the concept refers to the national and global level and not to the corporate level, it is equally relevant for the general responsibility of companies to act.

Water footprint

According to BUND, the water footprint refers to the total amount of water - whether freshwater, rainwater, or even seawater - consumed by human activities. A water footprint consists of a blue, green, and gray water footprint, which represent the consumption of surface water, groundwater, and rainwater, or the amount of water required to dilute pollutants to water quality standards. The water footprint quantifies water use for a specific product, for a well-defined group of consumers (e.g., an individual, a city, a state, or a nation) or producers (e.g., a public organization, a private company, or a business sector). It is measured by the amount of water consumed (evaporated or incorporated into the product) and polluted per unit of time or per functional unit (Čuček et al., 2012). A corporate water footprint is relevant to manufacturing companies because all production processes involve water in one way or another. For more information on water footprinting, visit the Water Footprint Network website. You can find the link to it below in our resources.

Biodiversity footprint

A company's biodiversity footprint measures a company's impact on biodiversity in terms of losses, land conversion, unsustainable use of biological resources, over-exploitation of ecosystem resources, and invasion of alien species by human activities. There are numerous measurement tools available to assess a company's biodiversity footprint. IEEP's 2021 report on Biodiversity Footprints in Policy and Decision Making provides an overview of possible measures. The link to this report can be found below in our resources.

Waste footprint

The company's waste footprint describes all types of waste generated by all company activities such as procurement, production or transportation. This includes liquid waste (wastewater, oils, sludges and greases), solid waste (glass, plastic, ceramics, paper, metal, cans), organic waste (food, greens and meat), recyclables (metals, glass, paper) and hazardous waste (corrosive, flammable, reactive and toxic substances). The waste footprint is generally expressed by the weight of waste generated per kilogram of product. An interesting example of waste footprint is the study by Laurenti & Stenmarck (2016) on waste footprint and climate costs.

Nitrogen footprint

The nitrogen footprint is a more recent invention compared to the more familiar carbon, water and environmental footprints. A company's nitrogen footprint is a measure of the amount of reactive nitrogen (Nr - all nitrogen species except N2) released into the environment by the company's activities. It also shows the impact of nitrogen on human and environmental health.

Material Footprint

The material footprint is a consumption-based indicator of resource use. It refers to the total amount of raw materials extracted to meet final consumption needs. It is also used as an indicator for measuring and optimizing the resource consumption of products and their ingredients as well as production processes along the entire value chain.
The basis for the Material Footprint is the MIPS concept (Material Input Per Service Unit). The MIPS values represent the necessary abiotic and biotic raw materials for the manufacture of products and also represent an important measurement value with regard to sustainable production.

Energy Footprint

Usually, the energy footprint is included in the calculation of the carbon footprint and measured in CO2 emission equivalents. However, the energy footprint can also be measured separately to provide a more energy-based overview. In contrast to the carbon-based energy footprint (Emission Scopes), according to Čuček et al. (2012), the energy footprint can be measured in local (the area of the average biologically productive land and sea of a given region in a given year) or global (the area of the average biologically productive land and sea of the Earth in a given year) area units or in energy units per functional unit.
The Global Footprint Network (2009) defines the energy footprint as the sum of all land used to provide non-food and non-food energy, such as land used for hydropower, land used to grow energy and fuel crops, and land used for forest wood fuels (Balaman, 2019). It also includes sub-footprints such as fossil energy footprint, nuclear energy footprint, renewable energy footprint, and others (Čuček et al., 2012).

Carbon Footprint

In recent years, the carbon footprint has become one of the most important indicators for environmental impact assessment and has become indisputable. It represents the amount of CO2 and CO2 equivalents of other greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted throughout the life cycle of a process or product. The corporate carbon footprint (CCF) indicates the total amount of CO2 generated by a company's activities at all stages. For manufacturing companies, the most effective way to improve their CCF is to move to Product Carbon Footprints (PCF). A PCF identifies the total GHG impact of a product throughout its lifecycle and is an optimal method for determining at which stage of the product lifecycle GHG emissions can be reduced. For more information on the sustamize method for calculating a PCF, check out our article. For more information about CCF and PCF you can contact us anytime via our contact form.

Corporate social footprint

The Centre for Sustainable Organizations (2009) defines the social footprint as a measure for quantifying an organization's social sustainability performance. Because companies have social impacts that go beyond their core purpose, the social footprint helps them account for these impacts on what is known as anthrocapital (human, social, and constructed capital). The corporate social footprint is also important because it often reveals social vulnerabilities among supply chain partners, particularly companies based in countries that pay little attention to human rights and other social dimensions.

Human Rights Footprint

The human rights footprint describes the potential of human rights practice to influence policy action and institutional change (Perelman and Young, 2010). Applied to a business, the corporate human rights footprint takes the form of a systematic human rights assessment of stakeholders within the supply chain. To date, there is no specific framework for a human rights footprint. However, a company can develop its own with helpful indicators, such as assessing the risks of child and forced labor, informal labor, etc.

Corruption Footprint

The effects of corruption are felt in many aspects of society. Its impacts are not always immediately obvious, but left untreated it inevitably spreads and undermines trust within systems and institutions. It is therefore the responsibility of companies to prevent corruption and its spread. The Corruption Footprint is an anti-corruption measurement based on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. As in the case of the human rights footprint, it is difficult to assess the corruption footprint in an unbiased way because evidence of corruption is not always clear (Čuček et al., 2012).
According to a study by Akalin et al. (2021), the corruption footprint is even more important as it also poses a risk to the achievement of environmental sustainable development goals in newly industrialized countries. It is therefore crucial that companies, and especially those whose supply chain is partly located in the relevant countries, take this into account.

Poverty Footprint

The Poverty Footprint assesses and understands the impact of companies on society and on people living in poverty. This footprint helps companies comprehensively understand how and where they impact people within their value chain, as well as the communities and countries in which they operate. Their operations are analyzed in terms of the following critical factors: Standard of Living, Health and Wellbeing, Diversity and Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Stability and Security. The poverty footprint is formulated in both quantitative and qualitative terms and is not an audit or certification process focused on compliance with codes of conduct or a particular standard (United Nations Global Compact & Oxfam, 2015).

Job Footprint

The job footprint describes the variety and scope of functions of a particular role in an organization. It also indicates the employee's level of responsibility and obligations. The larger the job footprint, the more compensation the employee should theoretically receive (Tracy, 2019).

The path to sustainability requires companies to effectively measure ESG. Footprint tools make it possible to properly understand and measure a company's economic, environmental, and social impacts.


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Balaman, Ş. Y. (2019, January 1). Chapter 6 - Basics of Decision-Making in Design and Management of Biomass-Based Production Chains (Ş. Y. Balaman, Ed.). ScienceDirect; Academic Press. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-814278-3.00006-6

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Laurenti, R., Stenmarck, A. (2016). The total waste of products – a study on waste footprint and climate costs. Avfall Sveriges.

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Transparency International UK (2022). Why Corruption Matters.

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Water Footprint Network (2022). Business Water Footprint.