Contributions to the sustainable development goals in life cycle sustainability assessment: Insights from the Handprint research project

  • Michael Kühnen
  • Samanthi SilvaEmail author
  • Janpeter Beckmann
  • Ulrike Eberle
  • Rüdiger Hahn
  • Christoph Hermann
  • Stefan Schaltegger
  • Marianne Schmid
Originalbeitrag / Original article


The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent consensual, global scale targets, encouraging not only the fight against unsustainable aspects in society (e. g., poverty or hunger) but also positive contributions to sustainable development (e. g., renewable energy use or human well-being). The SDGs are, however, not per se designed as a performance measurement system for businesses and products. Consequently, research is challenged to develop convincing approaches and indicator systems that capture how businesses contribute to the SDGs.

Against this background, the Handprint approach was developed. This paper documents methodological developments of a respective research project and extends the focus from reducing unsustainable, negative business practices toward striving for positive contributions to sustainable development in sustainability assessment and management. We first summarize the status quo of assessing positive contributions to sustainable development in research and practice. While a “Footprint” approach primarily measures negative environmental and/or social impacts, the “Handprint” approach focuses on positive contributions to sustainable development. Second, we illustrate and prioritize core assessment categories and indicators. Third, we describe how a sustainability assessment approach to evaluate positive contributions to sustainable development at the product level was developed and demonstrate its feasibility in a pilot case study.


Handprint Life cycle sustainability assessment Sustainable development goals Product sustainability assessment Multi-method approach Fuzzy set theory 



The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (grant number: 01UT1422C), for which the authors and project team are very grateful.

Conflict of interest

M. Kühnen, S. Silva, J. Beckmann, U. Eberle, R. Hahn, C. Hermann, S. Schaltegger and M. Schmid declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Sustainability Management (CSM)Leuphana University LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  3. 3.Heinrich-Heine-Universität DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany
  4. 4.Center for Sustainable Leadership (ZNU)University of Witten/HerdeckeWittenGermany
  5. 5.Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP)WuppertalGermany

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