The Handprint Concept: Changing Structures towards Sustainability

Handprint Concept

ESD empowers learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed decisions and make responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society empowering people of all genders, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity.

UNESCO, 2020, Roadmap ESD for 2030, p. 8

We are excited to present the English translation of the Handprint concept ‘Changing structures towards sustainability’. The Handprint is the base of our educational activities at Germanwatch and focuses on the transformative power of political engagement. Additionally, it strengthens the pillars of democracy through processes of negotiation.

The Handprint concept reaches beyond the concept of the footprint and brings to the forefront the positive traces we leave on earth. Often structural conditions make it difficult for us to act in a sustainable manner. The Handprint aims to inspire and enable people to shape the social and political transformation in their environment and thus to change structural conditions in the long term. This makes self-efficacy tangible and leads to important changes that pave the way for sustainability as the new normal.

However, this concept does not fit every occasion, let alone every society or country, with different political situations and structures to consider. We realise with growing concern that fighting against climate change and for social justice is linked with great personal risks in some countries. Consequently, the Handprint concept must be adapted to the respective environment but can give hints and ideas for successful engagement.

It can be challenging at times to decide where (topic, scale, level) and with whom (friends, allies, strategic partners) to start your engagement. The test at the end of this flyer helps to identify subjects, levels, and steps to consider in order to implement transformation. Projects that have first been successful on a smaller scale can then be transferred to the next level. That is how we gradually transform our society so that everyone can act with sustainability. 

ESD in action is citizenship in action.

UNESCO, 2020, Roadmap ESD for 2030, p. 18

This flyer was written by Karo Snethlage and Stefan Rostock, based on a German article by Marie Heitfeld.

Germanwatch e. V.
Publication date
Germanwatch e. V., 2024, The Handprint Concept. Changing Structures towards Sustainability.
Document type


Real name

Head of Division - Education for Sustainable Development, Promoter for Climate & Development in North Rhine-Westphalia

Real name

Policy Advisor - Education for Sustainable Development