The Evolution of an Idea: From Four Dimensions to Net Good

Back in February 2009 I wrote a blog post on the Four Dimensions of Sustainability in which I proposed a four part framework for planning and reviewing the sustainability impacts and actions of a company.

  • Direct Impact – emissions due to the energy consumed by the company (directly or indirectly) to carry out its activities.
  • Products In Use – emissions due to the energy consumption of a company’s products and/or services once in the hands of the user.
  • Enabled Impact – impact that a company’s products and/or services have on the energy consumption and emissions of the entity that utilizes the product other than the consumption of the product itself.
  • Inform and Influence – the opportunity to inform or influence stakeholders on environmental issues and impact of these issues on the stakeholder and on the company.

These components are represented in the infographic of the framework as concentric circles and I also included a fifth, overlapping component, shown as a wedge in the infographic, to represent the importance of  the supply chain.

Looking at the Net Good programme we have just launched at BT I hope you see the comparability with the Four Dimensions model that demonstrates that a conceptual model can be translated into a practical and quantifiable methodology.

The ‘supply chain’ wedge in Four Dimensions is directly quantified through the ‘upstream/supply chain’ component of the carbon burden in  Net Good.   The centre circle ‘direct impact’  in Four Dimensions  is directly quantified through the ‘own operations’  component of the carbon burden in Net Good.  And the first concentric ring ‘products in-use’ is directly quantified through the downstream/CPE  component of the carbon burden in Net Good.

The second concentric circle in Four Dimensions,  ‘enabled impact’  is represented  by the abatement, or ’3’, side of the 3:1 equation in Net Good.

The only component of Four Dimensions not covered in a quantifiable sense in Net Good is the fourth dimension ‘inform and influence’.    However ‘inform and influence’  is a key component of  Net Good.   We have made a commitment to open source the methodology to encourage others to use it. It is explained in detail on the Net Good web site here. We recently held a stakeholder forum event to spread the message and elicit feedback and following that event, we shared the findings here.  I made a commitment in this video for BT to be part of  advocating for the growing Net Positive movement.

Net Good was not developed with Four Dimensions as the starting point. Indeed, when I wrote the Four Dimensions white paper,  I thought of the model as a qualitative framework and I didn’t conceive of comparing the abatement benefit to the burden. It might only matter to me, but I am thrilled that all of the components of Four Dimensions are recognisable in Net Good.  The next challenge is to take the model and apply it to aspects of sustainability beyond carbon emissions and energy consumption.


  1. Comments 3

  2. jennifer rice 3:02 pm on August 22, 2013

    Hi Kevin, this is a great framework! Most don't distinguish between product in use and enabled impact. One additional dimension I look at for leadership is Transformation... ie. how is the company driving true category-level transformation among competitors and even other sectors (ie. Nike's a good example.) In other words, not just doing business as usual in a more sustainable way, but changing how business is done. Is this factored into your model? Wondering if you're baking it into the 4 dimensions.

  3. KevinMoss 11:40 am on August 27, 2013

    Hi Jennifer, I think that is an important idea but I don't think it is an additional component to the model so much as the extent to which action is pursued. I note in the paper that materiality is also important here. It doesn't matter how much you reduce your own footprint if you use your political clout to lobby against climate change legislation for example. If your in- life impact is ten times your operational impact then that is where you should focus your attention. Incidentally, I am coming towards the opinion that something is not more or less sustainable. It is either sustainable or not. what do you think ?

  4. jennifer rice 11:23 am on August 28, 2013

    Hmm, very interesting topic! My take is that modern capitalism (and by extension, any non-local business) is fundamentally unsustainable. Given that baseline, I do think some categories have less impact than others (cloud technology vs. CPG, for example) so shades of grey do exist. Where it gets a bit knotty is exactly that transformational aspect that you point out. Walmart is a bastion of consumerism and overconsumption... yet they're in a position to influence almost every major CPG company to produce their products in a more sustainable way. If they can pull off the index at POP, that will be huge in terms of shifting consumer preference and influencing industries. Likewise, Nike is producing goods that follow the latest trends, again promoting overconsumption, waste/landfill, etc. However, they're not only transforming how they make products, but shifting their business model to earn more of its revenue from digital (ie sustainable) vs. consumer goods... plus it's open-sourcing sustainable innovation to lead other apparel manufacturers into more sustainable production. So I think it's not so binary. I'd put my money on companies like Walmart and Nike to help drive true transformation, despite the fact that they aren't all that sustainable themselves. I think global companies have more reach, leverage and power than "green" brands; while companies like Patagonia are doing a great job promoting less consumerism they just don't have the necessary power. But of course that's where collaboration comes in... Your thoughts?

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