In the lead up to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on sustainable development, British economist Kate Raworth developed a discussion paper around a new economic model she titled the ‘Doughnut’. Raworth (2012) outlined the theoretical and practical concepts pertaining to this economic framework in a paper published via Oxfam International. Since then, Raworth’s ‘Doughnut’ has been adopted by a number of cities and countries inspired by this circular approach to economic, social and environmental concerns and outcomes.
So, what exactly is the ‘Doughnut’? Raworth (2012) describes it as a compass, that the global community can use to navigate future sustainable development, pertaining to economic, social and environmental endeavours and equality. The Doughnut comprises twelve social dimensions and nine planetary boundaries. The social dimensions highlight significant basic essentials required of individuals and communities in order to generate equality and prosperity. As of 2017, these dimensions have been guided by the social priorities outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The planetary boundaries demonstrate the extent to which human agitation of the earth’s system can alter the functioning of the earths system. These are measured by a series of tipping points. It is widely acknowledged that these tipping points or inclines of increasing risk, if met, would see catastrophic global environmental and social devastation.
Kate Raworth’s (2017) Doughnut of Social and Planetary Boundaries
Raworth (2017) proposes that the ‘happy spot’ where economic, social and environmental prosperity and equality can be achieved, is within the doughy part of the Doughnut. If the global community can pull those falling short on life’s essentials out of the doughnut hole, whilst simultaneously decreasing the pressure placed on the earth’s system and natural resources, the ecological ceiling, the potential of a thriving global community and planet could be a reality. At the core of the model are priorities which Raworth (2017) identifies as integral to effectively carrying out the Doughnut’s intentions. These imperatives emphasise the necessity of systems thinking, the interdependence of economic, social and environmental spheres, and a transition away from interests in GDP and linear approaches to growth.
It almost sounds too good to be true, right? Doughnut economics is gaining attention around the world. Numerous cities and countries are implementing the model across current projects, policies and structures. One such example is the capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. Already having in place existing sustainable development ambitions, Amsterdam’s decision to transition to a circular economy was partly spurred on by the outbreak of Covid-19. The city formally adopted the model with the support of the Dutch Government and the European Union and has been guided by Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics Action Lab, (2021). Evidence of their transition can be seen across newly implemented infrastructure projects, employment schemes and policies, as well as grassroots initiatives facilitated by the Amsterdam Doughnut Coalition, (2021). A prime example of the Amsterdam’s Doughnut in action arose during the early stages of the global pandemic. The city quickly became aware of the inequalities regarding computer technology amongst citizens. It responded by sourcing and refurbishing second-hand and broken laptops which were then distributed to citizens in need, so that they could participate in personal and professional communication safely online, (Nugent 2021). This is circularity at its finest. Other cities are following suit including Philadelphia and Portland in the US, Brussels, Belgium, Copenhagen, Denmark, Nanaimo, Canada, Costa Rica and many more, even Melbourne.
The Doughnut offers the world a chance at securing an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future. It prioritises values and ideals that nurture our humanity, thereby acknowledging the significance of our dependence on connections made with people and planet in order to maintain resilience and thrive.
Further Reading & Watching
- Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics Action Lab,
< https://time.com/5930093/amsterdam-doughnut-economics/ >
- TedX Talk, Kate Raworth, ‘A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow’, 2018 < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rhcrbcg8HBw >
- Regen Melbourne (getting Melbourne into the Doughnut)
- ‘For a fairer greener Melbourne, take a bite from the doughnut’, The Age <https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/for-a-fairer-greener-melbourne-take-a-bite-from-the-doughnut-20210423-p57lvx.html>
- ‘Amsterdam’s ‘doughnut economy’ puts climate ahead of GDP’, PBS NewsHour < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bw5TewCD0M >
About the author
Isobel Bobbera approached Geelong Sustainability with a desire to spend her semester break volunteering with us ~ so we quickly put her to work!
She is a passionate environmentalist with an academic background in International Development and Sustainability, and Primary Education. Her interests lie in issues, theory and practice pertaining to sustainable development and environmental stewardship. She is particularly drawn to circular systems and the interdependence of economic, social and environmental spheres. Additionally, she thrives on research, communication, reflection, and innovation across relevant fields.
Amsterdam Donut Coalition, ‘About the Amsterdam Donut Coalition’, Amsterdam Donut Coalition, Viewed 10 June 2021, <https://amsterdamdonutcoalitie.nl/>
Boffey, D 2020, ‘Amsterdam to embrace ‘doughnut’ model to mend post-coronavirus economy’, The Guardian, 8 April, Online, Viewed 10 June, < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/amsterdam-doughnut-model-mend-post-coronavirus-economy>
City of Amsterdam, ‘Policy: Circular economy’, City of Amsterdam, Viewed 10 June 2021, <https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/policy/sustainability/circular-economy/>
Doughnut Economics Action Lab 2021, What is the Doughnut?, Doughnut Economics Action Lab, Viewed June 8 2021, <https://doughnuteconomics.org/>
Raworth, K 2012, ‘A Safe and Just Space for Humanity’, Oxfam Discussion Papers, Oxfam International, pp. 1-31. Reviewed at: https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/safe-and-just-space-humanity.
Ross, F 2019, ‘Kate Raworth-Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’, Regional and Business Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 81-86.
Stahel, W.R 2016, ‘Circular economy’. Nature. vol. 531. no. 7595. pp. 1-5.
Steffen, W, Richardson, K, Rockström, J, Cornell, S.E, Fetzer, I, Bennett, E.M, Biggs, R, Carpenter, S.R, de Vries, W, de Wit, C.A, Folke, C, Gerten, D, Heinke, J, Mace, G.M, Persson, L.M, Ramanathan, V, Reyers, B, & Sörlin, S 2015, ‘Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet’, Science Mag, vol. 347. no. 6223. pp. 736-748.
Nugent, C 2021, ‘Amsterdam Is Embracing a Radical New Economic Theory to Help Save the Environment. Could It Also Replace Capitalism?’, TIME, 22 January, Online, Viewed 10 June,< https://time.com/5930093/amsterdam-doughnut-economics/ >