Do you fancy a doughnut?

Are we all addicted to growth and consumerism? What do we understand by progress? Are we so addicted to profit that we forget about living well?

What does it mean for local governments to thrive? How can a city be home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the well-being of all people and the health of the whole planet?

Believe it or not, the answers to all those questions may be found in a doughnut.

The doughnut economic model

We may describe our economic models as approaches that focus on continuous growth and lucrative activities, whatever it takes. However, the metrics of money, such as Gross Domestic Product in which progress is measured, may not consider people and all-nature forms’ needs.

“A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow,” says Oxford economist Kate Raworth in a TED Talk. Raworth explains how countries (and cities) can create regenerative, distributive economies that work within the planet’s ecological limits.

That requires, says the economist, an alternative dashboard of indicators. She named them the doughnut economic model.

Amsterdam has embraced this approach as part of its Circular Roadmap 2020-25 and the Roadmap to Climate Neutrality 2050. The goal is to achieve a halving of the use of new raw materials by 2030 and a fully circular economy by 2050.

How everything started

Five years ago, the municipality got in touch with Raworth and organised several workshops for various city departments. “Together, we wrote and created a strategy on circular economy for the city of Amsterdam,” explains Doctor Mersiha Tepic, Senior Researcher at the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL).

The doughnut economic model aims to shape national progress and city life, and social and ecological impacts on the local and global scale. The approach intends to rediscover the balance between people and Earth to ensure a prosperous success for all.

“Policy makers filled the doughnut with indicators connected to the goals the different departments in the city formulated. And that is how they tried to connect the doughnut model and their goals,” explains Tepic.

The doughnut model is “a holistic snapshot of the city that serves as a starting point for big-picture thinking, co-creative innovation, and systemic transformation,” according to the Amsterdam City Portrait launched by DEAL. That’s why cross-sectoral collaboration is key to a successful process.

Where the social and the ecological meet

Aiming to discover how to thrive instead of focusing on mere growth, the Dutch capital got a holistic view of its performance through questioning its own public economic activities and the citizens. Workshops were held in seven diverse neighbourhoods to gain insights.

Based on the responses, the city concluded that a way to thrive might be by encouraging those projects that protect environmental boundaries and social values. Tepic explains the idea that, for example, green energy projects would also think of what their goal would be for certain groups of people in the city. “Is it affordable for everyone, for example?”

Created by Doughnut Economics

A project that follows this approach is an innovative process separating waste to be reused locally as a valuable resource. Along with circular electricity and heat, this organic waste will supply a nearby football stadium.

With this type of project, the municipality intends to develop a circular solution for high-quality and local waste processing, ensuring, at the same time, benefits for vulnerable groups in the labour market.

Green and social

Goals and indicators are not fixed but are defined by the municipality, adapting from city to city. Policymakers picked several essential dimensions of the environment to keep an eye on.

“The planetary boundaries,” explains Tepic, “downscale based on, for example, CO2 emissions at the global level, becoming a sort of budget for the city.” Based on the local income and the number of inhabitants, cities can establish the maximum amount of CO2 emissions per year.

That’s how the city of Amsterdam generates its own objectives. However, many international policies are also directed at CO2 emissions, while other environmental elements such as biodiversity or air quality are much disregarded in the international programmes. Amsterdam is one of the cities that incorporates them locally through the doughnut model.

Setting goals on the social side is more complex, according to Tepic. Social objectives may not always be quantifiable. This year, Tepic has investigated not only those objectives but also the city’s programs more in-depth. “For example, are there any goals formulated on obesity? That’s an indicator,” she adds.

The workshops ended up with a circular economy strategy, nine ambitions and a full description of projects the municipality would initiate in terms of a circular economy.

A model for the future

Amsterdam looks forward to the involvement of local stakeholders such as corporations and citizens to make the doughnut model successful.

DEAL has created the City Portrait methodology and a guide for all cities interested in trying out the alternative Doughnut model. In collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8, C40 Cities and Circle Economy, the team also piloted the approach in Philadelphia and Portland.

What is clear is that the challenges of this century require a more sustainable approach to local and national economic systems that consider (and preserve) all living things and the surrounding environment.

Do you fancy a doughnut?

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer