Doughnut Economics 101

If the recent COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our current way of life just isn’t working. To be fair, we already knew things like our social programs, food systems and business practices could use some work. But COVID has shed a really harsh light on these shortcomings—making it impossible to look away. On the bright side, however, it’s also given us the fresh start we need to do something about it.

Now is the time to set our sights on the light at the end of the tunnel—and establish a plan for a smart societal rebuild. A lot of individuals, groups and government parties (including the Greens) share this opinion—and there are plenty of ideas circulating around what needs to happen to make the most of this moment in history. But how to execute such an immense shift? Well that seems substantially more daunting. And this is where the concept of Doughnut Economics could prove invaluable.

The Doughnut: Explained

What is Doughnut Economics? To answer that question, we need to back up a bit. In a nutshell, Kate Raworth—the economist behind the theory, and the author of the corresponding book—believes the economic theories taught in universities are incredibly outdated and not fit for the 21st century. And yet, our governments, business leaders and even the media continue to perpetuate them—which inevitably leads to social and economic policies built around them. This, she argues, is what’s led us to kill our planet and neglect our people. We’re fixated on the wrong things—most specifically, continual GDP growth—when we should actually be looking at our economy in a more holistic sense. And we can do this by envisioning it as a doughnut.

To understand what she means here, picture a delicious doughnut. It doesn’t matter the flavour—let’s say, to keep things simple, it’s your traditional chocolate glaze. The inner edge of the doughnut represents our social foundation. Right now, anyone who lacks decent housing, water, food, political voice, gender equity, community, etc. falls into the doughnut hole. The outer edge of the doughnut represents our earth’s ecological ceiling—and every human activity that causes excess carbon output, waste, ecological destruction etc. lands beyond that outer edge. A Doughnut economy’s goal is to create the necessary policies (and encourage the necessary behaviours) to get everyone onto the delicious chocolate glaze—aka the “sweet spot”—while making sure our activities don’t surpass the outer edge.

What would it take to get Guelph in the Doughnut?

The theory is cool in and of itself (and I’m really doing it a disservice here—the book delves into so much more detail). But what’s extra special is that Raworth and her gang have actually launched a Doughnut Economics Action Lab which allows people to share resources and tools to help others apply the Doughnut philosophy to different areas of life. The site includes everything from teachers’ guides to business case studies, but what really intrigued me was the City Portraits Methodology.

This methodology teaches you how to scale the Doughnut concept to the city level—offering a step-by-step guide to help cities integrate these ideas into their rebuilding efforts. The framework was adapted from work Raworth did with groups in Philadelphia, Portland and Amsterdam. So far, Amsterdam is the first city to take it to the next level—in late 2019, it formed a Doughnut Coalition comprised of academics, businesses, policymakers and individuals. This Coalition ultimately convinced Amsterdam City Council to adopt the framework—and this summer council committed to using the Doughnut Methodology and the Amsterdam City Portrait to help guide the city’s post-COVID rebuild. 

Explore the possibilities

Amsterdam’s progress, combined with the clear-cut nature of Raworth’s theory, offers a sense of hope. Perhaps it is possible to shift the human race’s trajectory if we break the process down into bite-sized pieces—and have a semblance of a roadmap to guide the way. 

The Guelph Greens Executive Committee is so intrigued by the deliciousness of the Doughnut that we’ve collectively set out on a quest to explore the idea further—and we’re hoping others will be inspired to come along for the ride.

The first step in our journey begins on December 2 from 8-9pm at the Guelph Greens Annual General Meeting, where we’ll be asking a small but diverse panel of local experts to re-imagine Guelph through a Doughnut lens. If you or someone you know (Green or not!) might be interested in exploring this concept with us further, we’d love for you to join us. You can register here.



One Reply to “Doughnut Economics 101”

  1. There was a good follow-up graphic showing overshoots & undershoots of the boundaries. If anyone has the graphic could they please post. Understanding the specific boundaries will lead to the necessary solutions and they will be different depending on the area being examined… local, provincial, national, continental, global. The first graphic is great for conceptualization but the second is the one that is the key to the solutions.

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