Doughnut Economics: An Introduction

by Lucia Rua

In our current economic system there is an obsession with growth. The richest countries aim to increase their gross domestic product (GDP) to infinity, which is translated into higher production and consumption rates [1]. However, this aim is not compatible with the ecological limits of the Earth and the wellbeing of humanity. Therefore, there is an urgent need to transform the current economic system. This can be done by using  the Doughnut Economics model. 

The Doughnut Economics model was developed and explained by economist Kate Raworth in the 2012 Oxfam report ‘A safe and just space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut?’ [2]. In 2017, Raworth’s bestselling book ‘Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist’ delved deeper into this revolutionary economic thinking [2]. But what is the Doughnut Economics model about?

The Doughnut: The Core Ideas

Figure 1 The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries. Source: Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL)

The Doughnut framework offers a vision of what it means for humanity to thrive in the 21st century and explores the mindset needed to achieve this economic model [2]. It thus offers an alternative to the classic market-oriented economic model that takes into account that   constant economic growth and related economic paradigms (such as cost-benefit analyses) frequently ignore the social and environmental costs entailed in products.

The Doughnut diagram, Figure 1, consists of two concentric rings [1,2,3,4]: 

  1. A social foundation: The hole in the middle is the place where people are falling short on basic needs for a life of dignity and opportunity. The aim is to get all human beings out of the hole, i.e. fulfilling the social foundation, and into that green doughnut itself. There are twelve social indicators, which have been derived from the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) [5]. 
  1. An ecological ceiling: The outer circle is formed by the planetary boundaries that protect Earth’s life-supporting systems and, as a consequence, determine human wellbeing. There are nine ecological indicators. These indicators are based on the planetary boundaries set out in the paper ‘A safe operating space for humanity’ by Rockstrom et al. in 2009 [6].

Between the two sets of boundaries lies a doughnut-shaped green space that is both ecologically safe and socially just: a space in which humanity can thrive [1]. In the Doughnut Economics model, the aim is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. Progress is then not synonymous with growth, instead it is considered to be the balance between the foundation of human basic needs and the planet’s ecological limits [1]. 

As can be observed in Figure 2, the state of humanity and the planet is in crisis. Millions of people worldwide are unable to meet their most basic needs, while, simultaneously, we are overshooting four planetary boundaries (i.e., climate change, nitrogen & phosphorus loading, land conversion, and biodiversity loss), with the rest of the boundaries at risk. 

Figure 2 The current situation of the Doughnut diagram worldwide. Source: Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL)

The Principles to be Followed by Anyone Wanting to put the Doughnut into Practice

As explained in Raworth’s book, there are seven principles to achieve an ecologically safe and socially just economic model, and to transition to the new economic mindset that this century demands (see Figure 3 for a summary) [7].

Figure 3 The Doughnut principles of practice. Source: Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL)

Nowadays, many citizens, businesses, city departments, foundations, and other kinds of organisations worldwide are finding ways to bring humanity into the Doughnut [2]. For instance, cities like Amsterdam or Barcelona have started working on a transition towards Doughnut Economics to achieve the wellbeing of their citizens while protecting the natural ecosystems [8,9]. 

Title: The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries.
Credit: Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier. CC-BY-SA 4.0
Citation: Raworth, K. (2017), Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. London: Penguin Random House.

Reference List:

[1] Raworth, K., 2018, A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow, TED video. (accessed: 10.11.2021).
[2] Doughnut Economics Action Lab, 2021, About Doughnut Economics, (accessed: 10.11.2021).
[3] Raworth, K., 2017, Meet the doughnut: the new economic model that could help end inequality, World Economic Forum, (accessed: 11.11.2021).
[4] Raworth, K., 2012, A safe and just space for humanity; can we live within the doughnut?, Oxfam, doi: 10.1163/2210-7975_hrd-9824-0069. 
[5] United Nations, n.d., The 17 goals, (accessed: 09.12.2021).
[6] Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., … & Foley, J. A., 2009, A safe operating space for humanity. nature, 461(7263), 472-475, doi:
[7] Raworth, K., 2017, Why it’s time for Doughnut Economics, IPPR Progressive Review, 24(3), 216-222, doi:
[8] Circle Economy, 2020, The Amsterdam City Doughnut: a tool for transformative action, (accessed: 12.11.2021).
[9] Barcelona City Hall, 2021,  Why does the doughnut economy need to be applied in the city?, (accessed: 12.11.2021).
Categories Economic Concepts

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