Doughnut Economics: A concept that’s time’s now come?

By: Lucy Cottee, Senior Analyst, White Space Strategy

Doughnut Economics challenged me to think about the economy, growth, and humanity in ways I haven’t before. Its way of thinking was important before the pandemic, and before the cost of living crisis developed – it feels increasingly essential to me now, as we move towards 2023 (read White Space Strategy’s analysis of the 15 key forces driving how next year unfolds as a free download on Whiteboard).

Whilst I am undoubtedly passionate about social issues, and curious about business and the economy, I have never thought about these interests in such a united and practical way. Doughnut Economics forces you to do just that – Kate Raworth uses the very visual Doughnut to demonstrate the intertwining of social and ecological factors to redefine economics with humanity’s long-term goals in mind.

So, what is the Doughnut?

The Doughnut is where Raworth thinks we (humanity) should be. The social foundation of human rights and the ecological ceiling of planetary boundaries create the inner and outer boundaries of the doughnut. Raworth suggests currently we are far beyond both of these boundaries and need to make changes to return to the safe and just space in the doughnut’s centre.

“A social foundation of wellbeing that no one should fall below, and an ecological ceiling of planetary pressure that we should not go beyond. Between the two lies a safe and just space for all”

The Book in Bullets:

  • Change the way we look at growth: GDP growth needs to be put aside and replaced with the question “what enables humans to thrive?” Once this question is asked it will become obvious that human thriving depends upon planetary thriving – the two boundaries of the doughnut are interconnected.
  • See the bigger picture: Putting blind faith in markets and ignoring the living world and society is a mistake.

“End the myth of the self-contained, self-sustaining market, replacing it with provisioning by the household, market, commons and state – all embedded within and dependent upon society, which in turn is embedded within the living world”

  • Change the portrayal of human kind: humans need to become more dependent, fluid and socially reciprocating.
  • Create dynamic complexity: value should be dispersed and circulated as it is created rather than having it in very few hands.

“Today’s economy is divisive and degenerative by default. Tomorrow’s economy must be distributive and regenerative by design”

Implications for the Future:

If we continue with our current model of ‘take, make, use and lose’ and desire for growth via GDP we will drive further economic inequality and segregation by creating a monoculture of money. This is bad both for humanity as a whole, and for the planet… and ultimately it is unsustainable.

Implications for Sustainable Growth, What Can Businesses Do?

  • Businesses should try to create systems that are regenerative by design: Keep the social foundation in mind (focus on employee health, equality, and education) and always give back to the planet more than you take. Sure – start by switching to a greener energy supply, offsetting your carbon and aiming for net zero, but always ask yourself, ‘how can I take it one step further’?
  • Case Study: Newlight Technologies, California. Newlight Technologies capture the methane emissions from dairy cows and turn them into bioplastic and making products – such as bottles and office chairs – which are carbon negative, sequestering greenhouse gas emissions across their entire life cycle.

“More than an action on a to-do list, it is a way of being in the world that embraces biosphere stewardship and recognises that we have a responsibility to leave the living world in a better state than we found it”

Overall, Doughnut Economics represents Raworth’s ideal doughnut. Every individual’s doughnut might look slightly different but if businesses can bear in mind the ecological ceiling of planetary boundaries and the social foundation of human rights when making key decisions – we can drive towards the safe centre of the doughnut together before it’s too late.

Have you read Doughnut Economics? What did you think? Can we really make changes that allow us to return to the safe and just space at the centre of the doughnut?

About the author:

Headshot of White Space Strategy Business Analyst Lucy Cottee

Lucy Cottee

Business Analyst, White Space Strategy

Lucy is one of White Space’s most recent new joiners, contributing a wealth of experience in the social and voluntary sector. She won Triathlon Scotland’s Young Volunteer of the Year Award in 2020, and has contributed over 500 hours of volunteer time through St Andrews University Sport.

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