The future is donut-y

The future is donut-y

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on a global scale. It has been a difficult time for everyone, countries all around the world are having to bring in different methods and protocols to help remedy the collapsing economy. To the eyes of many, myself included, it can be quite overwhelming to read about different economic models, let a lone to fully grasp what it is that they do. This is a dive into the deep-end to say the least, but I intend on staying as up-to-date as I can with what's going on in the world. That means learning about different systems that may potentially be beneficial to all. Here's my attempt at breaking down one of these new exciting models, in a way that is hopefully digestible to all. Queue the donuts !

The ‘Doughnut Economics’ model was first published in 2012 by British author, Kate Raworth, who felt compelled to come up with a brand new social-political-economical system when she came to the realisation that current existing theories were no longer sufficient. The goal of the doughnut is to be able to meet the needs of all people within the means of the planet, the core of this new ideology being ending inequality. With our planet facing 21st century problems like climate breakdown, Covid lockdown, and financial crashes, purely citing GDP figures aren’t the only way now to highlight economical success. The doughnut allows for policy makers to be held accountable and encourages questions of progress to be raised.

The inner ring of the doughnut represents the 12 basic human needs or the social foundation, derived from the UN sustainable development goals. While the outer ring is the ecological ceiling under which humanity should live, a guideline if you will. These are the nine life-supporting systems of Planet Earth to ensure stable climate, healthy oceans, and recharged freshwater, created by leading Earth system scientists. Raworth suggested that rather than having people trying to remain within the center of the circle, where we won’t actually be thriving the most as previously suggested, we should instead have an inner circle - just as there is an outer limit of humanity’s pressure on the planet, there too must be an inner limit. The area in the middle is for people who are falling short on the essentials of life and the ideal of the doughnut is to make sure to not leave anyone in the middle, but to have all people living within the green rings of the doughnut.

Raworth, working with an organisation called Circular Economy, have begun to downscale the model to run in Amsterdam, with the hopes of rebuilding the Dutch economy post-Covid-19. The scaled-down model shows a “city portrait” of Amsterdam’s existing issues, mainly areas where basic needs are not yet met, and how these issues link with the overshot of “planetary boundaries”. Housing was one of the issues which appeared in the portrait - almost 20% of the city’s tenants were unable to cover paying for basic needs after rent bills were paid. Just 12% of over 60,000 online applicants were successful for their social housing applications. The doughnut suggests that rather than building more houses, policymakers will have to make sure that materials used in buildings are recycled and bio-based. The area’s current carbon dioxide emissions are over 31% higher than it was in 1990, with over 62% of that coming from imports from outside the city boundaries. With that and capital flowing around the world, real estate seems like a good investment which drives up the price making it virtually impossible for residents of the city to pay rent in the long run.

The port of Amsterdam is prime for importing cocoa beans from west Africa, which has been cited as a field with highly exploitative labour practices. The deputy mayor of Amsterdam has stated that the city was looking at a future where they weren’t so dependent on fossil fuels and being in a moral-grey-area of housing products that came from child labour or any kind of labour exploitation. You probably weren’t expecting to learn that issues of labour rights in west Africa are prevalent in Amsterdam’s city portrait, but with the doughnut all of this became quite visible.

Outside of Amsterdam, different sectors have been incorporating the doughnut into the core of their practices. The fashion industry is responsible for up to 8% of global CO2 emissions, with over 92 million tonnes of textile waste per year ending up in landfills! Brands such as The R Collective reuses excess luxury fabrics and materials for its collections. They’ve also launched an on-demand service called ‘Refashioned’ which allows customers to choose from a 20 piece collection and tailor it to their size and fabric of choice. This initiative shows a slow and circular fashion cycle by not mass producing but making exact numbers of products needed, limiting excess waste from items that may not sell. A restaurant in Helsinki, Ultima, challenges the traditional ways of operating a restaurant. They’ve built a vertical greenhouse into the restaurant’s premises which is used year round. The hydroponic irrigation system allows for plants to take their nutrients from water instead of soil. Aeroponic potato tubes were also mounted to grow potatoes without soil, and also - pots that were normally used for growing herbs were reused and the peat used can be returned to circulation with biowaste. These features attract visitors which benefits the restaurant itself. Sounds pretty cool, right?

The doughnut allows for a harmony between personal health and planetary health. It helps policy-makers to shift the focus of “growth” to “thriving”. It also encourages makers in different sectors to think of ways outside-the-box to make their practice more aligned to a circular economy system. I’m definitely intrigued in learning more about how each city's portraits are going to differ from one-another, and at the same time, how each one will become connected.

Words by Pippa Touchphong.

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