Amsterdam Is Pivoting to Doughnut Economics as Policy Framework
"The Doughnut was first published in 2012, proposing a social foundation and ecological ceiling for the whole world. Ever since then people have asked: can we downscale the Doughnut so that we can apply it here – in our town, our country, our region? Over the past eight years there have been many innovative initiatives exploring different approaches to doing just that – including for the Lake Erhai catchment in China, for the nations of South Africa, Wales and the UK, and for a comparison of 150 countries.
Today sees the launch of a new and holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut, and we are confident that it has huge potential at multiple scales – from neighbourhood to nation – as a tool for transformative action. Amsterdam is a great place for launching this tool because this city has already placed the Doughnut at the heart of its long-term vision and policymaking, and is home to the Amsterdam Donut Coalition, a network of inspiring change-makers who are already putting the Doughnut into practice in their city.
When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry
This new holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut started out as a playful conceptual collaboration between the biomimicry thinker Janine Benyus and me, as we sought to combine the essence of our contrasting ways of thinking about people and place. It then became a collaborative initiative, led by Doughnut Economics Action Lab (we are so new we don’t have a website yet – but watch this space!) working very closely with fantastic colleagues at Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy and C40 Cities, all collaborating as part of the Thriving Cities Initiative, funded by the KR Foundation.
The result is a holistic approach that embraces social and ecological perspectives, both locally and globally. Applied at the scale of a city, it starts by asking this very 21st century question:
It’s a question that combines local aspiration – to be thriving people in a thriving place – with a global responsibility to live in ways that respect all people and the whole planet. As Janine put it in her characteristically poetic way, ‘when a bird builds a nest in a tree, it takes care not to destroy the surrounding forest in the process’. How can humanity also learn to create settlements big and small that promote the wellbeing of their inhabitants, while respecting the wider living communities in which they are embedded?" (https://www.kateraworth.com/2020/04/08/amsterdam-city-doughnut/?)
"the model will be formally embraced by the municipality of Amsterdam as the starting point for public policy decisions, the first city in the world to make such a commitment.
“I think it can help us overcome the effects of the crisis”, said Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Marieke van Doorninck, who joined Raworth in an interview with the Guardian via Skype before the launch. “It might look strange that we are talking about the period after that but as a government we have to … It is to help us to not fall back on easy mechanisms.”
“When suddenly we have to care about climate, health, and jobs and housing and care and communities, is there a framework around that can help us with all of that?” Raworth says. “Yes there is, and it is ready to go.”
The central premise is simple: the goal of economic activity should be about meeting the core needs of all but within the means of the planet. The “doughnut” is a device to show what this means in practice.
Raworth scaled down the model to provide Amsterdam with a “city portrait” showing where basic needs are not being met and “planetary boundaries” overshot. It displays how the issues are interlinked.
“It is not just a hippy way at looking at the world,” says Van Doorninck, citing the housing crisis as an example.
Residents’ housing needs are increasingly not being satisfied, with almost 20% of city tenants unable to cover their basic needs after paying their rent, and just 12% of approximately 60,000 online applicants for social housing being successful.
One solution might be to build more homes but Amsterdam’s doughnut highlights that the area’s carbon dioxide emissions are 31% above 1990 levels. Imports of building materials, food and consumer products from outside the city boundaries contribute 62% of those total emissions.
Van Doorninck says the city plans to regulate to ensure builders use materials that are as often possible recycled and bio based, such as wood. But the doughnut approach also encourages policymakers to lift their eyes to the horizon.
“The fact that houses are too expensive is not only to do with too few being built. There is a lot of capital flowing around the world trying to find an investment, and right now real estate is seen as the best way to invest, so that drives up prices,” she says.
“The doughnut does not bring us the answers but a way of looking at it, so that we don’t keep on going on in the same structures as we used to.” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/amsterdam-doughnut-model-mend-post-coronavirus-economy?)
BY CIARA NUGENT:
"Amsterdam’s ambition is to bring all 872,000 residents inside the doughnut, ensuring everyone has access to a good quality of life, but without putting more pressure on the planet than is sustainable. Guided by Raworth’s organization, the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), the city is introducing massive infrastructure projects, employment schemes and new policies for government contracts to that end. Meanwhile, some 400 local people and organizations have set up a network called the Amsterdam Doughnut Coalition—managed by Drouin— to run their own programs at a grassroots level.
It’s the first time a major city has attempted to put doughnut theory into action on a local level, but Amsterdam is not alone. Raworth says DEAL has received an avalanche of requests from municipal leaders and others seeking to build more resilient societies in the aftermath of COVID-19. Copenhagen’s city council majority decided to follow Amsterdam’s example in June, as did the Brussels region and the small city of Dunedin, New Zealand, in September, and Nanaimo, British Columbia, in December. In the U.S., Portland, Ore., is preparing to roll out its own version of the doughnut, and Austin may be close behind. The theory has won Raworth some high-profile fans; in November, Pope Francis endorsed her “fresh thinking,” while celebrated British naturalist Sir David Attenborough dedicated a chapter to the doughnut in his latest book, A Life on Our Planet, calling it “our species’ compass for the journey” to a sustainable future." (https://time.com/5930093/amsterdam-doughnut-economics/)
"The new, doughnut-shaped world Amsterdam wants to build is coming into view on the southeastern side of the city. Rising almost 15 ft. out of placid waters of Lake IJssel lies the city’s latest flagship construction project, Strandeiland (Beach Island). Part of IJburg, an archipelago of six new islands built by city contractors, Beach Island was reclaimed from the waters with sand carried by boats run on low-emission fuel. The foundations were laid using processes that don’t hurt local wildlife or expose future residents to sea-level rise. Its future neighborhood is designed to produce zero emissions and to prioritize social housing and access to nature. Beach Island embodies Amsterdam’s new priority: balance, says project manager Alfons Oude Ophuis. “Twenty years ago, everything in the city was focused on production of houses as quickly as possible. It’s still important, but now we take more time to do the right thing.”
Lianne Hulsebosch, IJburg’s sustainability adviser, says the doughnut has shaped the mindset of the team, meaning Beach Island and its future neighbor Buiteneiland are more focused on sustainability than the first stage of IJburg, completed around 2012. “It’s not that every day-to-day city project has to start with the doughnut, but the model is really part of our DNA now,” she says. “You notice in the conversations that we have with colleagues. We’re doing things that 10 years ago we wouldn’t have done because we are valuing things differently.”
The city has introduced standards for sustainability and circular use of materials for contractors in all city-owned buildings. Anyone wanting to build on Beach Island, for example, will need to provide a “materials passport” for their buildings, so whenever they are taken down, the city can reuse the parts.
On the mainland, the pandemic has inspired projects guided by the doughnut’s ethos. When the Netherlands went into lockdown in March, the city realized that thousands of residents didn’t have access to computers that would become increasingly necessary to socialize and take part in society. Rather than buy new devices—which would have been expensive and eventually contribute to the rising problem of e-waste—the city arranged collections of old and broken laptops from residents who could spare them, hired a firm to refurbish them and distributed 3,500 of them to those in need. “It’s a small thing, but to me it’s pure doughnut,” says van Doorninck.
The local government is also pushing the private sector to do its part, starting with the thriving but ecologically harmful fashion industry. Amsterdam claims to have the highest concentration of denim brands in the world, and that the average resident owns five pairs of jeans. But denim is one of the most resource-intensive fabrics in the world, with each pair of jeans requiring thousands of gallons of water and the use of polluting chemicals.
In October, textile suppliers, jeans brands and other links in the denim supply chain signed the “Denim Deal,” agreeing to work together to produce 3 billion garments that include 20% recycled materials by 2023—no small feat given the treatments the fabric undergoes and the mix of materials incorporated into a pair of jeans. The city will organize collections of old denim from Amsterdam residents and eventually create a shared repair shop for the brands, where people can get their jeans fixed rather than throwing them away. “Without that government support and the pressure on the industry, it will not change. Most companies need a push,” says Hans Bon of denim supplier Wieland Textiles.
Of course, many in the city were working on sustainability, social issues or ways to make life better in developing countries before the city embraced the doughnut. But Drouin, manager of Amsterdam’s volunteer coalition, says the concept has forced a more fundamental reckoning with the city’s way of life. “It has really changed people’s mindset, because you can see all the problems in one picture. It’s like a harsh mirror on the world that you face.”
Doughnut economIcs may be on the rise in Amsterdam, a relatively wealthy city with a famously liberal outlook, in a democratic country with a robust state. But advocates of the theory face a tough road to effectively replace capitalism. In Nanaimo, Canada, a city councillor who opposed the adoption of the model in December called it “a very left-wing philosophy which basically says that business is bad, growth is bad, development’s bad.”
In fact, the doughnut model doesn’t proscribe all economic growth or development. In her book, Raworth acknowledges that for low- and middle-income countries to climb above the doughnut’s social foundation, “significant GDP growth is very much needed.” But that economic growth needs to be viewed as a means to reach social goals within ecological limits, she says, and not as an indicator of success in itself, or a goal for rich countries. In a doughnut world, the economy would sometimes be growing and sometimes shrinking.
Still, some economists are skeptical of the idealism. In his 2018 review of Raworth’s book, Branko Milanovic, a scholar at CUNY’s Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, says for the doughnut to take off, humans would need to “magically” become “indifferent to how well we do compared to others, and not really care about wealth and income.”
In cities that are grappling with the immediate social and economic effects of COVID-19, though, the doughnut framework is proving appealing, says Joshua Alpert, the Portland-based director of special projects at C40. “All of our mayors are working on this question: How do we rebuild our cities post-COVID? Well, the first place to start is with the doughnut.” Alpert says they have had “a lot of buy-in” from city leaders. “Because it’s framed as a first step, I think it’s been easier for mayors to say this is a natural progression that is going to help us actually move out of COVID in a much better way.”
Drouin says communities in Amsterdam also have helped drive the change. “If you start something and you can make it visible, and prove that you or your neighborhood is benefiting, then your city will wake up and say we need to support them.” In her own neighborhood, she says, residents began using parking spaces to hold dinners with their neighbors during summer, and eventually persuaded the municipality to convert many into community gardens.
Citizen-led groups focused on the doughnut that are forming in places including São Paulo, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur and California bring the potential to transform their own areas from the bottom up. “It’s powerful when you have peers inspiring peers to act: a teacher inspires another teacher, or a schoolchild inspires their class, a mayor inspires another mayor,” Raworth says. “I’m really convinced that’s the way things are going to happen if we’re going to get the transformation that we need this decade.”
COVID-19 has the potential to massively accelerate that transformation, if governments use economic-stimulus packages to favor industries that lead us toward a more sustainable economy, and phase out those that don’t. Raworth cites Milton Friedman—the diehard free-market 20th century economist—who famously said that “when [a] crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” In July, Raworth’s DEAL group published the methodology it used to produce the “city portrait” that is guiding Amsterdam’s embrace of the doughnut, making it available for any local government to use. “This is the crisis,” she says. “We’ve made sure our ideas are lying around.” (https://time.com/5930093/amsterdam-doughnut-economics/)
Provided by Kate Raworth:
- my blog on the Amsterdam city doughnut, and links to the report itself.
- our methodology on how to do your own city portrait - we have made it open access from the start.
- the Guardian article on Amsterdam that went viral, and inspired cities like Copenhagen to follow suit
- a couple of others with quotes from Marieke van Doorninck, the vice mayor on why she got the city to adopt the doughnut: https://www.vn.nl/donuteconomie-amsterdam/?