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Doughnut model

How can the Doughnut Model support the sustainability efforts of municipalities?

Column: With challenges like climate change, environmental crises, economic crises and now a global pandemic, the need for transformational societal change in the direction of more sustainable systems has never been clearer. Transition is needed in so many areas, from global production and consumption patterns to urban planning and economics.  The public sector, private sector and individuals all need to be involved and we each have important roles to play. In Sweden, for example, municipalities play a key role in developing new ways of setting goals and both shaping and monitoring the development of society. In this column, Haben Tekie, Project Manager for Sustainable Business at RISE, describes the opportunities for planning, measuring and monitoring the sustainability efforts of municipalities using the Doughnut Model.

As a rule, the work done by municipalities is largely influenced by various governance documents, policy objectives and follow-up requirements. Because of that, there is a risk of “overload” when the various policies and control systems compete with each other for attention and priority. For this reason, many municipalities are trying to find more user-friendly models that give them a better overview and support their efforts to prioritise focus areas and plan for different types of activities. They also require systematic monitoring structures for sustainability work that frequently extends across administrative boundaries.

The Doughnut Model might be just what’s needed. British Economist, Kate Raworth launched the concept of Doughnut Economics and the Doughnut Model about 10 years ago. The model expands upon the concept of “planetary boundaries” that would threaten humans’ ability to survive if crossed, originally proposed by Swedish Researcher, Johan Rockström. Besides the nine planetary boundaries, the Doughnut Model specifies twelve social conditions that must be fulfilled (taken from Agenda 2030) in order to achieve sustainable development. In other words, we can only say that we have a healthy economy if the twelve social conditions are met, without trespassing on the ecological boundaries.

Achieving this goal globally requires action at a variety of levels. Many cities and regions around the world, including Amsterdam, Brussels and Cornwall – have thus started using the Doughnut Model as the follow-up and dialogue tool for their sustainability efforts. And in parallel with that, Tomelilla Municipality has joined forces with RISE to investigate whether Swedish municipalities could benefit from the Doughnut Model as well. Just like many other municipalities, Tomelilla is facing challenges when trying to implement Agenda 2030 at the local level and it has identified the Doughnut Model as a tool that could help them in this way.

Our partners at Tomelilla Municipality hope that the Doughnut Model will be able to offer them an overall, visually attractive and easy-to-communicate frame of reference for their sustainability efforts and results. They are also hoping that it will be a framework suitable for gathering all of its various functions and administrations under one umbrella, which they feel is needed in order to achieve their cross-sectional sustainability targets.

The project is called the Doughnut Model as a Follow-up and Dialogue Tool in Tomelilla Municipality, where researchers and analysts from RISE are sharing their expertise in everything from social and ecological sustainability to circular economy, urban planning, implementation and measurement technology. RISE employees are, for example, sifting through prior research in the area and looking at how Tomelilla currently organizes and monitors its sustainability efforts. RISE and Tomelilla are also investigating whether and how the Doughnut Model could be used for systematic planning, monitoring and dialogue, as well as helping them overcome challenges associated with implementing Agenda 2030 at the local level.

Other Swedish municipalities have shown great interest in using the Doughnut Model as well, so the next step is to hopefully get more of them involved with adapting and using it as a control and monitoring tool.

That being said, the Doughnut Model is not the only way to obtain an overview of sustainability. No matter which model an organization chooses for helping it achieve goal-oriented, cohesive decisions on sustainability, a thorough needs analysis in a local context will always be required. It must also take into consideration the municipality’s organizational structure, its expertise in making quality-assured measurements and its need for support with implementation.  RISE has extensive experience in applying interdisciplinary research and using innovation processes to support municipalities in their efforts to build up capacity for planning and monitoring their sustainability efforts.

The Doughnut Model was designed with good intentions for transforming today’s economic systems into something that could hopefully challenge the status quo and result in more sustainability. During the preliminary study, my project colleagues and I saw many examples of how powerful and helpful the Doughnut Model was as a visualization tool. But visualization only gets you so far, of course. If it is not possible to use and implement models and tools in practice, they are essentially worthless. In that case, it doesn’t matter how visually attractive they are. This is why we need to keep investigating whether the Doughnut Model has practical value in a municipal context. We would also like to see whether it can be useful for other public sector organizations, such as county administrative boards and regions. Over time, I hope this can lead to a better understanding that the economy is a means for creating a better world, rather than a goal in itself.

/Haben Tekie, project manager within Sustainable Business at RISE