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Avoiding circular elitism through doughnut economics

The circular economy is criticised for ignoring social factors and issues of equity. Here we explore doughnut economics as a potential solution.
Pink donuts with rainbow sprinkles
© University of Glasgow

From regenerative to regenerative and distributed 

One of the major criticisms of the circular economy is that social factors and issues of equity are largely ignored. 

In 2017 Kate Raworth shared the idea of doughnut economics. Doughnut economics thinks about sustainable development with reference to both ecological and social limits.

What is doughnut economics?

In this 5 minute video, Kate explains the concept of doughnut economics. Alternatively, you can read an explanation from the Doughnut Economics Action Lab here or attached as a PDF to this step. 

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

According to Raworth, Doughnut economics is visualised as two concentric rings representing: 

  • A social foundation – to ensure that no one is left falling short on life’s essentials.
  • An ecological ceiling – to ensure that humanity does not collectively overshoot planetary boundaries.
Between these two boundaries lies a doughnut-shaped space that is both ecologically safe and socially just – a space in which humanity can thrive.

Going beyond going circular

Kate herself is quite clear that doughnut economics is complementary to the concept of a circular economy. It extends the vision for resource production and consumption into a model for meeting needs that are both regenerative and distributed.

When we first looked at the definition of the circular economy in week 1, we looked at two flows of materials – biological and technical. The aim of the circular economy is to make these loops regenerative.

Kate views the shift to regenerative flows of resources as the first of two transformations. The second transformation is for the value and opportunity to be shared more equitably – it is distributed. She explains these ideas in the following video

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The circular economy represents a shift from a linear economy to regenerative one. Doughnut economics extends this transformation to encompass a double shift – from a linear economy to a regenerative and distributed economy that looks at sustainable development across a number of different vectors. 

An idea gaining traction in Glasgow and beyond…

The idea of doughnut economics provides an approach to think about the shift to a circular economy in a more holistic way. It is an idea that is rapidly gaining traction with planners and policy makers around the world, including in Glasgow in the UK. Both Glasgow and Amsterdam are good examples of where at a city scale, ambitions for a circular economy have been framed within the context of doughnut economics.

Circular economy: route map for Glasgow 

Amsterdam: adding the doughnut to the circular economy.

A final note

The Glasgow example we have shared above brings together many of the ideas we have explored in this course. If you follow the case study link, you will see examples of product and market innovation and businesses that are effecting a sustainable transition. As you look through – see how many ideas that you have learnt about on this course being applied in practice?  

The City of Glasgow’s approach is informed by research. The ambition to be a circular city by 2045 demands significant change. The City of Glasgow is an important collaborator and partner in a £10m research project called Gallant led by Professor Jaime Toney and the University of Glasgow. You can learn more about this here

This article concludes our content on this course. Before you finish your learning with us, in the next step we invite you to contribute to the debate around the circular economy. 

Extension task

Do you remember that in Week 2 you calculated your own carbon footprint? If you are interested, this link enables you to map your very own doughnut

© University of Glasgow
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