Doughnut economics: how to bake a better future

What does a fair and sustainable economy taste like? Civil society and policy makers joined a doughnut (economics) tasting to call for a more well-rounded EU economy that respects people and nature.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Europe’s largest network of environmental NGOs, organised the event to draw attention to the limits of an economic system based on GDP growth, as well as the urgency of putting wellbeing and sustainability at the core of EU policies.

Campaigners welcomed policy makers and passers-by in front of the European Commission with free Earth-coloured doughnuts to raise awareness about doughnut economics, a model that allows for increased wellbeing for all while respecting the planet’s ecological limits.

Which recipe would you choose?

Our current economic model is based on GDP growth, which is widely regarded as the supreme indicator of wealth and progress. However, developing our society solely on the basis of GDP is like trying to bake a complex recipe with one ingredient only.

The pursuit of economic growth at any cost has pushed societies to extract more resources and produce and consume more goods than necessary, exploiting labour and nature far beyond their limits. This ‘Great Acceleration‘ has come with collateral damage, ranging from climate breakdown to growing inequalities, pollution, water scarcity, and deforestation.

The recipe for success requires different ingredients, including social equity, justice, health, clean air and water, a stable climate. The doughnut economics model, developed by economist Kate Raworth, is exactly about that: it highlights a range of minimum social criteria and maximum ecosystem limits that can guide decision makers toward a more equitable and more sustainable system. The sweet spot in between is the ‘doughnut’, a safe space where people and nature can thrive together across generations.

Doughnut economics for all

At the event, the EEB launched a campaign calling on the EU to embrace the doughnut model, starting with three key steps. First, EU institutions must shift their focus from GDP growth to wellbeing, and consider a broader range of dimensions and indicators as a compass to develop and evaluate their policies, as promised by the European Commission in the 8th Environment Action Programme (EAP). Environmental, social, and gender justice must become part of the EU decision making equation.

Second, the EEB calls on the EU to set binding reduction targets to reduce its material footprint by 30% by 2030 and by 50% by 2040, in addition to the existing greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

Third, the EU must accelerate the transition towards energy efficiency, electrification, and renewables, as well as end the EU taxonomy’s greenwashing of fossil fuels and nuclear power as ‘sustainable investments’.

The appetite for a sweeter deals

As the limits of the growth economy become clearer, there is a growing appetite for a better economic system across the EU – including among institutions and decision makers.

Members of the European Parliament, EU Commission Directors and officials, European Environment Agency (EEA) staff and local politicians participated in the action and voiced their support for the EEB demands, which were also endorsed by a broad range of NGOs.

State Secretary Barbara Trachte, who has been implementing the doughnut model in the Brussels Capital Region, called on EU institutions to take action: “There is no time to waste. We have the tools to change. Brussels is already doing its part, it is possible, it’s time for the EU to do it too”.

The time is now

Over the past months, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the European Environment Agency (EEA) have upped their language on the urgent need for alternative economic models, with both mentioning doughnut economics as a viable alternative for sustainable development.

At the same time, 2022 appears to be the perfect year for the EU to make the transition to a wellbeing economy inspired by the doughnut approach, marking milestone anniversaries for two major publications at the core of sustainable developments: 50 years for the Club of Rome’s ‘The Limits to Growth’, which questioned the pursuit of infinite GDP growth, and will be celebrated with a United Nations’ global conference in Stockholm in June; and 35 years for the Brundtland Report, which called for a new model of development “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s 8th Environment Action Programme, which was adopted last January, envisions a regenerative economy for the EU and must be implemented.

Nick Meynen, Senior Policy Officer for Systemic Change at the EEB, told META: “We need to end our dependence on endless economic growth and heal the double burnout of our society and planet. We have models and indicators to guide us towards a sustainable and fair economy, and there has never been a better time for the EU to take them on board”.