Author: Anna Tranberg     |   Category: Green Ideas   |   Time to read: 5min

Traditionally development goes hand in hand with economic growth and the health of nations is measured in monetary terms through gross domestic product (GDP). However, it is evident by looking at the current state of the world that economic growth is not enough to provide basic human rights such as health, water, and food, nor does it after a certain point make us any happier. Social and economic inequalities are growing, with the gap between rich and poor getting deeper. Forests are shrinking, there are less fish in the oceans and biodiversity loss is speeding up. Our global economy relies on uneven development, which is one of the fundamental characteristics of the capitalist system.

Yet, economic growth and its attached policies are still considered the panacea to have development and sustainable societies. Einstein once said that the way of thinking that got you into a mess is not the kind that will get you out of it. So, why is the question what we want from a society, and if the current structures are allowing us to do so, rarely asked?

Economist Kate Raworth decided to ask this question by saying: “what if economics started with human wellbeing rather than money?” and thus developing a new type of system: doughnut economics! Rather than emphasising the flow of money, Raworth’s theory places our social foundations such as social equity, energy, health and food (exhaustive list in the picture below) at the centre. Moreover, she also added our planetary boundaries in another layer, based on Johan Rockström and his colleagues’ work, creating the outline of just a doughnut. Planetary boundaries refer to things such as ozone depletion, climate change and ocean acidification, all with limits we need to stay within if we are to avoid disastrous and irreversible environmental change.

Pictures showing the doughnut, planetary boundaries and social foundations


The challenge is to ensure our social foundation while keeping within the planetary boundaries and how we do this practically. However, today, as we know through the sustainable development goals, none of the social foundations have reached their boundary i.e. where everyone has access to clean water, education etc., while three of the planetary boundaries have been overrun. As Raworth argues, in order to meet human rights and ensure the wellbeing of all people within the planetary boundaries we need to get into the doughnut, a safe space for humanity where the earth and its systems are supported. So, who is up for a doughnut?


/Anna Tranberg  

Works with research and innovation at the Swedish governmental agency for innovation systems

Federation of Young European Greens COP21 delegate

To read more check out: Coe, N M., Kelly, P F., and Yeung H W., (2007) Economic geography. A contemporary Introduction. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.


*The blog was originally published on Green Forum website on May 24, 2016