21st Century Doughnut Economics

By Don MacGillivray

A recent article in Forbes magazine has suggested that Portland is dying. 

The article’s author stated that Portland’s ranking among major US cities has dropped from 11 to 60. The reasons listed include high property values, a limited housing supply, expensive multifamily apartments, increases in homelessness, a troubled criminal justice system, negative news coverage and a decline in Portland’s investment potential.

A different economic theory developed in recent years with  the unique name of Doughnut Economics (based on the book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth) offers another perspective on economic models, describing a pathway toward meeting the world’s needs while saving the planet.

It incorporates both social and environmental well-being into a holistic view of the economy and is a way of describing an economic system within standard business practices that include environmental sustainability and equitable, healthy, thriving communities. It incorporates social issues into business profitability so our economic system can improve people’s lives.

The doughnut has two concentric rings. The outer ring symbolizes the world’s ecological ceiling beyond which lies environmental depletion and climate collapse. 

The inner ring is the social foundation on which health, diet, labor and education are measured. The space between the two rings is where humanity is in a safe and just environment. 

However, if the impacts of consumption are either inside the doughnut hole or if they extend beyond the outer ring of environmental factors, corrections will be needed.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dominated our measurement of economic health since the 1930s. Today, the world’s GDP is 10 times larger than it was in 1950. 

Economic experts constantly tell us that an increasing GDP  brings prosperity. A more descriptive and nuanced method to measure economic health would be more helpful. Both Doughnut Economics and the Genuine Progress Indicator would be better measurements. 

The world needs smart, resilient, balanced growth while strengthening rather than depleting the planet’s environment. Unless there is more appropriate management of the planet’s well being, the future becomes increasingly problematic.

Portland has long been a leader in addressing climate related issues. In 2015, Portland published the first city-level consumption-based emissions inventory that looked at the climate impacts of Portland’s consumer demand. 

The Portland 2015 Climate Action Plan won an award for the best climate action plan in the world because of its innovative focus on consumption and equity.

The award came from C-40, a global partnership among the world’s leading cities working to address climate change, financed by the Bloomberg Philanthropies (US) and The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK).

Portland continues to work toward reducing the city’s social and environmental impacts of consumption to improve the health of the planet. 

The globalized urban cities of the world have a responsibility to ensure that people and nature can thrive together and Portland is working to incorporate the themes from Doughnut Economics to build sustainable communities in our city.

The Thriving Cities Initiative (TCI) is being explored with city leaders in partnership with community members and local business to address many of the problematic patterns of consumption and production. This will require new ways of thinking about governance, collaboration and implementation.

The TCI is a collaboration with C-40, Doughnut Economics Action Lab, and Circle Economy. Portland, Philadelphia and Amsterdam are pilot cities participating in programs to become socially and environmentally conscious.

The work began in 2019 by analyzing the situation here. City stakeholders were asked to identify and investigate the challenges within our local systems and alternative visions for change were suggested.

The TCI team collected global examples of solutions to address these issues in meaningful ways. In the final phase, stakeholders will identify potential partners among business, government and the community to develop and implement these strategies.

Portland hosted the first of a series of TCI workshops in September 2019 to explore Portland’s City Portrait. In March 2020, the pilot program was stopped because of COVID-19 just prior to the second workshop. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is an illustration of why cities must become safer, more resilient and sustainable.

Last September, Portland hosted an interactive online workshop to explore the integration of the ideas from Doughnut Economics in the wake of current crises. 

Participants were reintroduced to the principle of Doughnut Economics and how to re-think and reform governance systems and strategies to ensure greater equality and foster sustainable lifestyles.

The TCI program will continue later this year when the city engages the key people needed to design and integrate the economic solutions. 

Compared with America’s other large cities, Portland ranks somewhere around 15. If anything the city is suffering growing pains. The environmental work here is the envy of the world and we can be a leader in Doughnut Economics. The author of the Forbes article may not know the whole story.

To view the Climate Change documents prepared by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, visit portland.gov/bps/climate-action.

Image by Kate Raworth

21st Century Doughnut Economics

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