Establishing the Sweet Spot of Society
By JOSEPHINE SYLVESTRE | April 20th, 2020
Amsterdam canals on a summer day. Elisa Morand / The Amsterdammer.
On April 7, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Municipal Executive of Amsterdam decided to adopt British economist Kate Raworth’s Doughnut economic model for sustainable development, making Amsterdam the first city in the world to do so. The Doughnut works at finding the balance between a necessary “social foundation” for all and the “environmental ceiling” in a modern society. This balance is what Raworth calls “the sweet spot for humanity”.
The international team that has been working on this project for a year never expected to launch this initiative during a crisis, but believes that the need for such a “transformative tool could hardly be greater than right now”, according to Raworth. Whilst neighboring countries are still focused on the present, the Dutch capital looks to the future for a viable solution. This decision comes at a time where there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the future: particularly the economy and how it will recover from the current corona-crisis. Raworth mentions on her website that she “never expected [they] would be launching in a context of crisis such as this” and she is enthusiastic to see that “Amsterdam has the chance to inspire many more places”.
What is happening in Amsterdam?
According to Raworth’s blog, Amsterdam has already placed the Doughnut at the core of its long term policy-making. The practicalities of this Doughnut approach can be seen in two sub-policies that the municipality approved in early April. The ‘Amsterdam Circular 2020-2025 Strategy’ and ‘The City Donut for Amsterdam’. The Circular Strategy is a path toward fully transitioning into a circular economy, particularly stressing the ambitions regarding food & organic waste flows, consumer goods and built environment. Along with this, the City Donut initiative was developed as a collaboration between the Municipality of Amsterdam and circular economy experts, in pursuit of ‘the first Urban Donut’.
What is the idea?
The city of Amsterdam’s goal is to “get into the doughnut”. As seen in the graphic below, the ideal situation is the green ring, the ‘doughnut’. It is the sustainable solution where there is a balance between the inner circle, the social foundation and the outer circle, the ecological ceiling. The area between those two rings (where the yummy dough and the sprinkles are) is the socially optimal balance. Raworth often repeats in her Ted Talks that the aim of a society should not be constant growth, but to thrive. Her economic model puts humans and the finite resources we have been endowed with at the core, aiming to replace traditional economic models such as the ‘circular flow’ which ignores many aspects of the modern economy. The reason why our current system is not working is because policy makers and economists are too focused on ‘chasing’ higher figures of GDP growth, yet all this does is foster deepening inequalities and ‘ecological collapse’. This goal is ‘last century’s goal’ and according to Raworth, we need to adapt our economic models to fit this century.
Amsterdam’s Circular strategy
According to the Municipality, Amsterdam’s goal to be a circular economy by 2050 would manifest as a city where “we reuse valuable materials and raw materials and do not produce waste”. This is beneficial for two main reasons. Firstly, the production of new materials is responsible for half of global CO2 emissions; implying that if there is no new production, emissions will decrease significantly. Secondly, it fosters local employment as there will be a greater need for repair and processing of the materials domestically as opposed to foreign exports to sustain the nation.
Amsterdam’s announcement of pursuing a circular economy during the coronavirus epidemic surprised locals and international experts alike. Whether this strategy will be accommodated or disrupted by the epidemic is yet to be seen.
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