The Big Personal Doughnut Debate

We are having an on-going, lively members debate at our Cambridge virtual doughnut HQ. Kate Raworth brought us the global doughnut, then the national doughnut, which is now being downsized to the city level in the shape of the city portrait. We’ve been discussing the question, is it possible to create a doughnut portrait at citizen or individual household level? We are exploring what personal doughnuts could look like and how we could calculate them.

There’s something faintly self-indulgent about W.E.I.R.D. (western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) people discussing personal doughnuts when we know that to create a fair and just world, we will all have to make radical changes. Many of us are hoping the government will force the issue through legislation and taxation but we also know that may take a very long time and that is something we don’t have in good supply. Some of us are extremely capable of living a low-profile lifestyle using our own internal ethical compasses but many of us require some gentle nudging or would like more overt guidance.

The first question to discuss is to what extent must a personal iteration be based on the current doughnut diagram and does that visualisation work at a personal level? As one member pointed out ‘although the inside of Kate Raworth’s doughnut is about social stuff and the outside about the planet, there’s something else that turns it into a doughnut; it has a ceiling and a floor.” The main doughnut illustration presents a coupling and tension of the social and the environmental. It will be important that any personal doughnut visualisation carries that message although we may find it has to be presented in a slightly different way.

Another question is around the household. People often live with others so should a household doughnut be created rather than an individual calculation? What happens when one of those household members takes a transatlantic flight? That leads to the dilemma of what are the data measurements used to create the doughnut? How often and how would we measure this? Is it basically our carbon footprint? We must decide what level of data management to use if we want to keep things simple but effective.

Decision Wheels

Do we require a decision wheel rather than a doughnut? Decision wheels are being used by some UK councils, led by the creative example of Cornwall, to help decision makers calculate the impact of projects and policies. Lead officers complete one of these wheels during project or policy development to illustrate the positive and negative impacts of the decision being made. The example below illustrates the decision wheel used to understand the cost/implications of a new footpath. 

Could we use personal decision wheels to help figure out our own dilemmas. For example, flying to visit a loved relative in a far-flung country but creating tonnes of carbon emissions or owning a cat who might give us a lot of pleasure but could decimate wildlife. If you’re reading this article you probably already have some kind of internal ecological moral compass. What do you need to help inspire action and navigate complex moral choices?

Is it really fair to ask people who are below the social foundation and out of the doughnut space to make moral decisions? Should the process centre around creating an educational tool to help frame the situation in a positive, nurturing way? Gently pointing out improvements and positive aspirations.

Deciding parameters

The global doughnut has a number of set social and ecological dimensions but cities all over the world are using and interpreting the data and categories in slightly different ways. Another member pointed out “I think if we downscale to an individual level we should allow for the possibility of different dimensions. Even if the dimensions are the same, people’s targets might be really different, and they might look very different for people with families and people without; someone living alone can’t use half the energy of two people sharing a flat; some people need a nature reserve they can visit every day, others just want a few trees on the streets”

One member has started work on a program to try and populate a personal doughnut using the standard doughnut and categories under discussion.

The tension between environmental and social concerns is not yet present in this version and the push pull effect is not visible.

Defining personal parameters is not an easy task as we are all from different backgrounds and have varying perspectives. Do you measure by global, national or local points of reference? What do we include within the doughnut? What is on the outer edge, pushing personal limits such as living space, use of resources, impact in the community and local environment? We’ve talked about the importance of reducing our personal impact but how do we measure this and include family, relationships, community connection, interaction with nature and creativity?

Other Doughnut groups are also experimenting with the doughnut diagram, applying it to specific and varying fields. There is an interesting creative example, developed by a Bristol Artist Led Forum showing the doughnut economy for artist-led projects.

Designing a doughnut using value judgements

I’m a designer by trade and to work out what I think about something, I sometimes take ideas and make them more concrete by graphic visualisation. This partly explains why the general doughnut visualisation is so appealing, it takes many articles, research, concepts and projects and filters them into one easy to understand diagram.

In preparation for this article, reading back through the suggestions of members, I defaulted to designer mode. Procrastinating and avoiding writing, I spent many hours creating a doughnut graphic and the concepts we’ve discussed. This process has created something I hope can be of use to the debate and allowed me to organise and refine ideas. The brief I took from the member debate is that the design must acknowledge the need to act on climate change but also to incorporate social, creative, and nurturing aspects of society. I wanted to retain a tension between our actions and climate change but also highlight the fact that life can still be fulfilling and engaging. There are many positive actions and activities in which we can participate that will not adversely affect climate change and these must be emphasised and encouraged. Even if we must make sacrifices, we can gain in other ways. In the global north we have social issues to resolve but not to the same extent as the global south. It’s also important to note that the categories have parameters that we as individuals have agency over, otherwise it cannot be personal and action based.

The graphic below evolved taking inspiration from Doughnut Economics but as a starting point I applied my own value judgements and those I thought would appeal to the members of the Cambridge Doughnut.

Personal Doughnut Framework Draft v1.1

The first iteration is perhaps too detailed and requires refinement and continued discussion with others, it is missing health and physical activity for example, however I hope people can see where it could lead.

This next image is my personal version, an indication of where my life currently sits including my household. The outcome shows that I must focus on reducing my impact on climate, I can also increase my social action and interaction. I live in a house that’s a bit too big, it uses conventional power and is not well insulated. I consume too much, and my main household income is generated by an occupation that doesn’t contribute positively to the world. However, I’m happy, part of a strong community, well-educated and increasing my knowledge and climate action every day. I hope this highlights the interaction between social and climate action.

Personal doughnut Framework Draft v1.1 completed – completed for the family

What would a personal doughnut look like if completed by someone with differing values? This could be interesting to investigate. Perhaps the true value of personal doughnuts would be to determine, for example, what would Nigel Farage’s look like? Could we find any common ground? People could create their own parameters, building their doughnut to set personal targets they can revisit regularly. Ultimately, to drive real change, the key consideration will be to encourage those without existing internal compasses to start finding one. Will this be a helpful tool? Please complete yours and let us know how you get on.

The Big Personal Doughnut Debate
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