The Doughnut & Circular Economy

by Beeny Harwood Purkiss


Did you know that the ancient Greeks taught us that the Earth was round? It’s actually a common misconception that it was Christopher Columbus. Misconceptions are difficult to understate and can get us in all kinds of trouble just like the misconception that our economy works well linearly.

In recent years arguments against a linear economy continue to emerge and call for systematic change including both Circular Economy and Doughnut Economics. Hopefully this brief introduction to Doughnut vs Circular Economy will help to clear up some questions around the difference between these models.

What is a linear economy and what is the problem?

A linear economy model works on the principle of take > make > dispose. However, this model is fundamentally flawed and as production and consumption continue to scale in the fight against the social issues we face at the present moment, our finite resources continue to deplete. 

To add insult to injury the linear economy model inevitably ends in “dispose”. This creates catastrophic issues of climate change including sea level rise, plastic pollution and biodiversity loss. You don’t have to look far to see the issues with our over-consumption, as anyone who has watched David Attenborough’s latest documentaries can recognise. 

Is it all impending doom? 

The circular economy is based on the principle that we have a number of finite resources that need to be kept in the loop, recycled, and used again. This does not have to be an overly complicated process of sorting and recycling. In fact, anyone who has taken a bike to be repaired, listed on ebay and donated to a charity shop is contributing to the circular economy.

Some systems of a circular economy go one step further than this, allowing customers to lease products for a fixed subscription cost. This model gives the companies supplying that product the incentive to carry out repair and maintenance on the products rather than replace the product as a whole.

These systems of circular economy are so numerous and varied; however, once you have factored in all the activity of a circular economy you’ll be looking at a giant noodle ball – totally incomprehensible.

How do we unravel this noodle and work things out?

Welcome Doughnut Economics… 

Doughnut economics is concerned with ensuring that the systems of a circular economy take into consideration some of the overarching social and ecological issues we face together. Designed by Kate Raworth in 2017, the Doughnut pushes us to consider how we can construct an economy that operates within the Earth’s capacity, protects the natural environment and meets the social and economic needs of all people.

As we have already established, circles are much better than lines and Kate decided that two was the perfect number to indicate the boundaries for our most basic social needs and the threshold of our environmental ceiling.

Doughnut economics graph

How is Doughnut and circular economics different?

In actual fact they are not necessarily different. The doughnut is the structure and principles we would like to work towards. The circular economy is one way of helping achieve it. 

To understand a bit more we can simply turn our attention to micro and macro economics. Microeconomics is similar to circular economics and is concerned with studying the behaviour of individual firms based upon the principle of supply and demand. Alternatively, Macroeconomics is concerned with the economy as a whole. 

The Doughnut & Circular Economy