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Doughnut economics pitched to Vancouver Island’s business community

Model focused on economies that support a social foundation, stay within environmental limitations
Nanaimo city councillors Ben Geselbracht, clockwise from top left, and Tyler Brown, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams and Doughnut Economics Action Lab co-founder Carlota Sanz participate in a panel discussion at the Vancouver Island Economic Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27. (Vancouver Island Economic Alliance image)

The doughnut economy was dished up as the Vancouver Island Economic Summit got underway today.

The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s annual conference, usually held in Nanaimo, is instead happening virtually Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 27-28.

This year’s opening keynote presentation came from Carlota Sanz, co-founder of the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, who spoke about the principles of the doughnut model and its ideals of maintaining economies that support a social foundation while staying within environmental limitations. The doughnut represents the “safe and just space” in between.

“We are the first generation to see this picture and realize that we need new solutions if we want to tackle these problems,” Sanz said. “Because last century’s economic theories, conventional business models or even traditional development policies were not designed to address these challenges.”

A circular economy isn’t synonymous with a doughnut economy, but it’s a foundational piece. Sanz said the “linear take, make, use, lose dynamic” of single-use products is stressing Earth’s limits.

“We need to turn these arrows and create a regenerative and cyclical system by design, where we are using resources far more carefully, far more creatively, far more collectively,” she said.

One of the example cities Sanz talked about was Amsterdam, which has adopted doughnut economic principles and has set targets mandating that certain percentages of re-used building materials be incorporated into new buildings.

“To me, boundaries unleash creativity and setting these boundaries in place gives a clear signal to everyone and for everybody that is creative and innovative that this is a place to demonstrate that new things can happen,” Sanz said.

She said her lab shares methodologies, tools and stories about the doughnut economic model in hopes of creating a sense of “peer-to-peer inspiration.” Places that adopt the model can identify practices that need to be stopped because they are degenerative and destructive, as well as actions that can be started that are regenerative and distributive, she said.

Sanz was joined after her talk by City of Nanaimo councillors Ben Geselbracht and Tyler Brown, who led the effort last year to adopt the doughnut economic model for all civic decision-making.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo council decides city will be guided by ‘doughnut’ economic model

Geselbracht said Nanaimo will measure environmental goals around greenhouse gas reduction, waste generation and diversion and ecosystems protection, as well as social indicators such as housing and homelessness stats, progress on neighbourhood walkability and job market data.

“It all starts with setting a clear vision and purpose and then building in those targets and goals that are measurable,” he said. “You have to be working with an honest assessment of where you’re at, and what gets measured gets managed.”

Sanz said some of the data that is needed to measure the effectiveness of the doughnut model doesn’t exist yet, so the doughnut requires a balance of acting now while recognizing that transformation can be a long-term prospect.

“We are … learning,” she said. “It’s an inquiry, as well. Can cities actually live within the doughnut? It’s a question for everyone and what we need is more pioneers that work on implementing and figuring out what does it mean in practicality.”

Sanz said her lab is “agnostic” when it comes to notions about growth. She said some policy-makers seem to equate success with GDP, while others view successful places as ones where people have a certain quality of life and thrive.

Brown said “in certain aspects, de-growth is probably what is going to have to happen,” but other ideals of the doughnut economy can be achieved with new and innovative thinking.

“There’s going to be so many different ways that we can solve all these different problems,” he said. “I personally believe human creativity will figure it out and it won’t be a business-as-usual approach. In certain aspects, it may be. But in many other ways, it’s going to be really transformative and very innovative and something that we can’t even think of right now.”

All three speakers expressed hope that other communities will subscribe to the doughnut model so there is more collective energy in bringing about the change that’s needed.

“We truly believe that spreading these ideas this way, from change-maker to change-maker, experimenting, learning from each other is the most effective way that we found to bring about transformative change in a decade where there is really no time to lose,” Sanz said.

For more about the economic summit, visit

READ ALSO: Island economic summit speakers to discuss disruption, digital innovation, doughnut economy

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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