Zero Carbon Guildford's journey with Doughnuts

How a Climate Emergency Hub is engaging residents and young people with the Doughnut


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Who we are

Zero Carbon Guildford (ZERO) is an award-winning charity focused on education and engagement on the climate and nature crisis. We operate the UK’s largest community-led climate hub, ZERO, in a former New Look in the centre of Guildford, Surrey. 


Alongside ZERO, we run a Sustainable Business Network with the University of Surrey. We therefore spend a lot of time engaging residents and businesses alike, as well as churches and schools, in ways they can be more sustainable - and as a result, the theory and practices of Doughnut Economics come into lots of the day to day work we do! 


Where our Doughnut journey started

We first teamed up with Doughnut Economic Action Lab in 2021. During Great Big Green Week Rob Shorter from DEAL joined us in Guildford Borough Council chamber - a venue with an appropriately Doughnut shaped ceiling! - to deliver a fantastic introductory workshop on Doughnut Economics. The event was designed to include local councillors, community group leaders, and some of us regular residents, and was enormously well received, in large part thanks to Rob’s excellent facilitation style and the highly engaging nature of the workshop. You can read about Rob's approach to developing this workshop here.



Following the success of that workshop, we have continued to work along several different strands of engagement on Doughnut-related topics.

Engaging young people and schools

We returned to the council chamber to host a Mock COP26, with 11 teams from Surrey schools participating in a fantastic event which demonstrated the passion and ingenuity of local pupils in tackling the climate crisis. But rather than throw them straight into a 1-day event we built a programme in the lead-up to the Mock COP, which included instalments on care economy from the Centre for Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, located on Uni of Surrey’s campus, an EN-Roads climate policy workshop, delivered by What Next Godalming, and a Doughnut Economics workshop delivered by members of the ZERO team. 


Despite our inability to turn a rather beaten up garden house into a convincing looking doughnut, the workshops were successful enough that we began to delve further into our Doughnut journey.


Bringing a local perspective to the global challenge

Rob returned in 2022 to host a Doughnut Unrolled workshop, examining how Guildford, as a wealthy area in a wealthy country - and in fact only a few miles from the site of the first ever mill, which kickstarted the industrial revolution - should view its role locally and globally in protecting people and planet. 


Since this, we have also begun introducing the concept of Doughnut Economics and circular economy to Surry businesses. Our Sustainable Business Network works with Surrey County Council to engage SMEs and encourage them to undertake Clean Growth UK’s Net Zero 360 course, which we deliver in-person to Surrey businesses.

With Clean Growth UK’s course we’ve supported around 70 businesses through the process of building carbon management plans to date, with the topic of circular economy often being a keen discussion point. We have a couple of interesting circular businesses on our doorstep, such as Crumbs brewers who use waste bread from a neighbouring bakery, which allows them to cut hop use by around 25%, thus reducing emissions, particularly through land use. 


Getting more schools involved

However, our best Doughnutty event so far has been the visit to ZERO of the West Surrey Partnership, a loose collective of around 15 schools from this side of Surrey, made up of state and public schools alike, and including several of the schools involved with Surrey Environmental Action Schools, who are in turn part of UKSSN.


Over 60 secondary school students joined us in ZERO for a full day of exploring new ideas and sharing their experiences and plans. The afternoon session was dominated by alternative economics theories, including a workshop based on the Doughnut Economics approaches.

Together, we mapped out the rings of the doughnut, became familiar with the planetary boundaries and the social foundations and explored the issues, existing solutions and new ideas for our local community. There were fantastic discussions about political voice, behaviour and culture change, decarbonised energy solutions and the quality of education around climate change, biodiversity and alternative economic models. 


This was an engaging and energetic session demonstrating the value and power of collaboration between a diverse group, looking across schools, backgrounds and experiences. 


Jenni Hall, West Surrey Partnership co-ordinator said:

‘’Adam’s presentation and the Doughnut Economics workshop were excellent. Olivia did a fantastic job with the workshop, watching all the students interacting with each other and those they didn’t know was great and exactly what we hoped the day would deliver. They were all engaged, they all learnt something and took something back to school with them.’’


Our reflections on some challenges of using Doughnut Economics

One of the tricky parts around using Doughnut principles is how to take the common sense lessons of the model and implement them into daily life. We're so entrenched in the current way of doing things that trying to rethink our entire economic model into something that actually works for our communities.


This obviously involves a huge amount of buy in from local authorities, which is a real challenge given how stretched they currently are. How to tackle this remains a but of a mystery, and something perhaps which is best approached in the future by taking individual principles of the Doughnut and working them piecemeal into council policy.


Given the limited time we have to avert the worst of an accelerating climate and nature crisis, this doesn't always sit comfortably, and hopefully when someone crack the nut it will lead to a domino effect in local authorities across the country. 


Our reflections on some benefits of using Doughnut Economics

One of the major upsides of the Doughnut workshops and principles is that they take the subject of economics, which can feel alienating (we didn't say boring!) and turn it into something extremely engaging based on the things that residents can both understand and feel strongly enough to act on.


The scope of the Doughnut ensures that whatever someone's values, there is an aspect of the Doughnut which is almost certain to speak to their worries and the things they care most about. 


We’ve learned that there’s a lot of value in the ‘getting to know the doughnut’ step, whatever format that looks like. Connecting people around the Doughnut means that people start talking to each other and develop individual familiarity with the concepts at the same time.


The most exciting outputs come from bringing together individuals with different perspectives. The workshop Step into the Doughnut has this built in, though sometimes there needs to be some coaching to ensure louder voices don’t drown out the quieter ones!


What next 

Doughnut Economics is something we’re trying to embed as a key piece of messaging within Zero Carbon Guildford’s activities, and we hope that as 2023 progresses there’ll be some exciting developments on the topic. Watch this space! 


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    1 comment
    Lydia Stevens 23 days ago

    This looks great, I look forward to hearing the updates.

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