Downscaling the Donut at 4 levels in Brussels

As part of the “Brussels Donut” project, we downscale the donut at 4 levels, from macro to nano.

! New! The website is now also available in English as well as the 3 reports with the conclusions of the first phase of the project, some recommendations for the Brussels Region as well as methodological guidelines. Don’t hesitate to have a look at it and enjoy!

The “Brussels Donut” project explores various ways of implementing the donut economy in the Brussels Capital Region. It aims at making the donut a shared compass used by all actors of the region, to imagine the future of Brussels and to make coherent decisions in favor of the ecological and social transition. Brussels Donut is led by Confluences ASBL together with ICHEC Management School and the DEAL. It is financed by the Brussels Capital Region and carried out in collaboration with the Brussels’ Regional Secretary of State for Economic Transition, Barbara Trachte.

The project started in september 2020. As a team, we really wanted to make the best out of this exploratory project, for it to be the starting point for a wider dynamic. So we have given a lot of thought to what to experiment and what to produce in order to facilitate the adoption of a donut thinking by administrations, associations and citizens alike. And more importantly, on how to get into the donut in a participatory way - in other words, on how to design this project as “distributive by design”. We came up to work at four different levels, which correspond to four scales of analysis. Together, they form a comprehensive approach to the challenges of the transition, and individually, they allow to adopt different perspectives and to speak to different audiences. Of course, we build on what has already been done elsewhere, adapting existing tools, as well as creating others.

Macro: a vision of where we want to go, through the doughnut regional portrait

The Donut model is best known for its powerful visual representation of an inner and an outer circle (the social foundation and the ecological ceiling). Knowing where to place those limits, for a given local reality, is a first step towards imagining a local Donut economy.

In Brussels, the ambition to work on a City Portrait was one of our starting points. Taking inspiration from the Amsterdam City Portrait, we dove into the available data at government level (in collaboration with the Regional Institute for Statistics and the Regional Environmental Office), as well as from academic and civil society sources. We also looked at the targets that the Brussels Government has set itself for its current term.

From the compiled database, we made an initial selection of indicators: the ones appearing to be most relevant for the various dimensions of the 4 lenses of the portrait. With all these objectives, indicators and statistics, we developed a first version of the Brussels Donut Portrait: a snapshot of the goals set today, at Brussels’ government level, and of the ways we currently measure our progress in reaching those goals. It is on this basis that the portrait is being built and developed collectively. The first version was much more of an invitation for everyone to grasp this portrait and to contribute to it. We are now following different ways of participation with an open call for contributions and the organisation of different workshops.

Two key messages can already be emphasised:

  • What is not on the portrait is almost as meaningful as what is included. So this portrait will also show gaps: some dimensions are poorly covered by current regional objectives, while for some others we miss the statistics needed to properly measure the situation. These gaps are in themselves very important to acknowledge and to address, and will be pointed out.
  • Setting targets and indicators is a deeply political process. Today however, it is done mainly at the governmental level. What if we place these discussions in a wider democratic arena? What if more people had a say on where we want to go as a region? The potential differences arising from these different approaches are also of particular interest.

Update January 2023:

We continue our research work for the Regional Portrait and the aim is to publish a second version with more refined indicators on the 4 lenses (local-ecological, local-social, global-ecological and global-social). We are currently collecting data and metrics on a participatory approach when we feel it relevant. Deadline for this second version to be ready: May2023.

Meso: the public policy strategies to get us into the donut

Administrations and political representatives play a critical role in allowing our societies to get into the donut. They have the ability to create the enabling environment needed for a distributive and regenerative economy, and they have the potential to connect the dots between the social and ecological challenges, as well as our local and global aspirations or responsibilities.

This is why this perspective is focused on the political measures that can be taken, at the regional or local level. We explore, together with political representatives and members of administrations, to what extent the political strategies adopted in Brussels fit into the donut. That is to say, how they take into account all their impacts: not only economic but also social as well as ecological, local as well as global.

Together with TCI (Thriving Cities Initiative), we have organised a first workshop based on the donut canvas. With representatives of various regional administrations, cabinets and cities introduced to the donut approach, we evaluated five different potential strategies to be implemented in Brussels (from energy renovation of buildings to urban agriculture). This showed the deep interconnections existing between economics, social, and environmental aspects, and how strategies can be redesigned so as to maximise their benefits.

Based on this first exercise, we are replicating the approach on actual strategies to be implemented in the region.

Update January 2023 :

We are currently working on the regional economic transition strategy for the Brussels-Capital Region “Shifting Economy” supported by Secretary of State Barbara Trachte. Its goal?  It aims to transform Brussels’ economy into one that is decarbonized, regenerative, circular, social, democratic and digital. 

The strategy is completely in line with the principles of the Doughnut economy, since it sets out to re-embed economic activity within planetary boundaries, while respecting human well-being. In concrete terms, it sets out to re-channel economic subsidies in the direction of « exemplary » actors.

In this framework, we organize Donut workshops to analyse the socio-environmental impacts of different sectors embedded in the strategy. 

Micro: donut situations showing what is already possible

Besides setting the boundaries of the donut for the region, and knowing how to get into it via regional strategies, we also wanted to shed light and leverage on what is already taking place inside the Brussels’ donut. Here, we wanted to be inspired by the many actors in Brussels that are already on the path towards a socially just and ecologically safe society. We wanted to take into account their legacy, experience and expertise, that is specific to the Brussels region.

We selected three “situations”: projects already taking place in Brussels and putting the donut into action - even without explicitly referring to it. Among these situations, we have the renovation of a building following strong reuse and cocreation principles, the development of a collective housing project on common land, and a building site incorporating circular principles. The first two situations have been initiated by civil society organisations, while the third revolves around a private company. This allows us to study different dynamics with different types of actors.

Through a “donut joint-investigation” methodology developed by the Brussels Donut team, we explore - with the actors of these situations themselves - how they already contribute to a distributive and regenerative economy, how it would be possible to go even further, and what are the brakes and levers of a social and ecological transition.

On the one hand, this brings up issues internal to the situations, that can help to understand how the Donut could help specific types of actors to move towards a more transformative economy. On the other hand, transformation may be blocked by factors external to the situations, mainly linked to issues of legislation, financing and governance at the regional, or national level. These observations will also be submitted to the Brussels’ administrations in the form of recommendations.

Update January 2023:

We organized a webinar end of 2022 in order to present how the Doughnut approach can be applied to organisations thanks to the launch of the new business toolkit from the DEAL on ‘deep design’.  Several compagnies and associations have reached us since then. The first part of the year 2023 will be dedicated to apply this toolkit within those organizations from different sectors and of different sizes. 

Nano: donut objects to reveal their diverse impacts

Finally, what could be better than an everyday object to understand the donut and its 4 lenses? What are the social and ecological, local and global impacts of this pen I’m using or this apple I’m eating? When we look at an everyday object through the prism of the donut, we can learn a lot about how our consumption leads to a multitude of social and ecological impacts, here and elsewhere in the world. Once these impacts are recognized, it becomes possible to make more conscious choices, both on an individual and organizational levels.

In order to develop an easy-to-use pedagogical tool, we are making the donut portrait of a smartphone, an object we all have in our pocket - or in our hand.

Update January 2023:

The nano level is not our main activity however we still use this live cycle analyses for raising awareness when we are conducting educating workshops. For instance, we have studied the case of a fast fashion T-shirt in a recent workshop. You can see the result here.

Meta: donut guide and community

Thanks to these four perspectives that we adopt, our overarching objective is to build a methodological guide that will allow all types of actors, and administrations in particular, to adopt the donut approach, to convert themselves to the donut philosophy.

But above all, through our actions, we want the donut to live as widely as possible. This is why we try to ensure that each of our actions contributes to the creation of a community, of a coalition, which will create and sustain many donuts, all different in sizes and flavours!




    Janet Molina

    Brussels but Mexican

    I help and support groups to conduct their #sustainableinnovation and impact assessments, especially in the #agriculture secto.


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