Local group exploring Doughnut Economics

For World Donut Day 2023, we asked how we might apply it to ourselves and our local region.

As part of their Community Conversations series, my local ACF Brisbane Northside group held their monthly meeting about Doughnut Economics and asked how we might apply it to ourselves and our local region.

Preparing for the discussion reminded me of my university days long gone, working out how to do a tutorial presentation that takes a big concept and apply it to local, tangible, and concrete examples within our daily lives. Here’s a brief summary. 

We started with this short video to set the scene and bring us all together.

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Then, with the big doughnut on the screen and a smaller printed doughnut in our hands, we talked about the doughnut as an alternative framework to the dominant GDP framework where money is the standard unit of measurement, and used that framework to compare and contrast some everyday local issues and activities.

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries.Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier. CC-BY-SA 4.0 Raworth, K. (2017), Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. London: Penguin Random House.

For our first example, we compared the mowing of grass on our streets to the Shady Lanes model for native verge gardens complementing council street trees.

Grass verges maintained by mowing contractors…

This didn’t do well in the Doughnut. It contributed to just about every overshoot of the planetary boundaries - equipment, fuel, contractors driving around from job to job, green waste, herbicides, fertilisers, biodiversity loss, pollution into stormwater. And then there is the supply chain for all that equipment - the mowers, hedgers, edgers, blowers.

The only positive on the inside of the donut was jobs from the workers and businesses for contractors, franchises, manufacturers, retailers, and maintenance for equipment, and so on.

That drops us straight into the unwinnable “jobs versus environment” battle.

… versus Shady Lanes and native verges

Our low-impact style of native verge gardens reduces the overstep on all the planetary boundaries except Ozone layer depletion.

They also help with many benefits inside the doughnut, including:

  • Food security - increasing pollinator corridors and general biodiversity benefits
  • Health - physical and mental health from connection to nature, reduced urban heat, and increased shade and walkability
  • Education - learning about gardening, our native plants, ecosystems, etc
  • Peace and justice - finding ways to share our commons and understand contesting needs and viewpoints
  • Political voice - encourages conversations in a neutral space
  • Social equity - walkability, urban heat, access to greenspace, and health are all equity issues
  • Gender equality - there was some debate about how and if the current model of mowing grass is skewed
  • Housing - verges and pocket parks provide vital greenspace as we increase urban density in our cities
  • Networks - meeting many different people and building the trust and relationships needed to build networks
  • Energy - reduces energy spent on fuel and equipment
  • Water - reduced water use compared to lawns, better rainwater infiltration for groundwater.


Our collaborative model of resident-planted native verge gardens with council street trees maximises these benefits, especially networks.

The starting point is the relationship between a council and the residents who can help the street trees thrive on this land with so many diverse users and uses. The complex nature of this space - common land that is part of our daily lives means learning to understand others and find a shared purpose that takes everyone in the direction of their individual goals.

For more on the special features and complexities of gardening in this shared public space, see the series of articles in Understanding the Space

The variety of other social and environmental benefits to the wider community increases the options for everyone to engage as equal citizens and do group projects and activities. Practicing these skills builds stronger networks across social sectors, institutions, and disciplines.

If you substitute the native gardens with guerrilla gardening, food gardens, or plant whatever takes your fancy, you reduce or lose many benefits. Some would argue that food growing increases food security but when you look at all the reductions in other benefits, you would have to consider whether it is the best use of this land between our property lines and the kerb.

But what about jobs!  Income and work.

This is where we have to get creative. Doughnut Economics doesn’t claim to tell us what to do, it is just a framework. 

If I were in the landscaping or gardening business, I’d be looking at diversifying. Is there a growing market for people who want a verge garden rather than neat mow/hedge/edge?

We already have some landscaping business who specialise in native gardens and biodiversity. Perhaps we need to nurture that market.

One of the realities of this century for all businesses and industries is that the world is shifting underneath them. In an increasingly networked world, business models are changing and they adapt or die.

One of the components of the Shady Lanes Project model for collaborations is the inclusion of a social enterprise to perform verge conversions and possible ongoing maintenance. Part of the funding for the Banyo Pilot project was for Nundah Community Enterprises Co-operative to do some conversions and use it as an experiment to extend their business model.

(See blog post Adding Employment into the Mix and A Pathway for the Future)

We then shifted to some other examples.

  • All the children being driven by car to school versus a walking school bus.
  • Riverfire with its fireworks and jet fuel emissions versus a community arts and cultural festival.
  • Adding an extra lane to the highway versus challenging the car-centric nature of the transport system.

Try these examples to see how they fare in the doughnut framework. Can you think of others? What would you be willing to change? What would have to change first?

A Change of Mindset

This isn’t about pointing fingers or designating good guys and bad guys in the climate wars. We know that the choices we all make are often determined by things we can’t control - urban design, lack of transport options, unsafe walking environments, current economic systems, and so on. Added to that are our own emotional reactions and attachments. As these things change, so do the options available to us change.

What Doughnut Economics offers us is a framework to evaluate the options provided to us in a world where everything is interconnected, to look at election promises and commercial offerings more critically, to illuminate the costs of our choices, and to work out what we’ll accept, improve, or reject.

For change-makers, entrepreneurs, innovators, advocacy groups and others, Doughnut Economics offers a framework we can use to evaluate and improve our own strategies and the solutions we offer.

By adopting this way of thinking to practices and decisions we make in our everyday lives, we build the habits and skills of finding a common purpose with others so everybody gains. We stop competing for finite resources and start combining our resources to do much more than any one of us could do alone.

We can start learning and exercising these skills using the resources we already have at hand - that patch of grass out the front that you probably already mow, and your council who provides the street trees and the verge garden policy. 

Your native verge garden is a relatively simple collaboration between you, your council, and nature.

Ramp it up and run a group project to bring neighbours or members of your organisation together. You’ll tick a lot more of those boxes in the middle of the doughnut and many more resources become available to you through your growing network. That is what this ACF Brisbane Northside group is already doing.

By networking with other groups, they are able to do much more than one group alone can do. We are seeing that now as the ACF group combines forces with the Banyo District Verge Gardening group and the Keep Sandgate Beautiful Association to share ideas and run joint events. That’s when things really start getting exciting.

Penny and Richard arranged the venue and the afternoon tea.

To continue the theme, we had some real donuts. Thanks to Penny and Richard from ACF Community Brisbane Northside for organising.

Original article: https://shadylanesproject.substack.com/p/doughnut-economics 




    1 comment
    Gayle Dallaston 9 days ago

    Some of the participants at this meeting have continued on to start forming a Regen group for the region https://regenbrisbane.substack.com/  (May '24)

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