Methodological Insights on BCN data portrait

We explore here how we have calculated the 4 lenses of our rerolled doughnut and share some tips for future applications

The Barcelona Doughnut initiative transcends academia, from indicator workshops and expert consultations to citizen engagement and international collaborations, embodying an inclusive and intentional process that draws on a range of valuable resources. 

With a commitment to comprehensiveness, the Barcelona Doughnut assesses the city's progress by examining over 200 indicators across different lenses. However, it recognises that a city's true essence cannot be captured by data alone.

To ensure alignment with existing sustainability frameworks, the project leverages established indicators with targets already set at the municipal, national, and European levels. By doing so, the need for new objectives is minimised.

In addition, Barcelona acknowledges the subjective nature of human decision-making. Through iterative processes and in-depth analysis of headline indicators, the city understands the importance of balancing objective metrics with subjective considerations. 

Local Social Lens

Methodology: The Local Social lens of the Donut Process in Barcelona utilises a comprehensive approach that considers 15 dimensions proposed by DEAL (Donut Economics Action Lab). These dimensions encompass social inclusion, gender equality, environmental sustainability, circular economy, decent job creation, local economic diversification, community importance, cooperatives, as well as education and training.

The methodology employed involves a combination of documentary research, consultations with experts and municipal technicians, and engagement with various stakeholders. Workshops and meetings were organised with cultural, social innovation, public health, and economic promotion agencies, among others, to gather insights and define indicators and objectives for each dimension.

Data Sources: Data sources for the Local Social lens were diverse, including the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Citizen Commitment for Sustainability 2012-2022, and research from local institutions and universities. Existing indicators with established objectives at the municipal, national, and European levels were prioritised to ensure consistency and comparability.

Innovations and Challenges: One of the notable innovations in the methodology was the iterative process of indicator selection and refinement. Stakeholder consultations and expert meetings allowed for a participatory approach, ensuring a diverse range of perspectives were incorporated. The challenges lay in the availability of local data for some indicators and the need to adapt and localise global goals to the city's context.

Local Ecological Lens

Methodology: The Local Ecological lens in Barcelona draws inspiration from the principles of biomimicry. The city employed a multi-faceted approach in developing a model that aligns Barcelona with the natural characteristics of its surroundings by absorbing carbon, storing water, cooling temperatures, purifying the air, nurturing the soil, fostering biodiversity, and maintaining resilience in the face of disturbances. The eight dimensions proposed by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) were initially used, and later expanded to ten indicator groups for a better fit.

In terms of data evaluation, the general rule was to minimise impact, with a Doughnut value (a metric indicating ecological impact) ideally being 1 or less. Values exceeding 1 signified an ecological ceiling breach, necessitating improvements. For indicators requiring reduction, the formula related the current value to the target, and for those needing maximisation, the formula inverted the ratio.

Data Sources: The selection of indicators involved extensive documentary research and consultations with experts and technicians from fields including water management, biodiversity, waste, public health, urban agriculture, and food policies. Inputs were gathered from relevant agencies such as BCASA (Water Cycle Barcelona), Greenery and Biodiversity, Waste, the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB), Urban Agriculture, and Food Policies. This resulted in a set of approximately 50 pre-selected indicators. Similar to the Local Social lens, representative indicators were defined for each group based on data availability and the relevance of the information provided.

Innovations and Challenges: A key challenge was the city's geographically defined boundaries: the Mediterranean Sea, Collserola Mountains, and the Besòs and Llobregat rivers. These natural barriers necessitated a supra-municipal approach to their management and posed significant spatial constraints to the city's ability to implement changes. This constraint also provided a unique opportunity: to view Barcelona's goal of functioning as a natural Mediterranean ecosystem as a long-term endeavour, with gradual improvements as the path is quite extensive.


Global Ecological Lens

Methodology: The Global Ecological Lens views sustainability through the average contribution of each city resident. It analyses how consumption patterns affect planetary boundaries, focusing more on consumption impacts rather than the impacts of production which often occur outside of the country.

This method effectively brings sustainability down to a local level. By comparing a city's material footprint to the corresponding global sustainable level, and accounting for environmental footprints, it becomes possible to measure whether resources consumed in a city could be extended to the global population without exceeding planetary boundaries.

Barcelona’s impact was localised based on income level using the I = PAT hypothesis, an equation stating that environmental impact (I) is proportionate to population (P), income level (A), and the type of technology (T) used. The method assumes similar technology is used throughout Spain, allowing an inference that a Barcelona resident's per capita impact is proportionate to their income level.

Data Sources: Data corresponding to Barcelona was obtained from national data published in the "A Good Life for All Within Planetary Boundaries" study. More recent data (2021) for specific indicators including Nitrogen Fertilizer Use, Phosphorus Fertilizer Use, Climate Change, and Water Use were obtained from EXIOBASE 3. This data was localised, and each indicator's per capita impacts were multiplied based on Barcelona's relative income level.

Innovations and Challenges: A major innovation in the methodology was the use of EXIOBASE 3, a comprehensive global multi-regional environmentally extended supply-use database, to obtain more updated data for indicators such as Nitrogen Fertilizer Use, Phosphorus Fertilizer Use, Climate Change, and Water Use. 

Out of the nine known planetary boundaries, two (atmospheric pollution and pollution from novel entities like GMOs, nuclear radiation, or 5G) haven't been quantified yet. This poses a challenge as it becomes difficult to fully assess the city's global ecological footprint without these values. In such cases, the precautionary principle is advised: await certain scientific knowledge about the impact magnitude before deciding how to act.


Global Social Lens

Methodology: The methodology for the Global Social Lens uses the "Environmentally-Extended Multiregional Input-Output" (EEMRIO) analysis. This tool provides information on the flow of resources consumed and embedded in products, such as biomass, fossil fuels, minerals, and metals. It calculates environmental impacts throughout the production chain, including resource extraction and degradation. All the obtained data are nationally oriented and downscaled to Barcelona's scale using the I=PAT formula, using income as a proxy for the level of environmental impact.

The methodology starts by determining where most of the materials consumed in Barcelona come from, identifying the main exporters of embodied resources to Spain. Then, social indicator data from the report "A Good Life for All Within Planetary Boundaries" is used and aggregated to match the countries from EXIOBASE 3. The proportion of how much a country exceeds each indicator's threshold, on a scale from 0 to 1, was capped at 1.0 to prevent compensations in low-performing indicators. High-income countries were excluded from the list due to their better or equal social indicators compared to Spain. The final step involves calculating the weighted average of each of the 11 social indicators in relation to the quantity of resources embodied in the production process of what is consumed by Spain for the remaining countries.

Data Sources: The primary data sources used in this methodology are EXIOBASE 3 and the report "A Good Life for All Within Planetary Boundaries." EXIOBASE 3 provides the necessary data for the EEMRIO analysis, offering information about the flow of resources embedded in consumption. This includes data on biomass, fossil fuels, minerals, and metals, and allows for the calculation of environmental impacts throughout the production chain, including resource extraction and degradation.

The "A Good Life for All Within Planetary Boundaries" report provides data on social indicators, which are then aggregated to match the countries obtained from EXIOBASE 3. As an additional layer of information, The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice or EJAtlas, an open-access online database, is utilised to provide data on global environmental conflicts. This helps deepen the understanding of the global consequences of economic activity in Barcelona.

Innovations and Challenges: One significant challenge in this lens is the lack of local data in databases like EXIOBASE 3, which necessitates the use of national data downscaled to Barcelona. However, this lens provides valuable insights into how local consumption patterns can have far-reaching social and environmental implications.

Tips for Future Applications

Based on the experiences and learnings from Barcelona's Doughnut Process, there are several key tips for applying the Doughnut framework in other contexts:

Adapt existing frameworks: Tailor established frameworks, like one proposed by DEAL and the SDGs, to the local context to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

Foster collaboration: Engage a wide range of stakeholders, including community representatives, experts, and local institutions, to ensure diverse perspectives and co-create solutions.

Adapt indicators: Tailor global goals and indicators to the local context, considering the unique social, cultural, and economic characteristics of the city or region.

Seek diverse data sources: Utilise a variety of data sources, including official statistics, research reports, and community surveys, to capture a comprehensive understanding of the social landscape.

Ensure participatory processes: Involve citizens and communities in the decision-making processes to enhance the legitimacy and relevance of the selected indicators and objectives.

Continuously iterate and refine: Embrace an iterative approach, allowing for ongoing feedback and refinement of indicators and methodologies to improve accuracy and effectiveness.


Barcelona's Doughnut process has been a remarkable endeavour, showcasing the power of innovative methodologies in assessing ecological and social impacts. Challenges have been faced, insights have been uncovered, and innovative methods applied, all contributing to Barcelona's Doughnut portrait. The methodologies and data sources employed provide a practical reference for other cities similar initiatives. Let us learn from Barcelona's experience and work together to create thriving, sustainable, and equitable cities worldwide.





    Martin Jahr

    Aurich, Kreis Aurich, Lower Saxony, Germany

    I want to learn what has been done and how it went, and then want to start implementing in my region in Germany


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