What is the Doughnut?

An introduction to the concept at the heart of Doughnut Economics

Version 1.0 (September 2020)


This tool is an introduction to the concept at the heart of Doughnut Economics. It's been designed as both a document that can be shared and a presentation that can be given in a classroom, a workshop or a meeting. Either download it as a pdf (below), open it within Google drive (links below) or scroll down to read on this page.


Open as a document in Google Docs
Open as a presentation in Google Slides

What is the Doughnut?

Think of it as a compass for human prosperity in the 21st century, whose goal is to meet the needs of all people within the means of the planet.

It consists of two concentric rings:

  • A social foundation – to ensure that no one is left falling short on life’s essentials.
  • An ecological ceiling – to ensure that humanity does not collectively overshoot planetary boundaries.

Between these two boundaries lies a doughnut-shaped space that is both ecologically safe and socially just – a space in which humanity can thrive.

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries

The essence of the Doughnut

1. The social foundation – below which lies critical human deprivation

2. The ecological ceiling – beyond which lies critical planetary degradation

These two boundaries are foundational in the sense that humanity should always seek to avoid critical human deprivation and critical planetary degradation. But how best to define their specific dimensions and measure their current status relative to desired outcomes will keep evolving over time.

The Doughnut’s dimensions

(as of 2017)

The Social Foundation

The 12 dimensions of the social foundation are derived from the social priorities agreed in the Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015).

The Ecological Ceiling

The 9 dimensions of the ecological ceiling are the nine planetary boundaries defined by Earth-system scientists (Steffen et al., 2015).

Quantifying the Doughnut

The image below reveals the current state of humanity and our planetary home: think of it as humanity’s ‘selfie’ in the early days of the 21st century.

Each dimension is measured, where possible, with 1 or 2 indicators, and the red wedges show the extent of shortfall and overshoot of the Doughnut’s social and planetary boundaries.

It shows us that millions of people still fall short on all 12 of the social dimensions, and that humanity has already overshot at least four planetary boundaries (air pollution and chemical pollution are currently unquantified). 

To achieve the 21st century goal of meeting the needs of all within the means of the living planet means eliminating all of the red from the Doughnut diagram, and this must be done from both sides at the same time.

Find out more





    Isabella Guerrini de Claire

    Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom

    I am increasingly contributing and interested in the science-policy interface in wellbeing and climate economic resilience

    Josef Davies-Coates over 1 year ago

    This is a handy resource, but it needs updating.

    We've now crossed at least 6 of the nine boundaries, as shown in the latest planetary boundaries graphic from the Stockholm Resilience Institute:


    Also, I think it'd be really handy to simply list our the 12 dimensions of the social foundation of the 9 planetary boundaries, like they do at the bottom of https://doingthedoughnut.tech/

    2 0
    Kevin Shea over 3 years ago

    It is always helpful to classify and simplify. Thanks.

    0 0
    Rosa Sommer almost 4 years ago

    This short explainer alongside clear diagrams is really helpful. I also like the way the SDGs and Planetary Boundaries have been broken down so you understand all the components of the doughnut. I want to use part of this explainer and the main doughnut picture in a series I'm putting together called 'Diagrams That Aren't Boring'. This is an effort to engage business leaders in understanding regenerative principles. Due to the format of my series, I would shorten it and just use the intro para and first picture.
    Great resource, thank you!

    2 0

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