Energy Efficiency

How Amsterdam is setting the scene and co-creating solutions for a sustainable future

John Relou
John Relou
September 25, 2020

Amsterdam has successfully downscaled the doughnut economic model for future resilience and sustainability in their city. Here’s how they did it.

Bicycle covered in green plants in Amsterdam

The coming renovation wave in the EU will be a unique opportunity for cities inside the member states to review and improve their resilience plans to create a more sustainable society for the future. One method that has emerged, based on the planetary boundaries model, is the “doughnut model” of economic, social, and ecological transformation, now also scaled to city level.

The ‘city doughnut’ provides a tool for cities to plan and drive transformative action while staying within the planetary boundaries and creating a safe, sustainable, and quality existence for all citizens.

Amsterdam is the first city that has used the doughnut model, attempting to transition to a completely circular economy with the aim to become a climate-neutral capital by 2050. Creating a resilient, sustainable, and carbon-neutral urban environment that serves all citizens may be a lofty goal, but is possible with modern technologies, social integration, and economic support from local governments.

What is the city doughnut strategy?

Kate Raworth, the research associate at Oxford University who developed the doughnut model, describes it in her book ‘Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist.’ The model is a new way to look at sustainable development, creating a boundary between a city’s ability to provide a social foundation (the hole) for populations while not exceeding the ecological ceiling (the outside). Staying inside these parameters represents the doughnut. It is a set of strategies and policies to help create a circular economy. She has since downscaled the model to a city level that Amsterdam will pilot for its post-pandemic recovery.

A city doughnut addresses the way we produce, consume, and process resources every day. In Amsterdam, the idea of a thriving city is becoming synonymous with sustainable supplies, responsible use of natural materials, and maximizing the useful life of products to reduce waste wherever possible. They aim to use the city doughnut to create the ideal economic conditions required for innovation from companies in every business sector.

By changing the perspective of the city’s supply chains, value systems, and resilience against the effects of climate change, the doughnut model provides a workable framework for planning for future sustainability and evaluating progress. It offers a way to recognise and respond to a planetary view of the earth and its resources, similar to the message of Carl Sagan’s concept of the ‘Pale Blue Dot.’ A sustainable future depends on a healthy population capable of responding, recovering, and limiting the effects of climate change to protect future generations.

Using this model, Amsterdam aims to:

  • Transition to 100 percent circular and climate-neutral city by 2050.
  • Adopt a smarter approach to the extraction, production, and consumption of raw materials.
  • Create more jobs for citizens through transformative action and promoting sustainable practices.

The city doughnut model in action

To achieve their goals, Amsterdam’s policy-makers identified three priority value-chains in their strategy. The aim is to address both future sustainability and real-world challenges that inhabitants face every day. The priority value-chains identified include:

  • The built environment – Reducing energy consumption, providing healthier indoor climates, and promoting the use of circular materials to help sustain societies now and into the future.
  • Consumer goods and consumption – Ensuring the products we consume have a smaller environmental footprint while optimising future production for reusability.
  • Optimising food and organic waste streams – Effectively controlling the entire lifecycle of materials and maximising use by reducing waste of consumer goods, food products, and building materials.

Using this new perspective about their economy, Amsterdam aims to cut food waste by 50 percent over the next ten years. Stricter building regulations will also enforce future sustainability by requiring a “materials passport,” helping demolition companies and construction firms determine whether their building materials are reusable and, as such, more valuable. The municipality wants to cut its use of raw materials by 20 percent by 2030.

How the city doughnut strategy works

By combining a top-down and bottom-up approach, the city can set out what it wants to achieve and develop methodologies to make these goals a reality. Raworth published a scaled-down guide for circularity called Creating City Portraits that aimed to provide a framework for transformative action that any city could adopt for future resilience and sustainability.

The guide creates four lenses to help policy-makers paint a portrait of a city, showing them how they can adopt the doughnut for improved resilience. The lenses are:

  • Local-social lens – How the city doughnut will benefit the citizens of the city.
  • Local-ecological lens – Look for ways in which the city thrives within the natural habitat.
  • Global-social lens – Helping citizens in a city to also act responsibly and respect the wellbeing of other people worldwide.
  • Global-ecological lens – Taking stock of ways the city can respect the health of the entire planet and its ecological systems.

Amsterdam’s example inspired other city governments to adopt a similar approach for the populations of their cities. Downscaling the doughnut to city levels makes it possible for change-makers to adopt the methodology in ways that are relevant and useful within their specific context.

The role of businesses in the city doughnut

For the city’s industry, Amsterdam is working to develop innovative, new business models that promote circularity with high quality processing of products after use. They are engaging with businesses and research organisations from more than 200 projects that focus on circular economic development. City policy-makers identified the Buiksloterham area to pilot their first circular city quarter.

The aim is that every product and service a business provides becomes optimised for reuse and recycling from manufacturing to disposal. Creating a sustainable cycle for all future operations is vital for maintaining a circular economy.

Helping cities create sustainable circular doughnuts for future prosperity

The approach that Amsterdam followed creates the perfect environment for businesses, manufacturers, and city officials to work together and align their strategic goals. Setting up the right framework where citizens, companies, and policy-makers can develop solutions that support the initiatives will be essential to ensure success.

Dorte Gram, Research and Development Manager at ROCKWOOL Group, recently reiterated the importance of creating supportive regulatory frameworks for circularity. If legislators can provide clear goals and a workable framework, companies will be able to develop the best solutions to solve the challenges. Sharing knowledge and strategies will also be important. As cities innovate and develop unique strategies, others who can benefit from similar interventions need to know about it instead of having to go through the same growing pains. The Doughnut Economics Action Lab is creating a collaborative platform where communities can access all the lessons learned from other cities.

While the resilience of the built environment should also receive focus, how we produce and consume resources every day will have a lasting impact on the planet. Scaling down the doughnut to an individual city level provides a pragmatic, workable framework for any urban environment.

ROCKWOOL Group continues to support city governments around the world with initiatives that provide a more sustainable, resilient future society.

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