The Doughnut Framework

While both the sustainable development trajectory and the Planetary Boundary Concept aspire to achieve similar goals of maintaining social and environmental wellbeing, their foci, approaches and priorities can differ widely.

Prior to the Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda, Kate Raworth, an economist at Cambridge and Oxford, created a model that attempted to balance itself between essential human needs (laid out in the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals) and the Planetary Boundaries. The ‘doughnut’ visual framework was thus created to integrate social boundaries and planetary boundaries within a conceptual context (Raworth, 2017). 

This visual guide identifies social concerns within a safe operating space concept. A Safe Operating Space is where humanity can prosper and have their basic needs met while remaining within the planetary boundaries. Here, wellbeing is measured by the twelve established dimensions of the social foundation, from internationally agreed minimum basic human needs e.g. equality, health, food etc. These were the top 12 social concerns governments raised prior to the UNs Rio plus 20 conference on sustainable development. Raworth (2012) suggests arriving into a safe operating space involves undertaking a double objective that includes eradicating poverty and reducing global resource consumption, to ensure that humanity lives within the planetary boundaries while rising above the social challenges.

The figure below lays out the nine  planetary boundary concepts mapped against Raworth’s defined twelve social dimensions. The green space between the social foundation and environmental ceiling represents the Safe Operating Space. The arrows depict how coming outside of this space would result in an overshoot of pressures on earth’s systems, with individuals falling short of basic essentials (Raworth, 2017) .


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