In the pursuit of sustainable growth, we often heard about sustainable development and even further, doughnut economicsWhat are they? And do they really matter on our mother Earth's sustainability?

Sustainable development (Infographic by Rizki/TWA)

Sustainable development

The journey to formulate sustainable development began in 1983 when the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)—a commission to prevent economic and social development deterioration, yet save the natural resources and environment. Four years later, in 1987, WCEDpublished a report entitled "Our Common Future" or also known as the Brundtland Report, which then became the baseline of sustainable development generally known today.

Sustainable development is defined as a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needsIn other words, sustainable development is an ideal marriage between environmental, economic and social sustainability.

  • Environmental sustainability: consuming resources (e.g.,water, energy and mining materials) at a sustainable rate while diminishing the footprints and destruction generated by human activities on Earth (e.g., waste and pollution)
  • Economic sustainability: ensuring the business profitability in a responsible and sustainable manner
  • Social sustainability: ensuring all human to, at least, afford their essential needs such as food, and water

Of all three pillars, each of them is equally vital. Most importantly, each pillar should not give a negative correlation to one another. To illustrate, take coal-based power plants as a case. From an economic and social perspective, a coal-based power plant is excellent as it could generate electricity to industries and houses cheaply, which then runs our economic wheel. Nevertheless, the power plant might forfeit the aspect of environmental sustainability.

Oftentimes, we question and doubt that economic and environmental sustainability can be achieved hand-in-hand. Thus, the following premise that we have to ask is, "Do we need to jeopardize economic sustainability for the sake of environmental sustainability, or vice versa?"

Kate Raworth and her doughnut economics (Infographic by Rizki/TWA)

Doughnut economics

It was Kate Raworth, an Oxford economist who first tried to illustrate the challenge into a doughnut—a simple ideology that everyone is familiar with. In her 2012 paper entitled "A Safe and Just Space for Humanity", Kate developed a visual framework for sustainable developments by fitting economics with the 21stcentury realities, the Doughnut Economics.

The principle is simple: we have to live within the doughnut, a safe and just place for humanity. To create a regenerative and distributive economy, the doughnut consists of two concentric rings: the inner ring is a social foundation, while the outer layer represents an ecological ceiling. The social foundation is our twelve dimensions of minimum life's essentials, derived from the Sustainable Development Goals. While the ecological ceiling is nine boundaries that our only planet can hold and fundamentally depend on, as set out by Rockstrom and his friends in 2009.

Doughnut economics (Infographic by Rizki/TWA)

Kate once said, "This is the shift we have to make if we, humanity, are going to thrive here together this century."

It's been over three decades since the term "sustainable development" was first introduced. If this is perhaps the only shift we have to make, have we done enough actions to thrive humanity and our future generations?


Written by Rizki Ramadhan Prayitno (The Water Agency Indonesia)