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Covenant of Mayors - Europe
News article18 January 2024

The Brussels Donut: Shifting the economy towards an ecological and fair transition

The Brussels-Capital Region is working on shifting its economy to align it with its climate ambitions and ensure a just transition. As part of this effort, they have adopted the Doughnut Model as a guiding framework to transition to a fairer economy.

Brussels city centre, view of Mont des Arts

The Doughnut Model, developed by british economist Kate Raworth, is a conceptual framework that visualises sustainable development by representing a “safe and just space for humanity” between planetary boundaries and social boundaries. This model aims to guide policymakers and communities towards achieving both ecological sustainability and social equity. 

The Brussels-Capital Region has embraced the Doughnut Model as a guiding framework for transitioning towards a more circular and equitable economy while respecting planetary boundaries. At the core of this transition is the will to align the region’s economic objectives with its ambitious climate goals. This approach seeks to translate vision into action by providing a new perspective, using the doughnut as a compass for policymaking. 

 Defining exemplarity in business 

A key part of this strategy has been to take a comprehensive view of economic policy, defining what constitutes an “exemplary business model”: one that, because it respects the social foundation and ecological ceilings of the Doughnut, generates a positive economic, environmental and social impact. To reinforce this commitment, several concrete actions have been taken. In 2023, the regional government passed a law defining criteria that businesses must meet to receive support from the government, comprising two key pillars: environmental exemplarity and social exemplarity. 

Supporting businesses in their essential economic transition is also crucial as a communications tool, using success stories to raise awareness among economic actors around concrete sustainable practices and to convince businesses to embrace the shift towards sustainability and circularity. 

The broader Shifting Economy strategy 

The Doughnut Model helped the region come up with the concept of environmental and social exemplarity. This concept is at the heart of the region’s broader strategy for economic transition, Shifting Economy, which projects a shift towards a decarbonised, regenerative, circular, social, democratic and digital economy in the Brussels-Capital Region. The strategy, adopted in 2022, has several strategic objectives, including creating new economic opportunities for entrepreneurs in the Brussels-Capital Region, preserving both natural and human capital, promoting the equitable distribution of economic gains and contributing to high-quality employment for the local population. The Brussels-Capital Region also recognises that transitioning the economy requires a multi-level approach that breaks down silos between different public agencies. 

Challenges and next steps 

Implementing the Doughnut Model in the Brussels-Capital Region is not without challenges, primarily due to the limited human resources within the regional government. While they have displayed openness to adopting Doughnut principles and have integrated the Doughnut Model into their work, particularly in assisting businesses, expecting them to lead proactive Doughnut projects is a bridge too far for now, given their existing workload. As a result, the Doughnut Team has reoriented its focus to engaging mainly with businesses, and plans to present examples of best practice to the regional government at a later date. 

It is crucial to recognise that the transition to a more sustainable economy cannot be achieved in isolation. Brussels emphasises the need for robust supranational legislation to ensure fair competition. 

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Publication date
18 January 2024