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Ōtepoti Dunedin has the recipe cities need to meet social need within the planet’s limits.

On Monday 25th September the Dunedin City Council will vote on whether to adopt the Zero Carbon Plan 2030, and critically, will be provided with the first iteration of its City Portrait (or Ōtepoti Doughnut) – a sustainability model that goes beyond carbon and climate change to balance the needs of humanity with the needs of the planet. The Doughnut puts Ōtepoti and the Dunedin City Council on the international stage for sustainability leadership and is an important step in enabling environmental actions that could far exceed Dunedin’s own environmental impacts.


In September 2020 the Dunedin City Council announced it had committed to developing the Thriving Cities (Doughnut Economics) approach to measuring sustainability and to working with mana whenua and the wider community to adapt the model to embed local values. Thriving Cities is a framework that translates the theory of Doughnut Economics to a city or regional level to create a “City Portrait” – a long-term vision for the city or region within the Doughnut.


The DCC is not the first local government to apply this framework. They are putting themselves on the map with the likes of Amsterdam, Leeds, Devon, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brussels who are all working on their own flavour of doughnut.


However, the Ōtepoti Doughnut is not like the others.


City Doughnuts – Image Credit: The Planetary Accounting Network



The Thriving Cities framework provides excellent tools that enable stakeholders to create a vision for their city by exploring four critical lenses that consider what it would mean for the people and city to respect social and ecological limits from a local and global perspective.


The four lenses of the city portrait – Thriving Cities


However, there are two fundamental flaws to the framework:


1. Despite taking a seemingly broad view on social wellbeing, there is a glaring hole in Doughnut Economics where cultural equity and indigenous knowledge should be.


2. The Thriving Cities framework provides useful tools for establishing a vision for the future, but does not include practical guidance to help them establish the road-map to get there.


Cities are creating glorious images of desirable doughnuts – without the recipe. That’s what puts the Ōtepoti Doughnut in a box of its own!



The Otepoti Doughnut deserves a box of its own – Image Credit: The Planetary Accounting Network


The DCC have established an approach which leverages the best ingredients of the Thriving Cities framework with a dash of New Zealand essence through the integration of their existing wellbeing strategies and their newly developing Te Taki Haruru - Māori Strategic Framework. This will provide create a world first, action-oriented Doughnut that embeds the ‘how’ as well as the ‘why’ creating a recipe for success.


One of the key levers to enabling change on a city scale is enabling all stakeholders to work together; local governments cannot create change without business and community action. A clear vision of the end goal (such as a city doughnut) is a critical tool for generating engagement and motivating action – but this needs to be supported by scalable, measurable, easy to understand metrics and targets that allow government, businesses, and community members to identify the critical actions they need to take as they work together towards this goal.


To support the development of an actionable doughnut, the DCC engaged the Planetary Accounting Network (PAN), an NZ based non-profit dedicated to supporting people to translate the scientific framework that sits behind Doughnut Economics (Planetary Boundaries) into action. Together, the DCC and PAN conducted a stocktake of existing strategies, plans and policies and facilitated a series of workshops with DCC teams. This confirmed that the framework was highly relevant to the DCC remit and that there was already strong alignment with existing environmental efforts and measurement.


PAN then completed a planetary accounting assessment of the Dunedin region – quantifying ten environmental footprints across wai (water), whenua (land), and hau (air), and establishing preliminary science-based targets for each to complete the first iteration of the environmental component of the Otepoti Doughnut.


This work was completed alongside the development of Te Taki Haruru- Māori Strategic Framework – each one informing the other, and together informing the DCC’s strategies, policies, plans, bylaws, services, and activities towards delivery of Social, Economic, Cultural, and Environmental outcomes.



A visual representation of how DCC’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi and Sustainability are to be given effect to by Māori Strategic Framework and the City Portrait – The DCC 2023


What sets the Ōtepoti Doughnut apart from the others is that the metrics behind this doughnut can scale. This doughnut is not just a vision. It is a tool that can be used to enable decision making at a project or programme level, quantify the outcomes of community engagement, and inform business sustainability strategy and decision making. It has the ingredients that will put Otepoti Dunedin and New Zealand local government on the international stage for sustainability leadership. While Dunedin’s environmental footprint is tiny in context of global environmental challenges, this work has the potential to generate positive environmental outcomes that far exceed Dunedin’s footprint as the recipe they have used is one that others can follow in New Zealand and beyond.




Making a holistic view of Ōtepoti Dunedin for the 21st Century – Image credit: Lisa Draws Ideas


On Monday councillors will get to see the first iteration of the Ōtepoti Doughnut that shows Dunedin’s ecological impacts, enabling the DCC to accelerate action and lead the way to a safe and just operating space for humankind. Let’s see if the DCC will continue with this important work and leverage the Ōtepoti Doughnut to unlock tangible, systemic change locally and and influence global outcomes.

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