Before describing each indicator, let’s describe the general formula for conversion of raw data indicator values to ‘index values’ to be mapped onto the degrowth donut visualisation. The degrowth donut model is a green circular donut-shaped ring on which a set of indicators is positioned to allow for assessing sustainability performance by comparing the extracted data against the set criteria (from literature or expert estimation) for remaining within the green space. To map the location of an indicator value against the said criteria and calculate the abstract visual index value, the formula presented below is used.

Index values used for visualizing the donut are calculated abstract values that inform us if certain indicators exceed (overshoot) or fall short (shortfall) of certain criteria. They also inform us about the magnitude of the transgression to be mapped on the donut visualisation. In this regard, the donut index value can have a positive or negative value. If an indicator value (x) is “overshooting”, that is to say, if its value exceeds the numerically defined boundary, the donut index value (IV) will have a positive value, in order to display such an overshoot and map it along the outer rim of the green ring. In contrast, if the donut index value is negative, the indicator is displaying a “shortfall”, meaning that the donut produces a visible transgression along the inner rim. At the same time, a key operation ingrained in index value calculations and visualizations on the donut graph is being executed. This refers to simultaneous comparisons of input values with numeric criteria for visually remaining within the green ring of safe and just operating space (SJOS). 

In other words, for the purpose of index value mapping on the donut, an if-operation is performed that determines if an indicator is “overshooting”, “shortfalling”, or remaining within the green space. In the case of boundary indicators, this means that all input values larger than the predefined boundary values will produce positive index values larger than the value of zero, and a visual, red cone-like shape will be displayed along the outer rim of the SJOS. On the other hand, if the input value of a boundary indicator is less than the numerically defined boundary, the final output of the index value computation will be zero and no excess will be mapped. Similarly, for threshold indicators, all input values greater than the defined threshold will also result in IV being equal to zero, and no visual transgression will be displayed along the inner rim of the SJOS ring. In this way, the donut visual logically reflects the fundamental approach to the aspired sustainability modelling, exemplified by the dynamics of reducing negative pressures on Earth’s systems (e.g. via carbon footprint reduction) while increasing positive socio-economic and cultural performance (e.g. via improving wellbeing outcomes) that renders a social metabolism sustainable.


Cultural Boundaries


Anthropocentrism is a way of justifying exploitation of natural resources based on the idea that human beings are the most central or most significant entities in the world. Anthropocentrism is a significant deterrent to degrowth policy because it regards the negative impact of human behavior on the environment as unimportant, calling for action only when the human race is at risk.

Climate Change Nonchalance

Indifference towards climate change is greatly detrimental towards any effort to save the planet, but an admittance that climate change is occurring is no longer enough to help put a stop to it. People must realize the great and imminent danger of ecological degradation in order to begin to take actions towards stopping it.

Corruption Perception

Corruption is difficult to measure empirically but is among the most daunting hurdles for any kind of reform. Generally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, corruption is what would keep collective degrowth action from being taken even if it was supported by the general public; corrupt nations make decisions based not on what the people want, but based on what a specific subset of the people want.

Job Dissatisfaction

Job dissatisfaction has been shown to cause a number of other negative outcomes of labor; workers with high job dissatisfaction often display other negative sociocultural features, like high levels of stress, low passion for their work or belief in their ability to affect greater change, and lackluster performance in the workplace. High job satisfaction also correlates with more innovation in the workplace, leading to better performance with lower input costs in the long run.

Frustration with Democracy

In any strong democratic society, people have the power to advocate for themselves by affecting the formation and/or diffusal of central government. Frustration with democracy would indicate people’s lack of belief in their own ability to influence government, exhibited by a general feeling of frustration or lack of support. Collective support for degrowth policy does nothing without a functioning democracy.


Trust in others is an important component of democratic activation for change and resilience, and is a fundamental element of social capital. Interpersonal trust attitudes correlate strongly with religious affiliation and upbringing. Some studies have shown that this strong positive relationship remains after controlling for several survey-respondent characteristics. Measures of trust from attitudinal survey questions remain the most common source of data on trust.

Cultural Thresholds

Global Environmentalism

Strong environmentalist support for the planetary crisis is among the first steps towards improving upon the system we have today. Environmentalism is what drives the communal desire to better ourselves and the world around us, and any solution to the problems we face must stem from strong environmental values, an acceptance of the issue at hand, and a realization that human population and industry growth are among the driving factors behind ecological degradation.

Renewable Energy Priority

Because of the finite nature of our current energy sources, and their impact on the environment (ie burning fossil fuels adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere), it’s imperative that we switch to renewable sources of energy that can be used for generations to come without detracting from our stock of natural resources. In order for the transition to a net zero-carbon energy generation to be achieved, significant RE support is necessary, and this transition must be an international priority.

Health Perception

While many issues of national health can be measured by medical data or other non-survey measures, the way a person self-declares their personal health is also important. Health perception is especially important for mental health, where many conditions can go unnoticed by other studies. Also, health perception has been shown to affect actual health.

Life Satisfaction

Social scientists often recommend that measures of subjective well-being should augment the usual empirical measures of economic prosperity. Life satisfaction and happiness research are major fields of study for the social sciences, and are undoubtedly a question that matters for each of us and must be answered on a deeply personal level. Life satisfaction is perhaps the better measure than sheer happiness, because some nations are culturally more or less happy than others, making it harder to compare across international borders.

Degrowth Support

The survey question used for this indicator doesn’t explicitly ask for support for degrowth strategies, nor does it specify degrowth strategies. It can be used to gauge willingness to allow economic growth and employment to suffer a decrease for the environment’s sake, the most basic tenet of degrowth theory. If respondents answer affirmatively to a willingness to help the environment at the expense of these economic measures of wellbeing, they are at least taking the first step in the direction of supporting the degrowth agenda.


Socio-economic Boundaries

Gender Inequality

“The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality. All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc.—with negative consequences for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice.” Gender equality is a necessary prerequisite for a socially and ecologically stable society.

Fatty Food Imbalance

Contemporary societies in the developed world, despite low-fat trends, include excessive amounts of lipids in the food consumed by the population. This indicator is therefore used as a proxy measure of the excessive health costs current developed populations already suffer. It is also an easily obtained and easy to understand indicator, and is relevant for societies of the semiperiphery where dominant development models are pushing out traditional diets and raising fat content from the global agrifood supply chains.


Ideally, the weekly hours worked should be reduced to provide more time for one’s own leisure activities, as well as reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases (Rosnick & Weisbrot 2007, Nässén & Larsson 2015) and other environmental pressures (Coote & Franklin 2013). In contemporary societies those in employment tend to suffer from overwork, i.e. working longer hours damaging their care potential and other creative contributions to society (REF Trainer and Alexander on, Hickel on current work and employment). This indicator serves as a proxy for the “decent work” category in the Raworth’s social foundations. Hours worked takes the “decent work” indicator a step further towards more of a degrowth perspective.


Household debt serves as a measure of enforcement of households to participate in the growth economy. Taking on some form of debt may serve the function of annual ‘consumption smoothing’ for households, so that larger expenditures in monetary economy can be taken on in accordance with need, but don’t enslave households into indentured existence. Household debt-to-income ratio serves as a measure of the indebtedness of households, in relation to their ability to pay back their debt’s principal sum. Households are forced to borrow under the conditions of low and stagnant wages, high unemployment and privatisation of basic services, which have undermined the ability of many to sustain customary or desired living standards in the absence of credit. Most households rely on economic growth and the resulting rises in wages to reduce the ‘real’ value of their debt, in terms of hours worked over the lifetime of a loan.

Energy Use

Primary energy consumption represents total energy consumption (i.e. accounting for transmission losses), and as such it is one of the two principal components of social metabolism (next to material consumption). Humanly-controlled energy flows are dominated by the use of fossil fuels, and as such their magnitude is a crucial indicator of human impact on the environment.

Materials Use

Using material footprint instead of other measures of resource productivity better reflects the true material usage of a country, particularly the richer ones, because as wealth grows, countries tend to reduce their domestic portion of materials extraction through international trade, whereas the overall mass of material consumption generally increases.

Socio-economic Thresholds


Education is a crucial component of an individual’s development and it is vital in order for people to be able to participate in a democratic society and have the ability to support themselves. Due to data availability and comparability, the expected number of school years is currently the best proxy for the quality of education.

Voter Turnout

This indicator serves as a proxy for the “voice” category in the Raworth’s social foundations. In terms of sustainability, it is important that citizens feel that they can have an impact on their society for them to feel like they belong. Voter turnout is representative of this feeling of positive impact because if people come out to vote it shows that they believe that their voice and their vote have a tangible impact on the government in their country.


Healthy life expectancy combines mortality and morbidity into a single, common metric. It is important to capture both fatal and non-fatal health outcomes in a summary measure of average levels of population health. Healthy life expectancy at birth adds up expectation of life for different health states, adjusted for severity distribution making it sensitive to changes over time or differences between countries in the severity distribution of health states.

Social Equality

(The inverse of) AROPE is preferred over the Gini coefficient (and other indicators of income/wealth equality) as it does not only focus on monetary equality but social equality more broadly defined. The idea of those “at risk of poverty” is also important, because those on a downwards trajectory towards becoming impoverished are taken account of. If social inequality can be seen as one driver of the perpetual growth of the social metabolism, then we need to strive to reduce this inequality as much as possible.

Renewable Energy

All energy will need to come from renewable sources by 2040, according to the Paris climate agreement if we are to decarbonize our energy systems and avoid dangerous runaway global warming.


Biophysical Boundaries

Nitrogen Use

Nitrogen is one of the main elements in nutrient pollution. “Excess reactive nitrogen compounds in the environment are associated with many large-scale environmental concerns, including eutrophication of surface waters, toxic algae blooms, hypoxia, acid rain, nitrogen saturation in forests, and global warming.” The primary source of reactive nitrogen compounds is excessive fertilizer use, and as such this should be monitored and limited. Nitrogen footprint data was unavailable for the majority of countries, so we use a nitrogen consumption indicator instead like Fanning and O’Neill (2016). Nitrogen fertilizer consumption serves as a proxy for nitrogen footprint.

Phosphate Use

Phosphorus is also one of the main elements in nutrient pollution, alongside nitrogen. “Phosphorus pollution can cause algae blooms that decrease the usability of waters and threaten the health of people and the environment”. Phosphorus footprint data was unavailable, so we use the phosphate fertilizer consumption indicator as a proxy.

Water Use

Freshwater is an important resource in all modes of production, as well as an essential ingredient of human nutrition. Sufficient access to freshwater is essential for sustainability of any society or group of individuals. Extraction of freshwater for human production activities and nutrition can deny this essential resource to the rest of the biosphere. Freshwater of sufficient environmental quality is not just a biospheric resource, but is also a living environment for a whole range of species. Overall freshwater on the planet is limited and unevenly distributed. Total withdrawal in one country often affects the access to freshwater of other countries that share a basin with the said country. Overall, globally, freshwater is a limiting resource.

Biodiversity Neglect

Contributions to the conservation of megafauna in particular was chosen by Lindsey et al. because megafauna is “particularly valuable in economic, ecological and societal terms, and are challenging and expensive to conserve.” Large terrestrial animals are top of the food chain and their presence indicates the stability of ecosystems on a territory of a country.

CO2 Emissions

Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas whose emissions are causing global warming. It is crucial to reduce CO2 emissions in order to reduce the impact of climate change.

Land-use Intensity

“Human land use, and its influence on land cover, is a major driver of the distribution and functioning of ecosystems, and thus in the delivery of ecosystem services. Our need for space, whether it is to produce food, to live, to recreate, to work or to provide energy all compete for land as a resource. Land use is also the prime cause of the loss or fragmentation of natural habitats and their species” (Biodiversity Information System for Europe 2019). Land use change primarily takes place in the form of deforestation. Whereas primary forests and topsoils are a major CO2 sink and trove of biodiversity, the industrial croplands and the built environment that are displacing them are a major driver of CO2 and N20 emissions, degradation of soil and biodiversity loss.

Biophysical Thresholds

Organic Farming

Industrial agriculture damages the soil, water, and even the climate on an unprecedented scale. It is imperative to transition away from such destructive agricultural methods in order to halt and reverse the negative impacts (social & environmental) of industrial agriculture. Organic farming is at the moment the most widespread alternative, especially in the EU and USA, and data for this particular agricultural system is most readily available (when compared to agroecology, permaculture, traditional & subsistence farming etc.). A significant proportion of a country’s food production will need to come from organic (and similar) methods in order to be able to provide quality food for all, at reasonable prices and short supply-chains.

Soil Stability

Soil quality is essential in agricultural production. If soil quality is high, then less chemicals and energy are needed for food production. Even though soil quality cannot be fully measured by a single parameter, erosion can be used as a preliminary method of assessing the effects of human activity on soil. The indicator estimates the soil loss by water erosion processes (rain splash, sheetwash and rills) and gives an indication of the area under risk of being affected by a certain rate of soil erosion.

Wilderness Protection

Protected areas remain the fundamental building blocks of virtually all national and international conservation strategies, supported by governments and international institutions. They provide the core of efforts to protect the world’s threatened species and are increasingly recognized as essential providers of ecosystem services and biological resources.

Precipitation Flood Immunity

Floods can have disastrous effects on human lives, infrastructure, crop yields, and ecosystems. Extreme rainfall, glacier melt, and sea level rise are all projected as consequences of climate change, causing the risk of extreme flooding to increase. We include it into the consideration of biophysical thresholds under theme of climate change to indicate which nations will be the first to feel the impacts of climate change in the form of flooding. This indicator is largely dependent on geographic location and other natural conditions, meaning that a high precipitation flood immunity does not necessarily suggest low national contribution to increased changes in the climate (via CO2 emissions, nitrogen, phosphorous, etc).

Forest Area

Forests are the dominant terrestrial ecosystem of Earth, and are distributed around the globe. Forests account for 75% of the gross primary production of the Earth’s biosphere, and contain 80% of the Earth’s plant biomass. Forests have large ecological benefits, such as carbon sequestration (Earth’s largest carbon sink), source of biodiversity, soil erosion control, and flood mitigation.