Fitting Croatia within the Donut: The four cities

Tomislav’s lecture at the 2020 Green Academy

This is the second of a three-part selection from the analysis paper written by IPE’s 2020 JRF Tomislav Cik.

Four cities were selected for this analysis. These cities are Slavonski Brod, Gospić, Zagreb and Zadar. The map below displays their geographical distribution, with the selected units of analysis marked in red. Although various sampling techniques were considered, in this research it was most important that cities differ in only some of their most basic characteristics, for instance, size, geographic features and predominant sectoral activities. Additionally, Zagreb somewhat stands out as it is the country’s metropolis and, as such, an unavoidable sample unit in this explorative analysis. As the selected cities display different sizes, geographical attributes and levels of development, it is to be expected that they produce different ecological footprints, and therefore different doughnut visualizations.

It is important to note that sometimes, due to data unavailability on a local level, indicators for a particular city had to be calculated using county data. Of course, this has been applied only when it was justified to use such proxy data (e.g. Organic Farming, Renewable Energy Production etc.) because production of those resources occurs in the wider surrounding area, but their utilization or consumption is again driven by the major city. Also, all cultural indicators were estimated using regional data based on international surveys, as that kind of data is not coded for a lower spatial unit and there is no reason to assume that the measured values and attitudes of citizens of Gospić differ significantly to those living in the surrounding area of its urban centre.

Segments and themes

The constructed local doughnuts consist of 18 indicators and eight indicator themes, with six indicators (three boundaries and three aspirations) divided over three segments. These downscaled holistic images represent, in symbolic terms, something like a “blood test” of an urban social metabolism. As it is safe to presume that the nature of sociometabolic practices of cities significantly differs from those of nation-states, a relatively different set and a fewer number of indicators has been selected than those established by the national model (Domazet et al. 2020). Indicators are grouped by a set of differing themes, each one of which refers to a specific segment of the model.

The order by which the themes are visually and narratively presented in this analysis is determined both by the fixed order of placement of segments to the SJOS (Safe and Just Operating Space), by initiating the data overview and analysis with the biophysical and ending with the cultural segment. This to some extent relates to the specific intention of this analysis to describe how cities (fail to) achieve wellbeing standards by relying on their existing natural and socio-economic systems. This is why the doughnut begins with the topic of “access to nature” and comes full circle with the theme of “well-being”. In such a way the analysis conveys its previously defined theoretical assumptions in a more intuitive and obvious manner while providing a sensible interpretative structure for data analysis. Concerning determining the visual placement of the themes within each segment, the model additionally aspires to logically connect neighbouring segments, allowing for a narratively “smoother” transition between qualitatively different sets of indicators.

The biophysical segment of the model concerns natural resources, their conservation, stability and utilisation. Within the biophysical segment the themes of “access to nature” and “climate change and pollution” are included. The theme of “access to nature” joins a boundary of urban pressure on water resources with a threshold for organic farmland in the urban surroundings, along with a threshold for access to green open spaces in a given city. On the other hand, the theme of “climate change and pollution” merges two relatively similar and core boundary concepts of the biophysical segment, carbon footprint expressed in terms of annual CO2 emissions per capita and air pollution, with a threshold for renewable energy production in the city and its hinterland. This indicator has been included in the biophysical segment of the model for pragmatical methodological reasons, as it could be placed in the socio-economic segment, similarly as in the original national model. However, in this research its conceptual and operational proximity to the socio-economic segment of the model justifies such a placement.

The socio-economic segment refers to the social and material infrastructure supporting vital socio-economic processes. In a similar way that air pollution refers to acceptable levels of environmental quality, the first theme of the socio-economic segment includes a boundary for municipal waste generation per capita. Merged with a threshold for available hospital beds per 1000 capita in a given city, these indicators form the theme of “materials and infrastructure”, to approximate and assess levels of key urban public infrastructure of cities, such as those of health and waste management systems. The theme of “work and education” includes indicators measuring educational attainment of citizens by calculating the share of tertiary-level degrees in specific age groups, along with a quantification of weekly hours of work per each citizen. Gender inequality, expressed as the measure of underrepresentation of women in local governing bodies, and voter turnout forms the most conceptually similar theme to that of the national model in the socio-economic segment. This theme addresses, in the broadest sense, questions related to the democratic functioning of municipalities, and is thus named “democracy”.

The cultural segment concerns opinions and attitudes relevant to a democratic transformation and overall wellbeing. Three themes are included in the cultural segment of the model. The majority of indicators included in this segment monitor popular perceptions on topics of democratic engagement to decrease human impact on local biospheres. This is important as such attitudes can be regarded as the result of democratic sociometabolic practices of reflective citizens (Domazet et al., 2020). The theme of “democratic potential” follows logically from the last theme of the socio-economic segment and refers to those indicators that track support for degrowth-oriented policies, along with excess in averagely expressed levels of distrust within a society. Two boundary indicators are joined to form a theme of “anti-environmentalism”, to assess attitudes according to which citizens deny the importance of renewable energy and the dangers of climate change. As stipulated in previous chapters, all sustainability-related strategizing should be aimed at achieving greater levels of overall life satisfaction. In this study, this is monitored as self-reported “well-being”, in terms of shortfalls of adequate levels of a variety of positive mental health states, along with a shortfall in the adequate perception of personal health.

SegmentTheme IndicatorABBR.
BiophysicalAccess to NatureWater UseWU
Organic FarmingOF
Green Open SpaceGOS
Climate Change & PollutionCarbon FootprintCF
Renewable Energy ProductionREP
Air PollutionAP
Socio-economicMaterials & InfrastructureMunicipal WasteMW
Availability Of Inpatient ServicesAOIS
Work & EducationEducational AttainmentEA
DemocracyGender InequalityGI
Voter TurnoutVT
CulturalDemocratic PotentialDistrustD
Degrowth SupportDS
Anti-environmentalismClimate Change NonchalanceCCN
Renewable Energy DismissalRED
Well-beingHealth PerceptionHP
Flourishing PerceptionFP
Overview of applied indicators, relative to their respective segments and themes

The applied analytical breakdown of the national social metabolism to multiple (selected) micro-units of analysis can perhaps offer valuable insights about the differences within a given national social metabolism, as it would be reasonable to assume that different regions and localities are usually the results of different dynamics of socioeconomic developments and ecosystem structures. These seemingly obvious differences may not prove to have significant impacts on the analyzed socio-metabolic output of given regions and localities and in this stage of the analysis, they only provide more structure to the sampling framework used for these initial explorative endeavours.


As was previously stated, 18 quantitative indicators have been grouped into eight themes across three corresponding segments. In a way, each of these indicators represents an empirical proxy assessment of a corresponding predefined theme, that is to say, what is considered to be a pertinent component of a healthy and sustainable urban environment. In technical terms, to visualize the doughnut any given indicator is constructed using numerical input data for mapping abstract values on the doughnut graph.

The provided visuals rely on the latest publically available data, ranging from 2009 to 2019. County data has been applied when city-level data was unavailable and when theoretically and methodologically justifiable, as explained in the previous sections. In addition, all values for cultural indicators have been calculated using appropriate regional data, as there is no reason to assume that there is significant deviation within the defined regions, and thus between different cities in a specified region. All cultural data, except data used for the Flourishing Perception and Degrowth Support indicators (which has been obtained directly from the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb) has been obtained from the most recently available ISSP modules for Croatia (Environment III, Health and Role of Government and Networks) and processed using IBM SPSS Statistics 23 software for the purpose of index creation.

As was previously stated, the SJOJ framework is a green circular doughnut-shaped ring inside of which a set of indicators is positioned to allow for assessing sustainability performance by comparing the extracted data against the set criteria for remaining within the green space. To map the location of an indicator value against said criteria and calculate the abstract visual index value, the formula presented below has been used.

The formula for calculating abstract (doughnut index) values to be plotted within the doughnut graph

Index values used for visualizing the doughnut 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 doughnut visual, relative to the SJOS. In this regard, the doughnut 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 doughnut index value (IV) will have a positive value, in order to display such an overshoot relative to the SJOS and map it along the outer rim of the green ring. In contrast, if the doughnut index value is negative, the indicator is displaying a “shortfall”, meaning that the doughnut produces a visible transgression along the inner rim of the SJOS.


This section presents the results of the applied model on the selected sample of Croatian localities. Additionally, the analysis includes a national-level doughnut visualization of the Republic of Croatia. As was already explained in the introductory remarks, this degrowth doughnut model has been developed with a specific set of themes and indicators, that in some cases significantly differ from those originally developed by Domazet et al. (2020). However, it is worth mentioning that in some rare instances the results of this research almost entirely correspond with the results of the above-mentioned model when applied for the Republic of Croatia. For example, such is the case with organic farming, as this research discovers 5.99% of total Croatian farmland to be organic, whereas the original national model finds this to be 6.15%, rendering the visualized shortfalls almost identical in both instances. This is due to the identical methodology applied for visualizing this indicator in both models.

The visualized doughnut model for Croatia is being presented here primarily to gain a level of comparison for Croatian municipalities which are at the main focus of the following sections.

Degrowth Doughnut visualization with 18 applied indicators for the Republic of Croatia.
Legend: BIOPHYSICAL: Water Use (WU); Carbon Footprint (CF); Air Pollution (AP); Organic Farming (OF); Green Open Space (GOS); Renewable Energy Production (REP); SOCIO-ECONOMIC: Municipal Waste (MW); Overwork (O); Gender Inequality (GI); Availability of Inpatient Services (AOIS); Educational Attainment (EA); Voter Turnout (VT); CULTURAL: Distrust (D); Climate Change Nonchalance (CCN); Renewable Energy Dismissal (RED); Degrowth Support (DS); Flourishing Perception (FP); Health Perception (HP)

When it comes to the biophysical segment of Croatia’s social metabolism, the doughnut presented in Figure 3 presents overshoots and shortfalls on every indicator for which data has been collected, except in the case of per capita abstracted volume of water from Croatia’s renewable water resources (WU). The largest shortfall of this segment is visible in the area of organic farming (OF), which points to a need for much greater efforts for the conversion of land to sustainable farming practices in order to develop food production practices fit for the 21st century. In terms of drivers of climate change, like carbon consumption via carbon-intensive economic activities and the lack of renewable energy production, excesses and inadequacies are visible on both proxy indicators. On the one hand, according to this research Croatian citizens annually emit almost double the amount of what is considered sustainable levels of CO2 emissions (CF). On the other hand, it is clear that Croatia is not doing enough to achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2040, as only slightly more than a half of the total energy production is coming from renewable energy powerplants (REP).

Visually largest and most worrying overshoots and shortfalls, however, are visible in the socio-economic segment of the graph. This is especially true when analysing the levels of material use efficiency (MW) and accessibility to relevant public health infrastructure (AOIS). Even though reported statistics on annually generated municipal waste is merly indicative of the underlying issues of waste management and appropriate infrastructure, according to the presented image it is clear that major interventions are needed in restructuring Croatia’s waste management systems as the country annually produces more than two and a half times the total amount of kilograms of municipal waste than in this research exemplary city of Bern. Similarly, it is obvious that large scale projects are necessary for Croatia’s overall health system, as with only one hospital bed per thousand inhabitants Croatia falls way below the set standard accentuated by the growing pandemic. Relatively high levels of overwork (O) are accompanied by a significant shortfall of adequately educated (EA) young Croatian citizens. Gender inequality (GI) remains a big issue for an inclusive and balanced model of democracy we want to promote at all levels of political representation as almost 73% of representatives in city councils are men. In this regard, a staggering shortfall is identified in the voter turnout (VT) section of the doughnut, with only slightly above a third (35.2%) of Croatian voters casting a vote in previous local elections, which is a poor performance in established democratic systems aspiring for maximum legitimacy of political representatives.

However, despite the identified deficiencies in democratic functioning, the cultural segment of the doughnut visualization for Croatia does display noteworthy potential for transformative action. Only slight boundary and threshold transgressions are visible in the average popular support of some opinions and attitudes oriented towards a degrowth vision of the future (DS). Despite the visible overshoot, this potential is complemented by relatively low levels of distrust (DT) in society. This result is partially enhanced by the recognized need for a transition to renewable energy sources (RED), along with a recognition of the danger that climate change poses for the environment (CCN), and thus for achieving just and sustainable levels of social reproduction. The overall purpose of the necessary transition to come is to guarantee adequate levels of wellbeing for all, within the physical means of the planet and outside the dominant models of extractivist socio-economic relations. In this regard, it is interesting to note that while Croatian citizens do report sufficient levels of physical wellbeing (HP), the largest noticeable shortfall in the cultural segment is visible when analysing the more personal aspects of their mental health self-assessment (FP).


In the first instance, it is noticeable that the doughnut visualization for the Croatian metropolis does not overall differ significantly from the visualization for Croatia, as is the case with other cities in the sample. However, the first major difference can be seen at the biophysical level, as this visualization introduces the “Air Pollution” (AP) and “Green Open Space” (GOS) indicator values. With adequate levels of water use and a significant shortfall in the area of organic farming, Zagreb displays a drastic shortfall of green open spaces with an indicator value (3.18 m²) almost three times lower than the aspired 9 m² of green public space per capita. In terms of climate change and pollution, citizens of Zagreb display above-average levels of CO2 emissions, along with unacceptable levels of polluting particles contained in the city’s ambient air. One of the biggest shortfalls in the entire section relates to the production of renewable energy, with minimal levels of less than 5% of energy coming from renewables.

In regards to the socio-economic infrastructure, this city displays similar patterns of overshoots and shortfalls as the national model, with, surprisingly, somewhat lower levels of municipal waste generation. It is of no surprise, however, that Zagreb performs better on the AOIS indicator, as the Croatian metropolis could be regarded as the centre of medical infrastructure and service in the country and, on the other hand, would be hard-pressed to perform much worse than the national average. In terms of work and education, inadequate but significantly above-average of educational attainment is identified in Zagreb’s working population, while its citizens work approximately an hour longer than the national average. Gender inequality remains a big issue in Zagreb, as two-thirds of local representatives are men, with voter turnout also falling slightly below the national average levels. Most certainly, Zagreb benefits from the concentration of national infrastructure (health, education), but according to this research fails to spearhead as a progressive national leadership in equity and democracy.

On the bright side, Zagreb retains similar levels of potential for a democratic transformation as the national model, with only slight shortfalls and overshoots on indicators of distrust and support for degrowth. Additionally, these attitudes are supplemented with a strong rejection of anti-environmentalist beliefs and values. Finally, the doughnut shows that citizens of Zagreb find themselves to be in physically good health, with some room for improvement in regards to their personal feeling of flourishing. The cultural segment for Zagreb, thus, shows that the biggest obstacle to achieving sustainability in the 21st century are not its citizens.

Slavonski Brod

For the continental town of Slavonski Brod indicate major inadequacies are identified in all areas of its biophysical performance. Although the doughnut displays above-average levels of organic farming, in regards to the access to other natural goods the citizens of Slavonski Brod enjoy the least available area of green open spaces in the sample, with less than 3 m² of public greenery per citizen. With the carbon footprint value almost identical to the national average, the town could be regarded as representative in terms of its carbon consumption patterns. Less than a third of energy coming from renewables in the town’s total energy mix resulted in a significant shortfall being mapped on the doughnut in the area of renewable energy production. The most striking overshoot, however, in the biophysical segment can be attributed to the indicator monitoring air quality. Cumulatively, in 2019 citizens of Slavonski Brod have been breathing in low-quality air for more than one month.

On the other hand, Slavonski Brod is the best performer within the selected sample in regard to municipal waste generation, with slightly above 50 kg of municipal waste generated annually above the set limit of 165 kg/cap/yr. At the same time, with 7 hospital beds per 1000 capita, Slavonski Brod is also the best performer in regards to the indicator approximating sufficient levels of medical infrastructure by almost reaching the desired target of 8 beds per 1000 inhabitants. Furthermore, citizens of Slavonski Brod are no more overworked than the citizens of other analysed cities, but with less than one-fifth of their young population acquiring higher education degrees perform the worst in the entire sample when it comes to educational attainment. Additionally, while a barely visible overshoot of gender inequality points to highest performance within the sample, this result is somewhat overshadowed by the worst voter turnout among all analysed units, with less than a third of registered voters in Slavonski Brod casting a vote in the most recent local elections.

In the cultural segment, Slavonski Brod is also the worst performer with overshoots and shortfalls on four out of six indicators. Lowest levels of trust in the sample could partially account for previously detected deficiencies in voter turnout, while average levels of support of degrowth is a sign of optimism when it comes to the democratic potential of citizens of Slavonski Brod. This, however, is not supported by the finding that over 40% of citizens reject renewable energy sources by prioritizing non-renewables for meeting Croatia’s future energy needs.


Average performance in most aspects of socio-economic functioning of the town of Gospić is also visible from the doughnut visualization. Municipal waste generation is naturally higher than the best performer Slavonski Brod, but slightly lower than the Croatian metropolis Zagreb. A shortfall is visible in the AOIS section of the graph, but with 6 bed per 1000 capita still relatively close to the set standard. Poor performance is recorded in terms of educational attainment with only a fifth of the population holding tertiary-level degrees. Almost two-thirds of male representatives in city councils point to a deficiency in the democratic functioning of Gospić, while a reason for optimism is certainly the highest voter turnout (above 50%) within the selected sample.

In the terms of the biophysical pressure of Gospić, fewer overshoots and shortfalls and of smaller magnitude are visible than is the case with the two previously analysed cities. Starting with the topic of access to nature, Gospić displays the best performance in regards to organic farming, approaching the sustainable levels of agriculture (20%) with approximately 16% of the utilised agricultural area certified as organic. Green open spaces are also nearing the green ring of safe and just operating space, with around 8 m² of urban greenery per citizen. In regards to climate change and pollution processes, Gospić only displays an overshoot in carbon consumption, with slightly below-average levels of national CO2 emissions per capita annually. Moreover, according to our findings, Gospić is achieving sustainable levels of air quality which can be in part due to sustainable levels of renewable energy production.

This optimism can be further expanded by findings regarding the democratic potential of Gospić, as citizens display adequate levels of degrowth-oriented attitudes and only a minimal, but average overshoot on the distrust indicator. According to the doughnut, Gospić doesn’t have a problem with citizens fostering anti-environmentalist views, which further strengthens the city’s cultural potential for a democratic transformation. The only shortfall is visible in the area of citizens’ mental wellbeing with only average levels of transgression. This, coupled with acceptable levels of physical health, points to overall good performance in terms of the wellbeing of citizens of Gospić.


Unlike Gospić, Zadar has the lowest levels of organic farming in the sample, achieving even lower results than the national average. However, in other regards, it seems like Zadar is accessing its natural resources sustainably, with no issues with water usage and availability of green open spaces. From a perspective of pollution and climate change, Zadar is the best performer, with no air quality issues and with the lowest carbon footprint within the selected sample. With almost a whole metric ton less carbon produced in its economic activities, in comparison to the national average of this research, Zadar’s economy is seemingly least carbon-intensive among all analysed cities. On the other hand, it is of no surprise that Zadar meets the set target for renewable energy production as almost a fifth of Croatia’s renewable energy is produced in power plants stationed in the County of Zadar.

Somewhat less encouraging results are visible in the socio-economic segment, where Zadar is producing the largest overshoot in municipal waste production recorded in this research, exceeding the specified limit almost three times over. In regards to infrastructure, Zadar displays the usual levels of AOIS shortfall. Similarly, usual levels of overwork are detected, as is the case with the rest of the sample. The results are encouraging, but not sustainable in regards to the educational attainment of Zadar’s young citizens, as only over a fourth of them acquired academic degrees. In regards to democracy, Zadar is experiencing similar levels of gender inequality as the majority of the sampled cities. At the same time, the lowest voter turnout and, thus, visually the largest shortfall is noticeable.

Almost identical pattern to Gospić’s is visible in the cultural segment, with an added shortfall of popular support of specified degrowth statements by Zadar’s citizens. This democratic potential is also slightly hindered by unacceptable levels of distrust among the population. However, no overshoots have been detected in regards to citizens’ professing anti-environmental attitudes, with acceptable levels of support being displayed for renewable energy prioritizing and concern about the dangers of climate change. As was the case with all units of analysis, while the citizens of Zadar are assessing their overall health as good, a shortfall in the assessment of their more personal, mental aspect of wellbeing is recognized by the model.

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