Permaculture is a design science based on ethics. These ethics are Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share (or Return the Surplus). Permaculture emphasizes observation of nature and natural patterns. The goal of permaculture is to develop solutions that are designed to be harmonious with our physical and social environment using a holistic, systems-based approach. This encompasses everything that makes our society what it is, including how we approach our food, energy, entertainment, and community. Permaculture concepts can be applied to gardening, finance, business strategies, large-scale food production, entertainment, and community.
There are a few different minor variations on the “principles” of permaculture. Here are a couple:
- Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder”
By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
- Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines”
By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
- Obtain a yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach”
Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
- Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation”
We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
- Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course”
Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
- Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine”
By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
- Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees”
By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
- Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work”
By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
- Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race” or “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”
Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
- Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”
Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path”
The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be”
We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.
David Holmgren is best known as the co-originator with Bill Mollison of the permaculture concept following the publication of Permaculture One in 1978. His passion about the philosophical and conceptual foundations for sustainability which are highlighted in his book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability inspired thepermacultureprinciples.com website where you can learn more about permaculture and sustainable living.
- Care for the Earth
- Care for People
- Return the Surplus
Primary Principles for Functional Design:
- Observe. Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and cultures.
- Connect. Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.
- Catch and store energy and materials. Identify, collect, and hold useful flows. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield, every gradient (in slope, charge, heat, etc.) can produce energy. Re-investing resources builds capacity to capture yet more resources.
- Each element performs multiple functions. Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Beneficial connections between diverse components create a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time.
- Each function is supported by multiple elements. Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail.
- Make the least change for the greatest effect. Find the “leverage points” in the system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change.
- Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your successes, with variations. Grow by chunking.
Principles for Living and Energy Systems
- Optimize edge. The edge—the intersection of two environments—is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energy and materials accumulate or are tranformed. Increase or decrease edge as appropriate.
- Collaborate with succession. Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with this tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed.
- Use biological and renewable resources. Renewable resources (usually living beings and their products) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.
- Turn problems into solutions. Constraints can inspire creative design. “We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities.”—Pogo (Walt Kelly)
- Get a yield. Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment.
- The biggest limit to abundance is creativity. The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit.
- Mistakes are tools for learning. Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better.
Rules for resource use:
Ranked from regenerative to degenerative, different resources can:
- increase with use;
- be lost when not used;
- be unaffected by use;
- be lost by use;
- pollute or degrade systems with use.