“Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems, which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of Permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things. Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements. Key to efficient design is observation and replication of natural ecosystems, where designers maximize diversity with polycultures, stress efficient energy planning for houses and settlement, using and accelerating natural plant succession, and increasing the highly productive edge-zones within the system.” ~Bill Mollison, originator of the Permaculture design system
Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and one of his students, David Holmgren, coined the word Permaculture in 1978. It is a contraction of “permanent agriculture”, or “permanent culture”.
Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community building movement that strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place them in the landscape. Mimicking patterns found in nature further enhances this synergy.
A central theme in Permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Emphasis is placed on multi-use plants, cultural practices such as sheet mulching and trellising, and the integration of animals to recycle nutrients and graze weeds.
However, Permaculture entails much more than just food production. Energy-efficient buildings, wastewater treatment, recycling, and land stewardship in general are other important components of Permaculture. More recently, Permaculture has expanded its purview to include economic and social structures that support the evolution and development of more permanent communities. As such, Permaculture design concepts are applicable to urban as well as rural settings, and are appropriate for single households as well as whole farms, villages, towns and cities.
In its essence Permaculture is a design science as applicable to food production as it is to the home, to work, and to the individual. It applies not only to the environment we live in, but to what we do and how we think. Permaculture pervades every aspect of life.
Ethics of Permaculture
The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of future survival and of existing life systems. Permaculture is guided by the following three overarching ethics:
Care of the Earth: includes the care of all living and non-living things, plants, animals, land, water, air
Care of People: promotes self-reliance and community responsibility and access to resources necessary for existence
Reinvesting the surplus: setting limits to population and consumption; and giving back any surplus yield to earth and people.
Yield is an important concept in Permaculture. System yield is the sum total of surplus energy produced by, stored, conserved, reused, or converted by the design. Energy is in surplus once the system itself has available all its needs for growth, reproduction and maintenance. Unused surplus results in pollution and more work.
Generally, any actions that demonstrate the Three Ethics as listed above, can be considered Permaculture in practice. Going a level higher, building upon the Three Ethics, there are many principles and methodologies used in Permaculture. A list of these can be viewed on our Permaculture Principles and Methodologies page.