Defining permaculture

permaculture principles
Ethics and principles of permaculture

Permaculture can be hard to pin down in a tight definition.. although its meaning is quite precise. Hard to pin down perhaps because it is a process not a thing..

“permaculture is a regenerative design science”

Nature, on which permaculture models as a design strategy is complex and dynamic, hence the slippery nature of its definition. My preferred encapsulation is this below image, first presented to me by Chris Dixon, a permaculture pioneer and designer from North Wales. This pattern shows the relationship between permaculture’s guiding ethics and the principles and design tools that  enable strategy and action.

permaculture definition by Chris Dixon
Permaculture is founded on principles observed from nature and guided by a set of ethics

As part of our One School One Planet project we are working to bring permaculture design principles into the core curriculum. This challenges us to come up with some concise definitions that can be understood and worked on by students of all ages and abilities.

I have come up with a series of memes that might help and I am keen to try them out to see how people react, if at all.

Permaculture teacher Graham Wood posted this on his Linkedin profile recently, this is about the best longer definition I have seen.

Originally Permaculture began in Australia during the 1970s as an idea put forward by Bill Mollison, and it has since gone on to inspire millions around the world.

Bill Mollison (who died in 2016 aged 88) originally viewed permaculture as an agricultural system that works with, rather than against nature, on the basis that the natural world holds the key to stable and productive systems. So the term was first coined from his “permanent agriculture”, but it has evolved over the years to encompass a much wider range of environmental concerns and human cultural issues so is now most commonly defined as “permanent culture”.

Permaculture is now seen as part of a global solution: a system or way of thinking that enables us, as human beings, to live in a way that can allow us, other species, and our planet to not just survive, but thrive. The Permaculture movement and design thinking is now a part of the global activity, that is slowly being implemented at a local level around the world, to help us transition into a sustainable future ethically and with intelligence.

Permaculture is a philosophy and a design process, but more than that, it is also a practical guide for life. It helps us to design intelligent systems which meet human needs whilst enhancing biodiversity, reducing our impact on the planet, and creating a fairer world for us all. People across the globe are transforming their communities with permaculture. It has given us a range of design principles by which we can arrange our lives.

Bill Mollison developed the permaculture concept with three key ethics:

  1. Care of our planet
  2. Care of humankind
  3. Return of surplus into the system.

These central ethics have then been further distilled into twelve principles of design, outlined by David Holmgren.

The principles are:

  1.    Observe and interact
  2.    Catch and store energy
  3.    Obtain a yield
  4.    Apply self-regulation and feedback
  5.    Use and value renewable resources and services
  6.    Produce no waste
  7.    Design from patterns to details
  8.    Integrate rather than segregate
  9.    Use small and slow solutions
  10.    Use and value diversity
  11.    Use edges and value the marginal
  12.    Creatively use and respond to change

These twelve principles can be applied to a wide range of aspects in our modern lives, from our homes and gardens, working lives, commercial businesses, even to politics and social-activism. Today in thousands of projects these simple principles are being designed in and applied giving a range of practical solutions for individuals and communities who wish to live in a sustainable way.

Mollison and Holmgren wanted to spread these ideas and methods, so decided to set up and teach a series of informal two-week courses in permaculture. They went on to devise a full curriculum for a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and shared it with their PDC students who grew in confidence as they taught similar 72-hour courses, and after just 10 years of touring and teaching with the help of the network of affiliated teachers – they had spread the permaculture ideas across five continents.

Although his original principles remain in place, the PDC courses have evolved to expand beyond agriculture and into areas such as design, engineering, sustainable energy, systems thinking, construction, architecture, and social resilience all based on a sound ecological approach.

Graham Wood.

Permaculture memes


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