Editorial Feature

Permaculture, The Ethics, Principles and Philosophy of Permaculture

Permaculture is word adapted from the phrase 'permanent agriculture' and encompasses a design philosophy for growing food, human settlements or housing through to a complete way of life.

History of Permaculture

Modern permaculture can be traced back to the 1970s and the work of Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren but in some respects is not a new thing. The idea of agricultural systems than can be employed indefinitely in a sustainable way has been around for thousands of years. The modern permaculture movement came about when David Holmgren was writing a thesis about permaculture, while working together with Bill Mollison who was directing his research. Bill added to David's thesis and they produced a book, Permaculture One. From the book came a series of lectures and workshops.

Design and Modern Permaculture

Modern permaculture relies upon designing an agricultural or living space to take into account the natural needs, outputs and consequences of all the elements within the surrounding system. Elements are assembled to create a synergy where the products of one element feed or enhance adjacent elements resulting in a natural synergy and minimal waste. The result is a system that produces large quantities of food with minimal input or impact. The methods used vary and are taken from well studied and accepted practice including indigenous land management, organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable forestry and horticulture.

Principles of Modern Permaculture

Modern permaculture relies on a few principles:


Before acting permaculture relies on in depth and thoughtful observation. The site where permaculture is to be adopted needs to be observed in all seasons and elements in order to be properly assessed so the overall design will work.


Element within a permaculture garden should be arranged so that connecting elements create time saving, useful connections that create a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

Catch and Store Energy and Materials

Useful items flowing through the site should be identified so they can be held, collected and readily used by other elements within the system. These items include resources like water and nutrients.

Ensure Elements Provide Multiple Functions

Elements should be arranged in order to perform as many functions as possible making beneficial connections with other elements.

Multiple Elements Support Each Function

By using multiple methods to supports each function within the system a synergy is built so that the redundancy built in protects the whole system when one or more elements fails.

Work in Areas Where The Smallest Change Has The Greatest Effect

Find the points in the system where the least amount of work will result in the greatest change

Start Small

Start small and grow in chunks by building on successful areas.

Living and Energy Systems

The most diverse part of a system is the edge between two environments. In these areas both energies and materials accumulate. Optimise the amount of 'edge' and use it to your advantage.

Accelerate Succession

Mature ecosystems are more diverse and productive than young ecosystems. Use wise design to jump-start succession.

Use Renewable and Biological Resources

Renewable resources, like plants and animals, reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.

Recycle Energy

Supply local and on-site needs with energy from the system, and reuse this energy as many times as possible. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield.

Turn Problems into Solutions

"Constraints can inspire creative design. We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities." Bill Mollison

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.

Unlimited Abundance

The designer's imagination and skill is a bigger limit to yield than any physical limit.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you're trying to do things better.

Resource Use Rules

Rules for resource use: Ranked from regenerative to degenerative, different resources can:

  1. increase with use
  2. be lost when not used
  3. be unaffected by use
  4. be lost by use
  5. pollute or degrade systems with use.

Sources and Further Reading

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