Archive for Permaculture Principles

Permaculture Ethics and Principles


Permaculture Ethics:

Permaculture ethics form the foundation for permaculture design and are found in most traditional societies. The three basic permaculture ethics are: Care for the earth, care for people, fair share(return the surplus).  Permaculture has learned from cultures that have existed in relative balance with their environment for much longer than recent civilizations. Which does not mean to necessarily abandon modern culture, but in this transition to a more sustainable future, we need to consider values and concepts outside the current social norm and it’s many flaws.

Care for the Earth

It may be obvious to some that caring for the earth is vital for our future existence. Although some people may be living in a world far removed from their true connection to nature and the earth on which they live.

Care of the Earth can be taken to mean caring for the living soil. The state of the soil is often the best measure for the health and well-being of society. There are many different techniques for looking after soil, but the best method to tell if soil is healthy is to see how much life exists there. 

Our forests and rivers are the lungs and veins of our planet, that help the Earth live and breathe, supporting many diverse life forms. All life forms have their own intrinsic value, and need to be respected for the functions that they perform – even if we don’t see them as useful to our needs. 

By reducing our consumption of ‘stuff’, we reduce our impact on the environment, which is the best way to care for all living things.

Care for People

Care for people starts with ourselves, but expands to include our families, neighbors, local and wider communities. The challenge is to grow up through self-reliance and personal responsibility. 

Self-reliance becomes more possible when we focus on non-material well-being, taking care of ourselves and others without producing or consuming unnecessary material resources. By accepting personal responsibility for our situation as far as possible, rather than blaming others, we empower ourselves. By recognising that the wisdom lies within the group, we can work with others to bring about the best outcomes for all involved. 

The permaculture approach is to focus on the positives, the opportunities that exist rather than the obstacles, even in the most desperate situations.

Fair Share – set limits to consumption and reproduction and redistribute surplus

Fair share or returning the surplus means taking what we need and sharing what we don’t while recognising that there are limits to how much we can give and how much we can take. 

When a tree fruits, it usually produces much more than one person can eat. It makes sense to share what we can’t use. It takes time to pick, eat, share and preserve the harvest and there are limits to how much fruit we can produce and use. 

The growth in human consumption and the accelerating extinction of species make clear the impossibility of continuous growth. Sometimes we need to make hard decisions and consider what enough is. 

We need to focus on what is appropriate for us to do, rather than what others should do. By finding the right balance in our own lives we provide positive examples for others, so that they can find their own balance.

Permaculture Principles:

Depending on who you ask, you may get a varied number of permaculture principles. Their are generally between 12 and 18 general principles. I’ll share the 18 that I learned while living at La’akea Permaculture community in Hawaii.

Primary Principles for Functional Design

1) OBSERVE – Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and it’s elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and climates. Observe patterns in nature. Work from patterns and details. By taking the time to engage in nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. In nature their is no right or wrong.

2) 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.

3) CATCH AND STORE ENERGY AND MATERIALS – The work of the permaculture designer is to maximize useful energy storage in any system, be it the house, livelihood, urban or rural landscape. By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.

4) EACH ELEMENT PERFORMS MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS: Find multiple uses for each element in your system. Stack elements in both space and time. 

5) 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. 

6) 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. Aid natural cycles. Model nature.

7) 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.

8) STABILITY THROUGH DIVERSITY – It is not the number of elements in a design but the functional/beneficial connections. Diversity is creation.

Principles for Living and Energy Systems

9) USE THE EDGE EFFECT – The edge – the intersection of two environments- is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energies and materials accumulate. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

10) ACCELERATE SUCCESSION – Mature ecosystems are more diverse and productive than young ones, so use design to jump start succession. Certain elements prepare the way for others.

11) USE BIOLOGICAL AND RENEWABLE RESOURCES – Renewable resources reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield and interact with other elements.

12) 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.


13) TURN CHALLENGES INTO SOLUTIONS – We are the problem, we are the solution. In permaculture, the focus is on turning constraints into resources. A challenge inspires creativity and is used as motivation to overcome any obstacle.

14) OBTAIN A YIELD – Look at the sum total of surplus energy produced by, stored, conserved, re-used, or converted by the design. Energy is in surplus once the system itself has available all it needs for growth, reproduction and maintenance. You can’t work on an empty stomach. Ensure that you’re getting truly useful rewards as part of the work you are doing.

15) ABUNDANCE IS UNLIMITED – The designer’s imagination and skill are bigger limits to yield than any physical limit. Creativity is an infinite resource. It’s always best to start with the grandest of ides.

16) MISTAKES ARE TOOLS FOR LEARNING – Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign that you’re trying to do things better.

17) LOCAL FOCUS – Think globally, act locally. Grow food, save seed, support local economy, co-operate with neighbors and …maybe sing a song or two. 😉 

18) RELINQUISH POWER – The role of a successful designer is to create a self-managed  system. An important factor is not to get to attached to anything.


Their are other important principles and ideas to take into consideration when designing a space based on permaculture.
Use and value diversity. Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. 

Use small and slow solutions. Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.

Integrate rather than segregate. By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. Many hands make light work.

Pattern Application. By stepping back we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our design with the details filled in as we go. This involves learning from patterns in nature, including branching structures, patterns caused by flows (of water and air), and the way in which these patterns are self-similar at different levels of scale. Patterns in nature inform the design process, in terms of templates and the way in which design is applied on the land. Can you see the forest through the trees?

The Edge.The principle of edge effect helps to clarify the relationships between element, guild and whole system. Every element is embedded in a whole; it cannot exist without the whole, or as an independent entity. Each element, however, does have an edge, which defines it as an entity. This edge is not a rigid boundary, but is a diffuse area of exchange. The edge is a very important area – it defines, it is an area of opportunity, exchange and productivity. It is a very distinct area, which often has special properties. Think of the membrane of a cell. It defines the cell, bounds it and holds it together. It is also semi-permeable, allowing in some substances, keeping out others. When designing guilds in the first week, participants are encouraged to think of the edges between elements and of the edges between guilds.

Produce no waste. By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste. Waste not, want not.

Apply self regulation and accept feedback. We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. 

As well as permaculture principles, this design process is based on systems thinking. This way of viewing the world is different to a ‘mechanistic’ way of thinking which sees distinct objects, which work as a machine. One of the major differences in the two ways of thinking is in the view of cause and effect. A mechanistic way of thinking tends to see a linear relationship between cause and effect, where any action produces a direct effect, which is in direct relationship to the action, on the object being acted on, but does not affect the whole system.  

As well as my own reflections and understanding are bits and pieces taken from these resources:


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