What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human culture. It has been called the science of common sense.

By paying attention to the ways that we interact with our ecosystem, we can design sustainable living systems and benefit the environment where we live.

In response to the news of environmental degradation and predictions of social collapse that were coming to light in the 1970s, Hobart University lecturer Bill Mollison and graduate student David Holmgren began to assemble a collection of working examples of social technologies that promote sustainable culture. Their premise was that we should pay attention to cultures that have existed peacefully for over 1000 years.

They found that all of these enduring cultures are guided by a strong system of ethics, and adopted the most common ethics as the foundation of everything we do in Permaculture:

Our guiding ethics in Permaculture are:

  • Care of the Earth
  • Care of People
  • Return of Surplus


What is Sustainability?

Permaculture defines sustainability this way:

Any sustainable system must produce more energy than it consumes. It must produce enough in surplus of its needs to be able to replace the components of the system over the course of its lifetime.

Note that this is a minimum standard. We would like some additional surplus to trade. Which of our available technologies can do this? Most modern technologies consume resources, but do not produce energy that can be used to build or replace the system.

Life is an exception. Living plants and animals are able to grow and replicate, deriving their energy from the Sun. We recognize that life has evolved brilliant solutions to every problem that we perceive. In a healthy ecosystem, everything is recycled.

Permaculture references

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren wrote three thick books filled with design ideas, along with notes about when and where each was appropriate.

  • Permaculture One, focusing on temperate climates, was published in 1977.
  • Permaculture Two, containing tropical and dryland strategies followed in 1979.
  • They began teaching the Permaculture Design Certificate course (72 hours) in 1979 as an introduction to this design approach, and found that there was a need for a more structured textbook.
  • The Permaculture Designers Manual was published in 1988 and is the reference text for the PDC course, which is taught around the world.
  • Based in Positivism, Permaculture is solution oriented.

  • An holistic ecosystem approach to integrating diverse techniques, methods and elements.

  • Practical - based in observation and experience.

  • Open sourced – founded in cooperation, rather than competition.

  • Scope – encompassing all aspects of human life:

    • structures and architecture, home design, roads, transportation systems

    • food systems, water systems

    • health and sanitation systems

    • social structures, commerce, social exchange

  • Permaculture places elements, techniques and strategies in proper relationship to facilitate the connections between them.


Permaculture can be used in:

  1. Urban settings – balcony gardens, individual living spaces, community systems as well as design of whole communities.

  2. Rural land – production systems, small community design

  3. Broad damaged landscapes

  4. Managing biosphere reserves

  5. Emergency aid – where municipal systems are not functioning.

The Permaculture Designer's Manual and the PDC course cover these topics:

  1. Introduction
  2. Concepts and Themes in Design

    1. Resources, connections, cycles, order, complexity and chaos, diversity.

  3. Methods of Design

    1. Needs Analysis

    2. Observation – Thoughtful and protracted observation rather than thoughtless and protracted action.

    3. Deduction, Options and decisions, Random assembly, Flow Diagrams

    4. Zone and Sector Analysis

  4. Pattern Understanding

    1. Pattern recognition: fractals, spirals, branching, harmonics

    2. Boundary interactions, Flow patterns

  5. Climatic Factors

  6. Trees and Their Energy Transactions

  7. Water

  8. Soils – a living element, recycling.

  9. Earthworking and Earth Resources

  10. The Humid Tropics

  11. Dryland Strategies

  12. Humid Cool to Cold Climates

  13. Aquaculture

  14. The Strategies of an Alternative Global Nation


Some Permaculture Principles:

  • Capture and store energies like sunlight and rainfall as close to the source as we can.

  • Let plants do the work.

  • Increasing diversity increases productivity and resilience of the system.

  • Cycle and recycle elements at every opportunity.

  • Maximize the edge effect.

  • Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants.

  • In a healthy ecosystem, everything is recycled. There is no waste, only resource.


To Learn More about Permaculture:

  1. Join a local Permaculture group to discuss and share ideas.

    • Permaculture Sunsport is meeting on the third Tuesday each month from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Sunsport Pavilion.

    • Lots of local groups are listed on permacultureglobal.com

  1. Read a good book:

    • Gaia's Garden – Toby Hemenway

    • Permaculture Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison.

    1. Take the Permaculture Design Certificate course.

    • Geoff Lawton – geofflawton.com or permaculturedesigncourse.com

  2. For help in designing your property, contact a certified Permaculture Designer or Consultant in your area .