Permaculture Principles

Reworking the Permaculture Principles

permaculture principles

Permaculture is a design strategy for creating regenerative culture in all of its aspects. It’s been called “a revolution disguised as gardening” because it starts in your backyard and expands to have global implications. Permaculture applies ecosystem dynamics to systems like gardens, farms, households and communities, to make them more resillient and self- maintaining like nature.

The permaculture movement was sparked by a brief and productive collaboration of Australian ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Mollison, after years of protesting as an environmental activist, was looking for a way to articulate what he was for, rather than only what he was against. Holmgren was actually his student when they began work on the permaculture concept. Their work was to find out what it will take for people to live on this planet indefinitely, fulfilling human need while helping to regenerate, rather than destroy, nature.

They looked at how ecosystems function and what traits cultures we can call sustainable have in common. They were also influenced by the work of American ecologist Howard Odum, who was the first scientist to do full energy accounting of ecosystems.

The word permaculture is a combination of “permanent” and “agriculture.” If agriculture is the basis of civilization, then a permanent agriculture supports long term human settlement on Earth based on harmonizing human needs with those of the planet and all of its inhabitants. They soon realized that permaculture couldn’t stand alone as an agricultural approach, because its vision quickly encompassed social issues like land access, monetary systems, settlement patterns and decision making. So permaculture evolved to mean “permanent culture.”

Permaculture is based on an ethical framework of Earth care, people care and fair share, which Mollison and Holmgren crafted through looking at the ethics, spoken or implied, in the codes and creeds of the world’s remaining sustainable cultures. The two men then mostly parted ways, and each independently devised a list of design principles to address the ethics through action. The principles of permaculture design are viewed through the lens of the three ethics, and come from the practices of sustainable cultures and the dynamics of how nature works. Depending on where you study permaculture, you might learn Bill Mollison’s or David Holmgren’s principles, or a combination of the two.

After  years of teaching Holmgren’s principles with a few of Mollison’s added, I wanted to find a better, clearer way to pass on these principles. So Emily and I under took the work of consolidating the two lists into one list of 12 design principles. Since permaculture is not copyrighted, it belongs to the world. It can and must evolve. We believe this list encompasses the breadth of both men’s design principles.

I M M E R S E  Y O U R S E L F

C Y C L E  E N E R G Y  A N D  M A T E R I A L S

H A R M O N I Z E  D E T A I L S  W I T H  W I D E R  P A T T E R N S


S T A R T  S M A L L , M O V E  S L O W L Y

C R E A T E  A N D  U S E  E D G E S

B U I L D  S U P P L Y  W E B S

S T A C K  F U N C T I O N S

C R E A T E  A N D  U S E  D I V E R S I T Y

E N S U R E  A  H A R V E S T

P L A N  F O R  C H A N G E  A N D  A C C E P T  F E E D B A C K

U S E  R E G E N E R A T I V E  A N D  A P P R O P R I A T E  T E C H N O L O G I E s

At our upcoming weekend workshop on Sept 9th, 2016, we’ll explore these principles in detail through hands on learning. 

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