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Permaculture is a Living & Evolving Practice

It is a system of conscious design that mimics the patterns and relationships of nature to provide for local human needs. It can be applied to anything from growing food on an apartment balcony to managing a broadscale farm to designing an industrial process to running a community economic development project.

Ecological Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order, and where permaculturists put their ethics and principles into practice. Permaculture design is based on observing and mimicking natural systems. A number of design principles have been developed to guide permaculturists (for example David Holmgren’s formulation below), but systems thinking is an essential companion to these principles. David Holmgren says that “from a systems ecology perspective, ‘design by nature’ is not simply a metaphor but a result of the forces of self-organisation which can be observed everywhere in the living and wider universe”. In other words, permaculture is more systemic than systematic. Permaculture is not the principles. It is not a formula to memorize, or a recipe to follow. To practice permaculture well is not necessary to store a vast quantity of facts. It is better to understand the underlying patterns.

In essence, permaculture can be described as a system of design that seeks to recognize and maximize beneficial relationships while minimizing or eliminating harmful relationships. Permaculture is not a set of principles but rather a way of seeing that gives equal value to the links between elements of a system as to the elements themselves. Like other ecological design strategies, permaculture relies on an understanding of ecological principles such as diversity and interdependence and strives to maximize networks of beneficial relationships in order to reduce risks within systems. Such an approach to design can be applied to biological and non-biological systems.


The 3 ethics of Permaculture underpin everything we do. They are the core and the foundation. These ethical underpinnings of permaculture are introduced at the beginning of every course and book on the topic.

Many permaculturists feel ethically bound to share their ideas and enthusiasm for permaculture and are active in various education efforts involving permaculture. The ethical commitment of permaculturists to care for the planet and share their commitment with others makes them ideal candidates as ambassadors for sustainability and, as citizen scientists.


A commitment to the Earth, to people, and to sharing puts permaculturists in the position to help make science more relevant, more local, more experiential, and more hopeful for students worldwide. They can do this by sharing their experiences with the applied sciences of sustainable practices and the use of ecological design.


Permaculture Ethics are generally expressed as:




Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply harmoniously. It's about caring for and opposing the destruction of wild habitats, and the poisoning of soil, water, and atmosphere. And it's about designing and creating healthy living systems that mimic nature and that meet our needs without damaging the planet.

Variations of the third ethic include: "future care", "return the surplus", “contribution of surplus time, money, & energy” and “set limits to consumption & reproduction", and "redistribute surplus”... By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further our ethics. "Future Care" thinking for 7 generations ahead of us.

Provision for people to live as fully functioning human beings, in all our complexity and weirdness, and to access the resources necessary for our existence. People Care starts with the self - if you don't take care of yourself you can't care for anyone else! From the self, People Care spreads out to kin

and community.

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The 12 principles linked below are the work of David Holmgren, co-founder of the Permaculture concept, as reformulated in his book "Permaculture; Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability" (2003) but as stated above other conceptualisations have been developed, as well as assorted permaculture 'truisms'. All these have validity, and all are no more than reminders to help us develop designs that are responsive to the specific situation and which embody the characteristics of ecological systems.

12 Permaculture principles

The information on this page comes from the Permaculture in New Zealand organisation website.

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