Permaculture is a holistic philosophy, which aims at creating sustainable cycles, connections and systems using the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The underlying idea is to work with, rather than against the natural forces of ecosystems or communities. For this reason permaculture is always based on an ongoing process of observation and adaptation.
A permaculture approach always begins by observing and understanding how things influence one another, irrespective whether it is about natural ecosystems (where light, air, water, plants and animals interact) or human interaction (where people, structures and processes interact). Once the inter-connections are sufficiently understood, solutions for the problems that arise can be devised, based on the holistic understanding of all relevant elements and their influences. This is called systems thinking.
In systems thinking a system’s behavior is understood to be a result of the structure of its feedback loops. Consequently, root causes are never the result of individual elements, but always understood as the forces arising from particular feedback loops.
The term permaculture was first coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978 in Australia, and was initially mainly focusing on agricultural systems. From there it has evolved into a holistic world-view, with responsibility as its core element: responsibility toward oneself, toward all other beings, and toward the planet as a whole. Permaculture views our planet and all its beings as an interconnected ecosystem that can only function if all its elements are respected and nurtured.
The application of permaculture, both on a small and on a large scale, has proved a functional and practical approach to living, which allows for a sustainable food production and a life in harmony with all beings, while at the same time providing a solution for global problems such as water shortages and the destruction of soils. All actions in a permaculture approach have the underlying ethics earthcare, peoplecare, and fairshare as their triple bottom line: this emphasises the importance of sustainability with regards to interactions with both the natural world and other human beings.
Permaculture as a mindset
It is important to realise that permaculture is not a fixed set of methods, but rather a mind-set that encourages the development and application of practical solutions that are appropriate to a problem or desired outcome in a given location in a certain context at a given time. As Bill Mollison once famously said, “we’re not teaching people how to do things, we’re teaching people how to think about doing things”.
To allow everyone to embark on their own journey in co-creating with the planet and their local surroundings there is no set definition of permaculture. There are, however, a number of design principles, process models, as well as an insurmountable amount of methods and tools that have been developed by Bill Mollison, David Holmgren and many other permaculturists. These comprise what we call the permaculture cosmos, and can be used as guidelines to develop context-specific solutions, grounded in an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the system with which one is working.
This is our personal defintion of permaculture:
Permaculture is a holistic philosophy, which recognises the planet as an interconnected ecosystem with which human beings (along with all other matter, fungi, plants, insects, animals) are inextricably linked. A permaculture design aims at the harmonious integration of all members of the ecosystem into resilient food production systems and socially just environments, fostering symbioses and producing stable economic outcomes. A permaculture designer relies on natural patterns and resources, placing elements to create interconnections allowing for energy efficiency and abundance of yield.
If you would like to find out more about the concept of permaculture, the article What is permaculture? of our Permaculture Series might be a good place to start…