Permaculture is an ethical design approach rooted in observation of ecological processes. These processes act as a framework for creating regenerative systems for human material and non-material needs, including food, shelter, and energy, as well as economic, legal, and social structures. Permaculture’s hallmark is the beneficial integration of internal and external elements within a given space for optimal function, production and beauty. Systems designed using the permaculture approach mimic nature in order to minimize waste, maximize efficiencies, and produce abundant yields. Permaculture itself is not a discipline, but rather a design approach based on connecting different disciplines, strategies, and techniques. 

- Permaculture 101: An Introduction to Regenerative Design - PRI board member Matt Frank & Dovetail Partners, Inc., 2015

Permaculture is “the conscious design and maintenance of productive ecosystems that have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” 

- Permaculture: A Designers' Manual - Bill Mollison, 1980  


'Sustainability' in the permaculture context means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

- The Brundtland Commission - United Nations, 1987



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The permaculture ethics serve as the basis for all permaculture design decision-making when developing a given system. 

  1. Care for the Earth (soil, forests, and water)

  2. Care for People (look after self, kin, and community)

  3. Fair Share (limit consumption and reproduction, redistribute surplus)

In his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren writes, "Ethics act as constraints on survival instincts and the other personal and social constructs of self-interest that tend to drive human behaviour in any society. They are culturally evolved mechanisms for more enlightened self-interest, a more inclusive view of who and what constitutes 'us', and a longer-term understanding of good and bad outcomes."



The three permaculture ethics are core to the permaculture design philosophy, while the twelve design principles act as the framework for implementation and systems management.

  1. Observe & Interact

    Practice continuous and reciprocal interaction

  2. Catch & Store Energy

    Use existing natural capital

  3. Obtain a Yield

    Produce abundant natural and social capital and ensure regeneration

  4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback

    Understand positive and negative system feedbacks in order to reduce future system management issues

  5. Use & Value Renewable Resources and Services

    Make use of and value existing, natural, renewable resources and services

  6. Produce No Waste

    Value frugality, and reuse “waste”

  7. Design From Patterns to Details

    Recognize natural patterns and design systems based on them

  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate

    Connections between elements are as important as individual ones

  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions

    Design systems to perform functions at the smallest scale possible; focus on self- reliance, patience and reflection

  10. Use and Value Diversity

    Promote, create and value diversity to ensure design structure, stability, productivity and growth; as well as communal building, learning and cross-cultural growth

  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal

    Utilize edges or interfaces since this is the area where biodiversity thrives

  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

    Adaptability and flexibility are crucial for systemic evolution and transformation


Permaculture incorporates knowledge from many fields of study in its designs and practices, and it can be utilized by and positively impact these fields. These areas of impact can be seen in David Holmgren’s Permaculture Flower. The Permaculture Flower illustrates how the permaculture journey, beginning with the Ethics and Design Principles, moves through the key domains required to create a regenerative culture. Each Permaculture Flower petal depicts areas in which permaculture can be utilized to design regenerative systems. Fields in which permaculture design can be utilized and incorporated include the building, technology, education, health and spiritual wellbeing, finance and economics, land tenure and community governance, and land and nature stewardship sectors. In many instances, permaculture design may be implemented in these sectors through the use of cooperative models of teaching, ownership, and governance. 

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