Permaculture Principles Explained

Permaculture design principles were originally developed by Bill Mollison in the 1970s. He had been trying to find a way to combine ecological processes with traditional agricultural systems to address environmental problems. Bill’s goal was to reform society’s relationship with its natural world – by making it more self-sufficient, sustainable, and just.

The 12 principles of permaculture for community living are:

  1. Observation and interaction

By observing the land for a year, you’ll see how natural selection changes it. You’ll also see how various aspects of the environment affect it – from rain to sunlight and wind. You may even be able to observe the effects of animals on the land.

We only make changes after observing the adverse effects of land use on the land. Thus, we avoid wasting valuable time and resources on ineffective trial-and-error methods.

  1. Integrate rather than segregate

The principle of connection: each element of the landscape should connect to at least one other. For example, cover crops provide food, prevent erosion, and may be used as compost at the end of their life.

  1. Capture and store energy

Energy flows are becoming faster and more efficient as we use new technologies, but we’re not living sustainably. We can end waste and pollution by catching any renewable or non-renewable energy. We can then create income from this energy.

  1. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

When you make every element in your system as self-reliant as possible, the whole system is more likely to weather outside challenges and continue to work optimally.

  1. Produce no waste

Sustainability can only be achieved if we eliminate waste. Therefore, a permaculture designer’s job is to optimize the use of available resources.

  1. Use and value renewable resources and services

Though the use of some non-renewable materials might not be avoided, the ideal permaculture approach is to utilize sustainable and renewable resources and materials. This includes renewables services from plants, such as the use of a tree for shelter.

  1. Use value and diversity

We recognize polyculture as an effective strategy to reduce our vulnerability to pests and diseases. It employs essential diversity in our ecosystem, with all elements interacting in complex ways.

  1. Design from patterns to details

Through observation and interaction, we can recognize patterns that help us understand how natural systems work. This allows us to mimic natural systems in our own systems.

  1. Get a yield

Permaculture should help us to maximize our productivity, producing a yield that can sustain us. An example of this principle in action is to plant fruit trees for shade – we benefit from the fruit and the shade given.

  1. Use small and slow solutions

You should take your time and roll out permaculture gradually. Start by breaking down the goal into smaller objectives, each with its own design systems that work on a small enough scale to be practical but also energy efficient. 

You can then measure progress and increase your transition to permaculture over time, and in a more controlled and reliable way.

  1. Creatively use and respond to change

Permaculture is a sustainable-agriculture philosophy that emphasizes adaptive design and indeterminacy. Natural processes often aren’t stagnant, so many permaculture designs involve flexibility and responsiveness to changes in the environment.

  1. Use edges and value the marginal

The living soil is only a few centimeters deep. It is the edge of the terrestrial ecosystem. Soil is the interface between non-living mineral earth and the atmosphere, but the living soil is shallow. Ideal conditions for agricultural purposes exist when the soil is deep, well-drained, and well-aerated.

Is permaculture architecture design viable on a larger scale?

The current understanding of these permaculture principles is that they use design techniques to create sustainable human settlements and agricultural systems which are also aesthetically pleasing. Several of these principles also apply to home design. These include waste management, observing nature, and using renewable resources, but they are utilized mostly on small-scale projects.

Many people find the permaculture principles appealing because it can be applied to any setting and it has lots of benefits, such as helping us live in a more sustainable manner and reducing our environmental footprint. The idea is to design our homes with future generations in mind and to use renewable resources that will grow with time.

From the smallest effort – for example, designing a water system that captures rainwater and uses it for your house and garden – to large dwelling modeling, permaculture principles can be incorporated into modern building design and building methods. For example, where do we source building materials from, and how do we renew and sustain that supply?

Looking at building design, we should consider elements that have multiple functions, and support multiple elements within the building domain. As we scale out from there, we start to consider a community/neighborhood approach, considering elements such as:

  • Housing for people

  • Storage of food

  • Transformation of food – the bakehouse with oven, the dairy, the brewhouse, etc.

  • Security for people and the things we value

  • Growing areas

  • Social events – a huge list on its own

  • Rainwater harvesting

  • Education

  • Work

In summary, we live in a society where there is an increasing expectation that our homes should fulfill all our needs. However, in recent decades this expectation has not been delivered in a sustainable fashion. Our homes have consumed huge amounts of land and energy resources in the process of construction, and continue to do so when they are lived in.

The permaculture design principles are created to provide only what is needed at a given time, no more or less. By incorporating this into the design of homes and neighborhoods, could we build a society in which we regenerate what we have depleted and sustain our community and planet more effectively?

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed, and created. To learn more, contact ACB Consulting.

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