History, Founding & Definition of Permaculture

Permaculture was developed in the 70´s by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, as a response to the environmental, social and economic challenges facing the world: pollution of water, air and soil caused by industrial and agricultural practices, loss of biodiversity, decrease of non-renewable resources, climate change, destructive economic systems, etc. 

Bill and David, working together at the University of Tasmania, looked for ways to create sustainable and regenerative agriculture systems. They merged ancient knowledge and wisdom with contemporary scientific research to present a new concept for sustainable agriculture called "Permaculture." This newly coined word was derived from the concept of “permanent agriculture” which emphasized

“perennial agricultural systems that mimic nature and integrate diverse plants and animals useful to man” (Bill Mollison).


A few years later, the original concept of "permanent agriculture", was expanded to include all aspects of human society as a "permanent culture."  Permaculture has since now spread all over the world, training thousands of people in sustainable living for energy descent. It's future vision according to David Holmgren is one of ‘consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.’ 


Since the scope of application for Permaculture Design is limitless, there are an equally endless list of varying definitions. A simple definition can be: 

Permaculture is an holistic discipline and design methodology that utilizes ecosystems as a model for designing ethical and sustainable human systems, which integrate environmental, social and economic systems.

Now why is this such a powerful idea?  Why should we rely on ecosystems and their patterned habits as a model for design?  Well, ecosystems are simply the most efficient and resilient designs available to us. 

Bill Mollison

David Holmgren

  David Holmgren


Permaculture is ecological design based on ethics & principles


In a few words we see permaculture as "sustainable design of human ecosystems".


In more words, inspired by David Holmgren's writtings: 


Permaculture is a DESIGN discipline that applies ethics and principles to design in order to consciously design human systems (environmental, agricultural, financial, social, etc.) which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature while providing for our human basic needs.


Permaculture Ethics:


  • Care for the earth

  • Care for the people

  • Fair Share (reduce consumption and redistribute surplus)


As designers and creators we must always go back to them and check:


Is this option good for the Planet? Does it care for the people? Is it fair share in the global sense? ~ inspired by Annemarie & Graham Brookman


“Think about this: do soil scientists benefit the earth? Consider chemical fertilizers and pesticides. What would happen if scientists had ethics and not simply research goals?” ~ Rosemary Morrow


For more detail, please see





Permaculture Design Principles:


Permaculture design principles are universally applicable principles derived from the study of both the natural world and pre-industrial sustainable societies. These principles are useful guidelines to design for a sustainable culture. 


Originally there were a set of principles written by Bill Mollison in the books “Introduction to Permaculture”  and “Designers Manual”. They are these:



  • Work with nature rather then against it

  • The problem is the solution

  • make the least change for the greatest effect

  • relative location

  • each element performs multiple functions

  • each important function is supported by many elements

  • efficient zone planning: zone, sector, slope

  • use biological resources

  • cycling of energy/ nutrients/ resources

  • value s mall scale intensive systems

  • accelerating succession and evolution




Later David Holmgren, in his book ‘Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability’, created his own set of 12 principles - each with its symbol (see above). There may be more principles in the future.



  • Observe and Interact             

  • Catch and Store Energy  

  • Obtain a Yield                          

  • Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback                                                           

  • Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services                                              

  • Produce No Waste                                                                                                 

  • Design From Patterns To Details                                                                         

  • Integrate Rather Than Segregate                                                                                

  • Use Small and Slow Solutions                                                                          

  • Use and Value Diversity                                                                                        

  • Use Edges and Value The Marginal                                                                       

  • Creatively Use and Respond To Change   


In conclusion, in permaculture design we use ecological principles as guidelines for design and ethics as foundations for decision making. 

"each element performs multiple functions"font: Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison

permaculture ethics font: http://permacultureprinciples.com

ethics (center) + design priciples (around)

font: http://permacultureprinciples.com


Permaculture offers a "Tool Kit" for sustainable living




Permaculture identifies several key domains that require transformation to create a sustainable culture. These are represented in the permaculture flower petals.




For each of the 7 key domains permaculture suggests various strategies and techniques from several existing disciplines. The options listed aren't the only right options, but they are good alternatives to some of the current unsustainable and unethical practices. 


The key domains, disciplines, strategies and techniques offered in the "Tool Kit" aren’t new but the way they were put together as an "wholistic framework" is innovative to permaculture and extremely handy in providing a set of sustainable options for everyone to redesign their lives.


"The foundations of permaculture are the ethics (center) which guide the use of the 12 design principles, ensuring that they are used in appropriate ways.


These principles are seen as universal, although the strategies and techniques used to express them will vary greatly according to the place and situation. They are applicable to our personal, economic, social and political reorganization as illustrated in the permaculture flower.


Each principle can be thought of as a door that opens into whole systems thinking, providing a different perspective that can be understood at varying levels of depth and application." - in Permaulture Principles website