Permaculture: sustainability as a way of life


If nature can sustain itself, why fight against its teachings? The permaculture proposes an approach to what we know already works on natural ecosystems and apply them in our own social and agricultural ecosystems.

Do you wonder what this is? In this little beginner’s guide to permaculture we clarify the basics for you.


What is permaculture?

Although the basis of permaculture is in organic farming , the truth is that this way of life, philosophy or vision goes much further. It affects community relations, architecture, the economy, production processes, resource management and renewable energies, among others.

In reality, it can be said that it deals with all aspects of life, but applied and thought through the filter of sustainability.

So what is permaculture? The best definition of permaculture comes from its own founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is the philosophy of:


Work with nature, on its behalf and with its support

Observe and ponder the actions before starting them

Understand plants and animals, their position in the ecosystem and their interrelationships


And all that, ultimately, is expressed in a holistic and sustainable system in which all parts matter and have a function. The benefit must be mutual and the impact minimal or even non-existent.

And in what way should all this be done?

According to this philosophy, imitating what nature has done for billions of years. Their interrelationships, their forms, their criteria… all this has worked perfectly long before we arrived. Does it make sense to contradict him?

Permaculture says no. That the human habitat must follow a conscious ecological design . And this is how clean food and energy are obtained without harming the environment.


The 3 ethical principles of permaculture

As you can see, the definition of permaculture seems a bit generic. It can be many things at once because, in reality, it is not a closed concept.

Practice it as you practice it, whatever your concept and your way of life in it, it should meet three ethical principles to be considered permaculture.

This philosophy is based on:


  • Take care of the earth

Water, soil and forests are the sustenance of life. If we lack this, we lack, in the end, everything.

We must take care of the earth so that it can take care of us. How? With an ecological and responsible life in all its facets.


  • Take care of people

We are social, empathic, community creatures. We live in families, neighborhoods, groups. We must take care of each other and that does not only refer to the obvious affection and care between family and friends.

It also implies responsible consumption , supporting the local economy and taking care of everyone’s needs.


  • Fair share

You have to act thinking about present and future needs. Not only those of humans, but also those of the rest of the species.

No one should take more than they need, resources should be used in a rational way and ensure the reuse, recovery and recycling of waste.


Do you have all that in mind? So, you are taking your first steps in permaculture.


permaculture children

How to practice the principles of permaculture at home?

Look at the three ethical principles above. Do you think they limit your commitment in any way? Conscious and responsible life can be both urban and rural, on a farm or in an apartment.

We can all practice permaculture.

Although, of course, there are levels.

You can improve your life with a small urban garden , or you can go further with a self-sufficient farm.

It is not the same to put solar panels at home, to do that and, also, to live in a bio-construction.

But what matters is that you start and make an ecological design of your life and your habitat, incorporating more and more elements of sustainability that take care of the earth and people with a view to meeting the needs of everyone, today and tomorrow.


For example:

  • Consume healthy , sustainably sourced products wisely
  • Reduce the amount of waste you generate
  • Avoid single-use plastics
  • Make a responsible consumption of energy and water
  • Can you have a sustainable energy source? Do not hesitate
  • Reuse whenever you can and, when not possible, recycle
  • Grow at home, be it in pots, terrace, garden or a farm
  • Be interested, collaborate and take care of your family, friends and neighbors
  • Be part of the community
  • Use public transport and share private transport
  • Value life and observe it with respect and surprise
  • Live without rush


None of that sounds new to you, right?

But what if you want to go further?

So, you will have to apply more and more sustainable functions to the equation. That is done with eco-design .

Design in permaculture

The actions mentioned are essential for a greener life. But permaculture, in reality, is not only about making changes, but about planning them, designing them.

Permaculture is a form of eco-design . A plan, a method. As such, it must be considered and built from each specific case, always considering the three ethical principles.

For example, if you want to practice permaculture on a rural farm, then you will have to take into account the geological, climatic, water and soil circumstances, as well as the relationships of the garden ecosystem, cultivation methods, bio-construction , management of water and waste …

Everything has its role and an action plan must be designed. You may not have a farm, but your home performances should also work according to an eco-friendly design.

Therefore, permaculture can be a very complex discipline , since you have to think about what elements to introduce and eliminate, how they are related to each other and what consequences they may have.

In addition, ecosystems are not made of stone or watertight, they evolve. So the design should change with them as time goes on. The practice of permaculture is conscious and you must always be attentive to new information.

It seems complex, right? Both nature and human relationships are. To make it easier, Holmgren, one of the founders of this movement, developed twelve design principles .


permaculture design


The Twelve Principles of Permaculture Design

These principles guide us when creating an ecological design or action plan in the practice of permaculture.

They will help you see where you are and how to act to improve the sustainability of your way of life.


1. Observe and interact

Don’t be in a rush to design. First, observe and learn the complexity of nature.

2. Captures and stores energy

Non-renewable resources must be conserved and their use limited. Find ways to do it.

3. Get a return

You must be able to cover your needs today, but always looking to cover those of the future.

4. Self-regulation and feedback

Understand the operation of these two principles of nature and learn to apply and take advantage of them.

5. Use and value natural resources well

Reduce consumerism and material dependency.

6. Do not produce waste

Reuse and reinstate. Stop using what is polluting.

7. Design by looking at the patterns and then look at the details

Nature follows great patterns or systems. Understand and apply them as axes of your design. Let the little details play out on those axles.

8. Integrate, don’t segregate

In nature everything is integrated and interrelated. Do not eject elements: introduce them into the system so that they interact in the whole.

9. Use slow and small solutions

They are more manageable, controllable and efficient than large systems.

10. Value and use diversity

The unique and lonely is more fragile than the diverse and interrelated.

11. Evaluate and use what is on the edge

The “central” is stable and poorer. The “edges” are dynamic and rich. For example, the junction of land and water on a riverbank.

12. Use and respond to change creatively

Ecosystems change, take the opportunity to introduce elements in a creative and new way, more enriching.


Do you wonder how all this is put into practice? Each situation has its methods and systems. In this interesting report you can see the practical example carried out at the Montsant Permaculture Institute:


Think about your eco design

Permaculture is sustainability. It is living thinking about today and tomorrow, without hurting anyone or nature. You can do that from now on, applying small changes in your life progressively.

How to improve the effectiveness of your engagement? How to have a more conscious and healthy life? With a plan. Observe your life, see from what position you start and what path you must follow. Think, meditate and create your eco-friendly design.


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