From EcoliseWiki

The permaculture movement applies and develops the theory and practice of permaculture, a design system for sustainable and resilient human habitats created in Australia in the 1970s and since adopted by practitioners in most countries in the world.

Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.

Definition and Scope

Permaculture is a design methodology for sustainable human habitats that takes inspiration from ways in which natural systems self-organize for resilience and productivity.[1][2][3] It was originally conceived in the 1970s by Australian field ecologists David Holmgren and Bill Mollison as a contraction of the term 'permanent agriculture'.[4][5] Its scope of common usage later expanded to encompass the full range of factors affecting the ecology of human settlement, economy and culture, and is now more commonly considered shorthand for 'permanent culture'.

Permaculture’s basic philosophy is one of working with rather than against nature, designing human habitats and organisations in ways that deliberately seek to emulate features that contribute to resilience, sustainability and productivity in natural systems. It thus has much in common with other approaches that take inspiration from nature in the conscious design of human systems, including biomimicry,[6] ecological engineering,[7] and adaptive management (which in turn has many features in common with indigenous and traditional environmental management systems).[8] Perhaps the most important difference from these is that permaculture is explicitly ethically rooted, locating itself at the intersection of three mutually interdependent ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares.

In its contemporary usage, the term ‘permaculture’ encompasses four distinct yet interrelated meanings[9]:

  • A design methodology
  • A bundle of methods and techniques
  • A social movement
  • A social philosophy.

As a social philosophy, it is rooted in its three core ethics and rests on the proposition that appropriate goals for social change lie at the intersection of these ethics. As a design methodology, it seeks to apply lessons derived from careful ongoing observation of natural systems in the deliberate design of human organizations (material and/or abstract) that simultaneously fulfill the three ethics in sustainable ways. As a social movement, permaculture comprises a global community of dedicated social change practitioners, united by commitment to its social philosophy along with knowledge and application of its design approach and associated bundles of tools and techniques.

Applications of Permaculture

Permaculture has applications in a wide range of fields, both social and technical.[10] It was the original basis of the Transition movement[11] and remains a pervasive influence on Transition methodology.[12] It is also a key tool and methodology in ecovillages.

Origin and Diffusion of Permaculture

Permaculture originated in the work of Australian field ecologists David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the 1970s, with the publication of the books Permaculture One[13] and Permaculture Two[14], and since spread largely through the medium of popular education. Mollison travelled the world teaching and lecturing, issuing qualifications to those attending his courses and so creating networks of recognised permaculture designers and teachers in Australia and several other countries. The first International Permaculture Convergence, in Australia in 1984, formalised this procedure somewhat, adopting the design certificate as a basic qualification and diploma as a more advanced title[15]. This two-tier system has been widely adopted by national associations, many of whom issue certificates and keep registers of recognised teachers and holders of design certificates and diplomas. Elsewhere, particularly when adopted by existing farmers in traditional smallholder-dominated local and regional economies, permaculture has spread through far more informal and aformal processes of peer-to-peer learning among farmers. In such cases, which include networks in Nepal, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Guatemala and elsewhere, the number of active practitioners far exceeds those having taken a course or been awarded a qualification. Among educated and relatively affluent populations in particular, the written work of Mollison and others, along with magazines and internet articles and videos, are important diffusion media and form some people's first exposure to permaculture thinking.

Michel Thill suggests five reasons why Permaculture has become a global movement:[16]

  • Permaculture responds to a need of the time
  • Permaculture was made openly accessible
  • Permaculture is highly practical
  • Permaculture applies appropriate technology and common sense
  • Permaculture embraces change and new ideas

Permaculture and Research

Permaculture is a naturally experimental endeavor, in ways which imply close potential relationships with formal research. Its interventions at all levels are exploratory: each specific instance of design is unique. Even when it involves familiar techniques, these are applied in context-specific ways and combinations. Accordingly, permaculture design builds in ongoing processes of self-evaluation and re-adjustment, often modeled on the action learning cycle of intervention, observation, reflection and planning. Each application of permaculture can therefore be considered an exercise, however informal and small scale, in action research[17].

The affinity with formal research processes has been pointed out in Environmental Anthropology, a field with strong traditions of applied and engaged research, with Holmgren's permaculture principles providing a conceptual link [18][19]. However, a combination of widespread distrust towards the academy among permaculture practitioners, and permaculture's limited visibility, understanding and/or credibility among academics have largely isolated it from formal research for most of its history [20].

Efforts led by the British Permaculture Association, roughly over the past decade, have sought to strengthen and develop this link, both by encouraging better documentation and reporting by permaculture practitioners and by engaging professional researchers more closely with permaculture practice [21]. Among other things, this work has led to creation of the Permaculture International Research Network involving several hundred researchers, practitioners, practitioner-researchers and researcher-practitioners in over 60 countries worldwide. These developments have been presented as emergence of a new feature of the permaculture movement: the capacity to undertake its own documentation, reporting and critical self-analysis [22].


  1. Mollison, B. & R. M. Slay, 1988. Permaculture. A Designer’s Manual. Tyalgum: Tagari.
  2. Morrow, R., 2006. An Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. Second Edition. East Meon: Permanent Publications.
  3. Aranya, 2012. Permaculture Design. A step-by-step guide. East Meon: Permanent Publications.
  4. Mollison, B. & D. Holmgren, 1982 (1978). Permaculture One. A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. Tyalgum: Tagari.
  5. Mollison. B., 1979. Permaculture Two. Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture. Tyalgum: Tagari.
  6. Benyus, J., 1997. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. New York: William Morrow.
  7. Rosemund, A.D., and C.B. Anderson. 2003. Engineering role models: do non-human species have the answers? Ecological Engineering 20: 379-387.
  8. Berkes, F., J. Colding, and C. Folke, 2000. Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological Applications 10(5): 1251-1262.
  9. Ferguson, R. S. and S. T. Lovell, 2014. Permaculture for agroecology: design, movement, practice, and worldview. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 34(2): 251-274.
  10. Henfrey, T. and G. Penha-Lopes, 2015. Permaculture and Climate Change Adaptation. East Meon: Permanent Publications.
  11. Hopkins, R. (ed.), 2005. Kinsale 2021: An Energy Descent Action Plan
  12. Taylor Aiken, G., 2017. Permaculture and the social design of nature. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography: 1-20.
  13. Mollison, B. & D. Holmgren, 1978. Permaculture One. A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. Tyalgum: Tagari.
  14. Mollison. B., 1979. Permaculture Two. Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture. Tyalgum: Tagari.
  15. Francis, R. (2015). A Permaculture Oddysey: 1977 to present. Presentation to IPC-12, London, September 2015.
  16. Accessed October 8th 2018.
  17. Chapman, P., R. Sinfield and C. Warburton-Brown (eds.), 2014. The Permaculture Research Handbook Leeds: Permaculture Association.
  18. Veteto, J.R. and J. Lockyer, 2008. Environmental anthropology engaging permaculture: moving theory and practice toward sustainability. Culture & Agriculture 30(1‐2): 47-58.
  19. Lockyer, J. and J. Veteto (eds.), 2013. Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  20. Scott, R., 2010. A Critical Review of Permaculture in the United States.
  22. Sears, E., C. Warburton-Brown, T. Remiarz and R. S. Ferguson, 2013. A social learning organisation evolves a research capability in order to study itself. Poster presentation at the Tyndall Centre Radical Emissions Reduction Conference, London, UK, 10th – 11th December 2013