Image courtesy of Glacial Lakes Permaculture


When it comes to defining permaculture, there seem to be as many definitions as there are people practicing.  Having  said that, let’s pick some of my favourite ways of summing it all up.

Here we have the guy who coined the term permaculture, Bill Mollison.

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.

-Bill Mollison

Nicely said there by Bill.  I have also heard him say it is better to put in 100 hours of planning and one hour of work than it is to put in one hour of planning and 100 hours of work.  How true indeed.

Another way of looking at it comes from my permaculture design course (PDC) teacher and protégé of Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton.

Geoff would define permaculture as ‘a design system that supplies all our needs while giving us a sustainable outcome.’  Not bad, but now we have to go and define sustainable, because this has become a buzz word in the media and totally lost its meaning.

Geoff would define sustainability as an energy audit.  It comes down to defining the energy in to the energy out and a positive result in that relationship.  So a sustainable system produces more energy than it consumes, that there is enough in surplus to maintain and replace that system over its lifetime.  This would be the minimum requirement for a sustainable system.

This can only be achieved by linking to living systems, because only through capturing the suns energy through ecosystems can you get that surplus return; only through life systems can you get self cycling elements and elements that become more and more abundant.  These systems can then evolve them selves and become self refining.  So with a good energy audit of a system we can supply all our needs and benefit the environment at the same time.

Some good stuff there, but Paul Wheaton would define sustainable as ‘barely not dead’.  I think this definition is very appropriate in light of its use these days by the media and others jumping on the sustainability band-wagon.  Therefore I would like to use a more appropriate(?) descriptive word in place of sustainable when talking about permaculture system, like regenerative.  Permaculture systems don’t just barely keep things alive, they regenerate them.

But to sum it all up in a few words, Paul Wheaton would define permaculture as ‘a more symbiotic relationship with nature so I can be even lazier’.

I think this sums it up very nicely in that if you design a system with protracted and thoughtful observation using living systems which produce more energy than they consume, you can sit back, watch your system evolve and refine itself, all the while reaping the benefits.

I think I will leave it at that for now and later we can dive more into the ethics, principles and philosophies of permaculture.