Daniel Catalaa


Ethical Design System

Diagram of Permaculture ethics and design principles
Diagram of Permaculture ethics and design principles

Permaculture is an ecological design science used to create sustainable human settlements. The word itself is a portmanteau of [ permanent + agriculture ] or [ permanent + culture ]. It is based on 3 ethical principles:

  • Earth Care
  • People Care
  • Fair Share

Earth Care means that the design adopted should restore and care for nature. People Care means that the design needs to meet the need of the people involved, e.g. healthy water and food, shelter, medicine, sense of community, income, leisure time, etc. Fair Share is the more controversial of the three ethical principles. Some say that you give your surplus to others who may need it, while others say that the surplus is re-invested into the system that was created (i.e. your own homestead, farm, or food garden).

Design Principles

Permaculture site plan
Permaculture design for a back yard

There are numerous design principles that underpin Permaculture. One of the more fundamental ones is observation. The natural environment is observed and patterns are discerned, then those patterns are replicated in the site design. Here is a list of the 12 design principles used in Permaculture:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
    Permaculture design implementation work
    Implementation of a Permaculture design
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
    Permaculture design implementation work
    Implementation of a Permaculture design
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Design Manual

Bill Mollison - Permaculture design manual, book cover
Permaculture Manual (download PDF)

Traditional science offers many promising technologies and ideas such as solar power, water conserving appliances, and automated irrigation timers; however, each of these only offer a partial solution to environmental issues. Permaculture uses a holistic perspective hence provides a larger framework to connect all these isolated strategies into one coherent whole. Bill Mollison, one of the founders of Permaculture, regrouped in a single manual (600 pages, 86 Megabytes) many time-tested methods of creating human settlements that are sustainable, abundant, and in harmony with the environment.

If you are curious to see how I have applied these ideas and principles in a practical way, have a look at the urban ecology experiments I have been doing.