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  • Writer's pictureNoel Williams

How The 12 Permaculture Principles Care for Earth and People

Humanities’ current culture has proven to have some serious issues. We are having problems so serious that they threaten our very existence. Some of the biggest problems include the environmental crisis, extreme poverty, limited access to clean water, pollution and soil erosion to name a few.

Permaculture aims to solve these problems by showing us a way to live that is not only sustainable but also beneficial to people, animals and the earth. The word permaculture was coined to refer to permanent agriculture, a system that can be practised forever while continuously improving itself.

The basis of permaculture of build on the three fundamental ethics, namely care for the people, care for the earth and fair share (which also includes returning surplus into the system). With these ethics at its heart, the 12 permaculture principles were formed to give a practical plan for how we can act to preserve the world for future generations. This does not only apply to the growing of food but also human relationships, earthworks, water systems, food preservation and any area of life.

The 12 Permaculture Principles

The 12 principles were first put forward by David Holmgren, the Australian permaculturist. The principles act as the practical roadmap that gives us the solutions to our unsustainable culture.

Observe and Interact

The first principle instils in us that we are always students who always have something to learn. By being observant we can see the things we have not previously seen. We can use our newly found knowledge to interact more holistically.

Not only in nature but also from other people or any situation really, we can always understand it better and learn from it when we observe is first.

When building sustainable systems, we want to observe how they work and interact with it so that it is always improving.

Catch and Store Energy

Catching energy when it is available and storing it to use in the future is the second principle. Energy is always available on this planet, and it comes in many forms. Systems that optimize the intake and the storage of as much energy as possible will naturally become a richer system.

Most commonly this can be to grow food so that we catch the energy from the sun and then store it in the plant. When we then eat the fruits, we will intake all the energy it was storing.

Obtain a Yield

Obtaining a yield is the principle that leads us to build productive systems that offer us a yield. This can be to design our gardens in such a way that we get enough food to feed ourselves and even extra to share with others. A good system should always give a positive yield.

Obtaining a yield can also be no obtain something less tangible like getting joy out of a system. Or getting a lifestyle that you desire.

Apply Self-Regulation and Feedback

For a design to be successful it has to be constantly evaluated. Giving yourself feedback is the best way to see where you have gone right or where you have gone wrong. Self-regulating will also put us in better touch with the results of or actions.

Use and Value Renewables

One of the most obvious ways to create a sustainable way of life is to move to renewable energy sources. Renewables can be used without depletion which makes a system that runs off them sustainably. This is in contrast to fossil fuels which we can use faster than it can regenerate.

Renewable energy is generated from sun, wind or water and can be used to power our homes, grow our gardens and anything else you might need.

Produce No Waste

A very important principle that teaches us to live a waste-free life. Where there is waste, there is a faulty system. A good system will never have waste because everything is used again or used for a different purpose.

A great example here is that instead of food scraps going into the bin, it can be composted and used in the gardens to grow more food.

Design from Patterns to Details

A great way to help us think and design more holistically. By designing from patterns to details we begin with the big picture and work out the details as we go. Otherwise, it can be easy to get stuck in the details which give us a poorly formulated design overall.

It is also a good way to keep things moving. When we stagnate our inspiration and creativity is lost.

Integrate Don’t Segregate

Most of the worlds’ food gets produced in big monoculture systems. These systems grow a single crop over huge areas, making the perfect example of how we segregated. Now we are seeing all the issues with these systems.

Both plants and people function better in communities so we should always integrate as much as possible. This idea flows through into the bigger scale where all people have to work together to create a more sustainable future.

Use Small, Slow Solutions

This principle teaches us that we should always crawl before we walk. By taking things too fast we can easily get overwhelmed and fail even before we started.

By using small and slow solutions we test things out before we invest in it. This way we get to see if something will work on a small scale before going bigger. It gives us the confidence to try things because we know if it fails it will not be huge consequences.

Use and Value Diversity

We can look at ecosystems to see that diversity creates healthy systems. When things become too isolated the system falls apart. This is the same for ecosystems in nature, plants in our gardens, or for people in a community.

Too often people are scared of what is different, but it is only through diversity that we can all come together to create a better world.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal

Permaculture shows us a way in which nothing is wasted and this principle showcases that by guiding us to make use of everything at our disposal. Resourcefulness is the name of the game.

This principle can be seen in gardens where we can turn unused spaces into productive spaces. It can also be seen as using your time in a way that makes use of every spare moment.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change

One thing we can never run from is change. The change will always be there and we will have to deal with it. Permaculture wants us to deal with change in a creative way. It should not be seen as something to fear, but rather something to use to improve our designs.

Change comes from many different directions; the easiest example would be the seasons changing. We would have to adapt to the changing seasons to make sure we get the most out of each. On the other hand, we would need to be prepared for the worst.

Connection to TimeBank Principles

The permaculture principles have a strong connection to the TimeBank principles. Both of these views highly value the input of each part as well as the functioning of the bigger community. Both have a holistic approach to productivity, meaning and co-relations.

The three permaculture ethics for the basis of the permaculture principles and they can also be seen as a centre to the time bank principles. As mentioned above, the three ethics are care for the earth, care for the people and fair share. You can see these similarities in our blog relating to Time Banking definitions.

We are all Assets

This principle states that every person is valuable and has something to contribute to the bigger community. This relates to the permaculture principle where the whole system valued and no part is better than another. Only in the harmony of all the parts is the whole made strong.

Redefining Work

This time bank principle aims to redefine the way we view work. It rewards all different types of work equally including work that would normally be unpaid or unvalued work. Similarly to permaculture is recognizes that every small input ads up to create the bigger system.


Through reciprocity, everyone is benefited by building strong personal relationships as well as a strong community ethic. Through integration, there is strength and durability in a system.

Social Networks

The time back principles put a lot of value to social networks. By becoming a valuable part of a social network, it enriches life and gives it more meaning. You do not only live for yourself but also the community at large.


This principle was later added. It brings respect to the centre of a well-functioning community. If respect is maintained then the community has a better chance to stay healthy even despite the differences that will come.

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