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  • Writer's pictureNoel Williams

Permaculture and Timebanks—A Sustainable Way Forward

Permaculture and Timebank are two seemingly independent systems, each with their own philosophies, principles, practices and goals. The more we look into these systems the more we will see the overlapping of core values. We can see then that both systems are built to accomplish the same goal, a goal of building a better, more inclusive, more sustainable, future for all.

Permaculture is a design science and philosophy that focuses on the sustainability and self-sufficiency of ecosystems in nature. It is a practical system that is made possible through a number of design principles that are all focussed on the 3 fundamental ethics. It is an alternative approach to regenerative agriculture and a leader in the sustainability movement.

Timebanks are systems were a group of members exchange their time for the time of another member. Each member can offer their time and receive credits, which they can then exchange again for the time of another member. It functions as a time-based currency and is an alternative exchange system.

The Basics of Permaculture

Permaculture is a system of design that was first introduced to us by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Both Bill and David were pioneers in the organic agriculture movement, but they took it even further when they found permaculture.

Permaculture gave us a core set of ethics to always keep in mind when making decisions. On top of that, the ethics gave birth to 12 practical principles that we can use in our designs. Originally the design principles were only understood in terms of designing a farm or an ecosystem, but it became clear that these are universal principles of nature that can be implemented in any area of life.

The results are a design (of a farm, an ecosystem, a lifestyle, a community etc.) that is more resilient, more self-sufficient, more harmonious and thus more sustainable. The system is based on the fundamental principles of nature, and it tries to teach how we can design more in line with those principles. This is why we can have forests grow for thousands of years and it will just keep improving over time.

Permaculture Ethics

At the core of permaculture, we have the 3 fundamental ethics. They care for the earth, care for the people, and fair share. Fair share includes setting boundaries for consumption, managing reproduction and reallocating surpluses. These ethics are always looked at holistically so that they can overlap the different areas of life.

These three ethics function as a guideline in our decision making. Any decision that falls outside of their scope, is thus unethical and needs more refinement. For example, when choosing an energy source, we can decide between fossil fuel or solar energy. Burning fossil fuel will create deforestation and pollution, so it is clearly not caring for the earth or the people. Solar energy on the other hand uses a renewable source that does not have any negative consequences making it a more ethical choice. Like this, we can eliminate all the areas that are causing more harm than good and we can replace them with more ethical, more intelligent alternatives.

Care for the Earth

This ethic makes sure that we value and maintain nature. We must live in such a way that we promote nature by increasing biodiversity and strengthening ecosystems. Human beings are an integral part of nature and our very existence depends on the abundance of nature.

Too many (almost all) of our current industries are doing to the polar opposite, they are mindlessly destroying ecosystems and biodiversity. We look at agriculture, mining, general manufacturing, and any other big industry, they are all focussed on maximizing profits at all costs. This results in little to no thought being given to care for the earth. We can clearly see the effects on the planet today, ranging from deforestation, to ecosystem destruction, to pollution, to soil erosion.

To create a more sustainable and abundant world, we need to create inline with nature. By caring for the planet, we create a healthy planet that can care for us in return. In this way caring for the earth can help create a better world for generations to come.

Care for the People

Caring for the people is no less important than caring for the earth. By caring for the people we create communities that are healthy, self-sufficient and sustainable (exactly like a small ecosystem). There is more than enough evidence to show that people who feel cared for are more willing to form a valuable part of the community.

Through alienation, we break down individuals and communities as a whole. When people feel unvalued, they become resentful and the results are ugly. Most of the socio-economic issues we face can be traced back to this. From the high rates of violent crimes, drug addiction, domestic abuse, unemployment, the list goes on.

By caring for the people we not only care for their physical health but also their emotional and psychological health. Any decision that does not promote the holistic health of the people is not ethical and will not help to build a sustainable design.

Fair Share

Fair share is a bit more technical. Originally Bill Mollison formulated it as setting limits to consumption and then managing the reproduction as well as allocating the surpluses.

This brings us to evaluate the amount we need to consume and then placing limits to not take more than we need. By doing this we do not burden the system more than we have to. It is in a sense taking responsibility for ourselves. Managing reproduction is then calculated based on our consumption needs. To sustain ourselves, we need to produce more than we consume. The surplus is what is left over, this we need to return to the system.

By following this ethic, we take responsibility for ourselves and we design our lives to be sustainable. On top of that, we do not only produce for our own consumption, but we create a surplus that can be shared. This way of thinking will always enrich any system that the ethic is applied to.

Permaculture Principles

From the 3 ethics discussed above, the 12 permaculture principles were formulated. These are the practical steps that we can use. As with the ethics, the principles are also universal so they are applicable not only in agriculture but also in other areas of life like communities or lifestyle design. A lot can be said about the 12 principles, but here they are in short.

Observe and interact—by being more interactive and observant we can learn more from past decisions or designs. This gets us into the practice of striving for improvement.

Catch and store energy—learning how to work in harmony with nature is the only true way forward. Catching and storing energy is one of the most important areas of nature.

Obtain a yield—we always want to improve where we can. Obtaining a yield is just a result of a well-designed system.

Apply self-regulation and feedback—as nature always improves upon itself, we also need to keep improving and we can do this with getting feedback.

Use and value renewables—renewables are the only resources that cannot be depleted, so to create a sustainable future we need to use and value renewables.

Produce no waste—waste is only the product of a poorly designed system. A good system only has outputs that can be used as an input in another system. Permaculture systems are closed-loop systems.

Design from patterns to details—keeping the bigger picture in mind will stop us from getting lost in the details.

Integrate don’t segregate—a holistic design integrates as many elements as possible. Seeing the whole world as a single ecosystem will help us to work together.

Use small, slow solutions—making sure that new designs work are a way to minimize negative consequences.

Use and value diversity—diversity creates resilience, we see this in any ecosystem, so valuing diversity is a key principle.

Use edges and value the marginal no space or part goes without a purpose, every small thing counts.

Creatively use and respond to change—a sustainable system is one that recognises the constant of change thus it is a constantly evolving system.

The Basics of Timebanks

Timebanks have been popping up all over the world for the last few decades. The idea of the time dollar was first popularized by economist Edgar Cahn. It was formulated as a time-based economy that can be used to uplift individuals, families, communities and economies.

Timebanks work in the following way, there is a group of people that come together to form a timebank. You can then offer your time to other members in that group in exchange for credits that you can then use to obtain time from other members to help you. It normally works that for 1 hour you earn one credit. So, for example, you can offer your mechanical skills to fix a car for one hour. You then earn 1 credit that you can use to get someone to help you in your garden for 1 hour.

The core of timebanks is that it allows people to offer skills that they are truly passionate about, but perhaps they cannot earn sufficient money in that skill through the normal economy. This can be due to several reasons like lack of resources, lack of formal education, lack of qualifications etc. With a timebank, every person has the opportunity to offer others what they truly want to do. The results this has on an individual and a community alike are incomprehensible. When each member feels valued and cared for, their happiness and sense of purpose skyrockets. This creates entire communities of happy people living meaningful lives.

Timebank Values

Timebanks have developed around several values. These values are what make timebanks as powerful and as meaningful as they are.

We are all assets

The most fundamental of the timebank values is that we are all assets. Each person is a valuable member with unlimited potential to offer. By making each person aware that they are an asset it will inspire them to develop their skills to have more to offer.

This goes against what we see in the world today. Employees are disposable and undervalued by the companies they work for. There is no sense of purpose or meaning, which makes it all feel mundane. It comes as no surprise that this system has led to record numbers of depression and suicide.

Timebanks create a space where there is appreciation and an abundance of resources.

Redefining work

Timebanks redefine work by bringing the work as well as the rewards back into the community. Work is not done for the profits of a big corporation, it does not serve the interest of CEOs and global elites. Work is done for the community by the community. The only interest being served is the interest of the community and all of its members.

Work is not work, work is service to others. The difference being there is purpose and meaning.


As people learn to give to others and receive from others, there is a strong relationship that forms. We can see evidence of this in old communities in the east. In the west, however, we have been isolated and alienated from each other.

Through timebanks, we can bring back the relationships and the cooperation that are the cornerstones of the community.

Social networks

Building a strong social network is a fundamental human need. It is by building social networks that we see more meaning in life as we are not only living for our own selfish needs. We are a part of a human collective, so cooperation is the only way to create a healthy world for all.


Respecting other people in the community is the last value of timebanks. It recognises once again that each person has a place and should be valued for that place. If community members can respect what others are bringing to the community, it will help everyone to feel valued.

Permaculture and Timebank

Through the discussions of both permaculture and timebanks, we can see that some underlying values connect the two systems. Both systems are trying to create the same ideal type of world. That is a world where all the systems are designed to benefit the people and the natural world. Here are some of the fundamental overlaps between permaculture and timebanks.

Everything has a place

Both systems look holistically at the environment and then promote the overall health of that environment. It does not matter if the environment is a community, an ecosystem, a garden or a family. It all consists of different parts that form the whole, and each part is as valuable as another.

Purpose leads to productivity

Both systems are redefining what we understand under productivity. Conventional monoculture farming has done the same thing as big corporate workspaces, they have tried to increase productivity through isolation and force. That has the opposite effect. Only when things are in harmony do we see productivity rise to unseen heights. This is true for healthy gardens as well as for timebanks.

Cooperation over competition

Only through working together can we create a world worthy of our future generations. When we believe that there is not enough to go around, we start competing against each other and we all become resentful. When the system works together, its potential grows exponentially.

Diversity builds resilience

For a system to be sustainable it must be resilient. It must be able to undergo constant change and still have a strong foundation. This is attained through diversity. Bringing in more parts that all support and rely upon each other is what will create a healthy coexistence.

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