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a. What is Permaculture?


Permaculture is a design science, based in observation, which integrates all human activities in a holistic system based on natural patterns and ecology.  

In a word, 
Permaculture = Relationship.

Penny Livingston

Utopia, Science, Practice and Movement

It's interesting to consider and describe what is permaculture and how it has advanced, in these times of economic, energetic and climate crisis, because far from being a type of agriculture (as it is often classified), permaculture is something dynamic and in constant flux and change that now covers all areas of human knowledge, focused on creating sustainable human societies: that is, crisis-proof.

In this short introduction we'll give an overview of the heart, mind, hands and legs of this creature.


Permaculture is above all a vision, a utopia ("for walking")* described in the word itself, perma-culture: term invented in the late 60s which means permanent culture, or sustainable culture.

The ultimate aim of PermaCulture is to create self-sufficient dynamic systems in the longer-term, that are ecologically sustainable, economically viable, that satisfy all needs and don't pollute or contaminate.

This ideal is also expressed in the ethics, which are explicit and are summarised as "Care of People", "Care of Earth" and "Design Limits to Population and Consumption".

The brilliant Uruguaian writer Galeano is often quoted in Spanish for this saying about Utopia: 

"She is on the horizon.  

I walk towards her two steps, 

she moves further away two steps.  

I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away.  

As much as I would walk, I will never reach her.  

What are utopias for?  

That is what they are for: 

for walking."


“... yet evil remains,
& while it hides in the secret places of the heart,
utopia is only the shadow of a dream”

N. Hawthorne

We already know what happens with many utopias and for this reason PermaCulture is also a very practical science, in the sense that it seeks to figure out how the laws of Nature work (including human nature) and imitate them, or at least synergise them & apply them in designing society: native ecosystems in particular are masterpieces of sustainable design.    Especially it has always sought to unify all that is useful in any of the sciences and so became possibly the first ever truly holistic science, which is in constant evolution.

The australians Mollison and Holmgren* gave the name and a very practical shape to these ideals, creating a design language that facilitated it's rapid adoption in the whole world.   As a science it is based in observation and experimentation, including from all other fields of human endevour: there are no dogmas, all has to be checked out with experience.

* Building on the work of brilliant systems scientists Dana Meadows and Howard Odum amongst others. 


Once figured out that the basic principles, models and design techniques worked very well (by helping put into motion many farms, organisations and businesses), the founders started to teach others how to create sustainable systems, publishing various books although primarily through demonstration and orally, encouraging their students to do the same. 

In Spain the Iberian Permaculture Network was woven and from this Node of the Permaculture Academy we have created a complete training programme that includes online and live courses.   As a very fertile evolving branch of the Academy we are now pioneering with Integral Permaculture, another step in synthesis of the best that is emergent and practically applicable now, to co-creating vibrant systems that are in tune with and foster evolution.

The Integral Permaculture Online Manual is a bilingual project under construction & an extensive e-book showcasing the extent & depth of this science, from which anyone can study for free.
It is also the supporting information resource for a most ambitious international training event, the PDC +++

At global level there is a Chaordic Permaculture Institute under construction which compiles the profiles of pioneers and practicing permaculture designers in order to facilitate collaboration and with access to current examples & experiments.


& Legs

Permaculture is also a great and dynamic movement, diverse and extensive.  There are permaculture designers working in all sectors of society, at all levels and furthering the practice in every growing 'tip' imaginable of the science of sustainable systems.

As well as international conferences there are regional meetings on five continents, from 1985.

Its most modern, concrete and holistic version in the west is expressed nowadays as the Transition Movement, a network of citizen initiatives started in 2005 from the students of a permaculture course, which combines good design to create crisis-proof communities (climate, economic and energetic crisis) with a good design for real "grassroots" participation, which is now 'going viral' and expanding rapidly all over the world as probably the most practical, coherent and hopeful answer to the most urgent planetary problem today, climate change.

There are also very many equally brilliant yet very different pioneering projects in most continents, working at all levels, from providing basic food, shelter & empowerment to disaster or war-struck zones - in ways that empower people to organise themselves, not to be dependant on externals - to regenerating destroyed ecosystems, improving the quality of life and local economies for millions of people whilst creating living and evolving examples of rational, adaptive sustainable design.    

As permaculture only provides the sustainability framework, basic design language and deep understanding of complex systems, every project, if well designed, is unique when perfectly adapted to the local situation, needs, resources and culture.

In uncertain times it's comforting to remember that 

"The best way to predict your future

... it so create it". 


Stefania Strega Scoz

Permaculture Diplomat & 

Coordinator of Nodo Espiral


The PermaCulture e-Book


This is an ambitious, bilingual & freely accessible  manual in Integral Permaculture which we started in April 2011 & is evolving slowly chapter by chapter as the Integral Permaculture online Courses course progress.  It will be a work in progress for a few years & then updated as we find better materials & delete things we've found don't work so well.

It is a project started by The Integral Permaculture Academy (previously called NodoEspiral) in 2007 with a pilot Spanish version: circulosdestudio.pbworks.com (called StudyCircles because the idea is that anyone can set up free study circles in permaculture design with these materials, should they wish).

Other definitions

Sustainability or "Harvest only Sunshine"

“Design is the connexion between things.

It is not the water, the chicken or the tree.

It is how the water, chicken and tree are connected.

It is the opposite of what they teach you in school.

Education looks at each thing separately, ignoring the connexions between them.

Permaculture makes the connexions ...

... because when you have the connections you can feed the chicken with the tree.”

Bill Mollison 

Permaculture is a design science,

based in observation,

which integrates all human activities in a holistic system

based on natural patterns and ecology. 

In a word

Permaculture = Relationship.

Penny Livingston

Permaculture is ...

a way of achieving sustainability

(energetically, ecologically, economically & socially) 

for the planet. 

It is a design system

for the creation of sustainable human environments.

Permaculture is a way of life which teaches us how to generate the maximum resource by reducing our waste and maximising our potential.   
To live respecting the environment does not mean to leave it alone but to "re-learn" the value of nature and discover new ways of being rich ..
A conscious design of a life that is highly productive and does not cause environmental damage ... 
To meet our basic needs including leaving the planet more fertile than we found it.

Graham Bell, The Permaculture Way -

"Permaculture integrates people  

in Nature's design. 

A Permaculture design

gives us refuge, food, water,

income, community & spiritual fullfillment

& aesthetics inside a healthy & balanced

biological community."

Dan Hemenway -

Permaculture is joined-up thinking

by and for Everyone (meaning all species), 

and also a meta-language of design.


Links & Resources

You can find many here
in the Integral Permaculture
Designers' Manual