based on the Permaculture Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison

The Prime Directive of Permaculture:

  • The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children’s.

Principle of Cooperation:

  • Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of future survival and of existing life systems.

The Ethical Basis of Permaculture:

  • CARE OF THE EARTH: Provision for all life systems to continue and increase.
  • CARE OF PEOPLE: Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence.
  • SETTING LIMITS TO POPULATION AND CON­SUMPTION: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.

Rules of Use of Natural Resources:

  • Reduce waste, hence pollution;
  • Thoroughly replace lost minerals;
  • Do a careful energy accounting; and
  • Make a biosocial impact assessment for long term effects on society, and act to buffer or eliminate any negative impacts.
  • Life Intervention Principle: In chaos lies un­paralleled opportunity for imposing creative order.

Law of Return:

  • Whatever we take, we must return, or
  • Nature demands a return for every gift received, or The user must pay.

Directive of Return:

  • Every object must responsibly provide for its replacement. Society must, as a conditions of use, replace an equal or greater resource than that used.

Set of Ethics on Natural Systems:

  • Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining  natural  forests;
  • Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to a stable state;
  • Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for our existence; and
  • Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species.

The Basic Law of Thermodynamics [as restated by Watt]]:

  • “All energy entering an organism, population or eco­ system can be accounted for as energy which is stored or leaves. Energy can be transferred from one form to another, but it cannot disappear, or be destroyed, or created. No energy conversion system is ever com­pletely efficient.”
  • [As stated by Asimov (1970)]: “The total energy of the universe is constant and the total entropy is increasing.”

Birch’s Six Principles of Natural Systems:

  1. Nothing in nature grows forever. There is a constant cycle of decay and rebirth.
  2. Continuation of life depends on the maintenance of the global bio-geochemical cycles of essential elements, in particular carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus.
  3. The probability of extinction of populations or a species is greatest when the density is very high or very low. Both crowding and too few individuals of a species may reach thresholds of extinction.
  4. The chance that a species has to survive and reproduce is dependent primarily upon one or two key factors in the complex web of relations of the organism to its environment.
  5. Our ability to change the face of the earth increases at a faster rate than our ability to foresee the consequence of change.
  6. Living organisms are not only means but ends. In addition to their instrumental value to humans and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth.

Practical Design Considerations:

  • The systems we construct should last as long as possible, and take least maintenance.
  • These systems, fuelled -by the sun, should produce not only their own needs, but the needs of the people creating or controlling them. Thus, they are sustai­nable, as they sustain both themselves and those who construct them.
  • We can use energy to construct these systems, pro­viding that in their lifetime, they store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them.

Mollisonian Permaculture Principles:

  1. Work with nature, rather than against the natural elements,  forces,  pressures,  processes,  agencies, and evolutions, so that we assist rather than impede natural developments.
  2. The problem is the solution; everything works both ways. It is only how we see things that makes them advantageous or not (if the wind blows cold, let us use both its strength and its coolness to advantage). A corollary of this principle is that everything is a positive resource; it is just up to us to work out how we may use it as such.
  3. Make the  least change for the greatest possible effect.
  4. The yield of a system  is  theoretically  unlimited. The only limit on the number of uses of a resource pos­sible within a system is in the limit of the information and  the imagination of  the designer.
  5. Everything gardens, or has an effect on its environment.

A Policy of Responsibility (to relinquish  power):

  • The role of beneficial  authority  is to  return  function and responsibility to life and to people; if successful, no further authority is needed. The role of  successful design is to create a self-managed system.

Categories of Resources:

  1. Those which increase by modest use.
  2. Those unaffected  by use.
  3. Those which disappear  or degrade  if not  used.
  4. Those reduced by use.
  5. Those which  pollute or destroy  other resources if used.

Policy of Resource Management:

  • A responsible human society bans the use of resources which permanently reduce yields of sustainable resources, e.g. pollutants, persistent poisons, radioactives, large areas of concrete and highways, sewers from city to sea.

Principle of Disorder:

  • Any system or organism can accept only that quantity of a resource which can be  used productively. Any resource  input  beyond  that point throws the system or organism into disorder; oversupply of a resource is a form of chronic pollution.

Definition of System Yield:

  • System yield is the sum total of surplus energy produced by, stored, conserved, reused, or converted by the design. Energy is in surplus once the system itself has available all its needs for growth, reproduction, and maintenance.

The Role of Life in Yield:

  • Living things, including people, are the only effective intervening systems to capture resources on this planet, and to produce a yield. Thus, it is the sum and capacity of life forms which decide total system yield and surplus.

Limits to Yield:

  • Yield is not a fixed sum in any design system. It is the measure of the comprehension, understanding, and ability of the designers and managers of that design.

Dispersal of Food Yield Over Time:

  • By selection of early, mid and  late season varieties.
  • By planting the same variety in early or late­ ripening situations.
  • By selection of long-yielding varieties.
  • By a general increase in diversity in the system, so that:
  • Leaf, fruit, seed and root are all product yields.
  • By using self-storing species such as tubers, hard seeds, fuelwood, or rhizomes which can  be “cropped on demand”.
  • By techniques such as preserving, drying, pitting, and cool storage .
  • By regional trade between communities, or by the utilisation of land at different altitudes or latitudes.

Principle of Cyclic Opportunity:

  • Every cyclic event increases the opportunity  for yield.  To increase cycling is to increase yield.
  • Cycles in nature are diversion routes away from entropic ends-life itself cycles nutrients-giving opportunities for yield, and thus opportunities for species to occupy time niches.

Types of Niches:

  • Niche in space, or “territory” (nest and forage sites).
  • Niche in time (cycles of opportunity).
  • Niche in space-time (schedules)

Principle of Disorder:

  • Order and harmony produce energy for other uses. Disorder consumes energy to no useful end.
  • Neatness, tidiness, uniformity, and straightness signify an energy-maintained disorder in natural systems.

Principle of Stress and Harmony

  • Stress may be defined as either prevention of natural function, or of forced function; and (conversely) harmony as the permission of chosen and natural functions and the supply of essential needs.

Principle of Stability:

  • It is not the number of diverse things in a design that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between these components.

Information as a Resource:

  • Information is the critical potential resource. It becomes a resource ,only when  obtained  and  acted upon.


Waddington, C. H., Tools for Thought, Paladin, UK,1977.