Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual




Section 1.2 –

Ethics in Permaculture Design


The core Ethic of Permaculture Design is, as so many things are, laughably simple and yet thought-provoking.


There are three parts to this ethic, but to fully appreciate the scope and scale this ethic incorporates, let’s look at each individually.


Care For The Earth:


Without a thriving planet, we as a species have nowhere to go. Therefore, caring for the earth is the primary directive of Permaculture.

Given the destruction we’ve wrought on our environment and our planet, it is no longer enough to simply replace what we take. We need to be proactive about developing technologies and regenerative practices that don’t simply heal the world, but enhance it while meeting our current needs through abundant yields – remember, we’re very much talking about maintaining.

Ultimately, we must stand up and assume a guardianship role on our planet in which our every interaction with our world is governed by what is best for the entire body as a whole.

A fascinating thing happens when we recognize and take our rightful place as stewards – we come into
right relationship with our lives by taking our rightful place and answering the endless questions human
beings have been asking for hundreds of years about the meaning of our lives.

The meaning is simple – we are the designers, and when we design in smart ways, we thrive by helping everything around us thrive. By coming into right relationship with the world, we find inner peace, meaning and a clear pathway towards leading profoundly fulfilled lives.

Human beings were meant to thrive in abundance, and our world very much needs us to take our place as stewards facilitating the natural state of extraordinary abundance.


Care For People:


Permaculture is somewhat radical as an environmental philosophy in that it puts the care of the people front and center as one of the three primary design ethics. As a whole-systems life philosophy (yes, it is very much a profoundly interconnected philosophy of living), Permaculture recognizes that human beings very much have a critical role to play on this planet, and when human beings thrive, the planet will thrive with us.

Human beings have ascended through millions of years of evolution to become the dominant species on the planet. As we have done so, we have branched out and populated the world to the edge of disaster, and it is clear that we’re at a turning point where we mature to seek to design intelligent systems for everything to thrive, and the only way we can do that is by focusing on healing ourselves first and
foremost – emotionally and physically.


Return of Surplus:


While radical on its face, the third ethic of Permaculture actually makes perfect sense when considered in the context of designing systems for incredible abundance and maximize our yields (profits) at the same time. By setting up ourselves to share the surplus throughout the system, we are seeking to design incredibly resilient systems.

A good way of looking at this is like this: growing sufficient food to keep one’s own family and neighbors in good health is admirable; however, it must never be forgotten that one hard winter or late or an early frost can easily undo much if not all of one’s hard work.


For this reason, even as we design for extraordinary abundance, we seek to create resilient systems that are based in relationships that ensure that when we do experience a shortage, we will have access to surplus from our larger community.

Permaculture is fundamentally a philosophy of bringing all the elements into right relationship, and social Permaculture is absolutely critical to regenerative sustainability.

Everyone’s been in a hard spot at some time or another and needed a hand to get out of it. This ethic acknowledges that although people in one area may be enjoying record-shattering yields from their
food supplies, others not that far away may not be so fortunate.

Therefore, it is desirable that where there is a surplus of food, that surplus should be shared with those who were not so fortunate in their own harvest, not because it’s a nice thing to do but because we’re all part of the same world and our own resiliency the next year may well depend on the today’s less fortunate neighbors.

This comes back to caring for people, as discussed above, as well as our world by creating resiliency through a right relationship with the larger community.

The entire Permaculture ethic, when put together, is  “Care for the Earth; Care for People; Return the Surplus.”

This forms a cyclic ethos which emphasizes the earth above all, human beings in a stewardship role, and that our activities upon the earth and with one another directly help the world thrive, rather than harm it.

In this way, we can help assure a world that we can bequeath to our children and grandchildren with pride, rather than with embarrassment.

By designing our way of life to be inherently regenerative, we’ll be in a position to fully enjoy and appreciate our world. Right now, many of our buildings and vehicles are designed for very limited function rather than form, and their functions tend to create unthinkable damage to our world.

To truly embrace Permaculture on a meaningful level, it is imperative that we learn how to create designs, which harmonize, and work with rather than against nature.

Permaculture may not be the cure for every social ill, but each day it becomes more glaringly apparent that something needs to change, and quickly.

Nearly every newspaper screams daily of tragedy and environmental catastrophes around the globe. By observing the principles of Permaculture, which we’ll discuss in detail in the chapters to come, we can break the cycle of madness that has resulted from doing the same thing the same way for centuries and expecting a different outcome.

Most importantly, Permaculture is very much something one person can commit to and expect to make a very tangible difference in the world, thus giving a clear pathway towards personal empowerment.