Permaculture design has the power to influence every aspect of design, whether that be construction or reforestation approaches; community development, or urban planning. It reaches far beyond agriculture and considers the long-term effects on the planet, on people, and on the next generation, too.

Ethics of Permaculture Design

The three founding ethics of permaculture lay the groundwork for all practical applications. These are the ‘three legs’ that permaculture stands on so to speak. Each one is essential to create a harmonious and sustainable approach to agriculture and environmental efforts. 

If work is implemented without consideration to any one of these ethics, the premise becomes unbalanced and is no longer functioning as ‘permaculture’.

The three ethics are Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. 

Earth Care

Far beyond ‘do no harm’ or just being a ‘greener’ approach to agriculture, permaculture seeks to actively restore the damaged planet to be a healthy and thriving environment for the benefit of all living things.

Permaculture design is grounded in caring for the earth as our life-sustaining biosphere. Every approach or permaculture design should use natural processes that will endure over time, and not only benefit a single generation or one population.

Examples of permaculture that highlight the Earth Care ethic:

  • Reforestation or planting a fruit forest
  • Urban planning that protects green spaces
  • Focusing on growing native plants, or plants that thrive in a given climate
  • Designs and growing methods that reduce water requirements
  • Architectural designs that encourage natural cooling and heating methods to reduce energy consumption
  • Construction projects that use natural, renewable resources to build and reduce or eliminate waste
  • Crop rotations that infuse nutrients such as nitrogen back into the soil
  • Traditional agricultural approaches that protect the soil and prevent soil erosion
  • Landscape designs that collect water naturally (such as Earthworks, using swales and other land formations to increase groundwater)
  • Community recycling and composting projects
  • Agricultural practices that protect, and even benefit wildlife, including pollinators and other creatures in the environment
  • Natural irrigation methods
  • Companion planting as pest control
  • Construction projects that use plastic or recycled materials, exclusively

This list is not exhaustive, but it gives a picture of the many ways permaculture design protects and restores the earth.

People Care

Permaculture is grounded in community, shifting the trend from separate systems to an interdependent approach around growing food.

While permaculture is adaptable to various environments, the people-care ethic continues to have a consistent theme as it is applied around the world: when permaculture approaches are established, there is a more equitable distribution of resources, and a shift to make a more even balance of power between those in positions of supply and demand.

Permaculture as a society:

Eco-villages around the world are good examples of the People Care ethic of permaculture. Within shared communities, harvests are distributed, basic needs are met, and waste is reduced. 

Further, such communities combat unequal systems of power by honoring every individual for their contribution to working the land. Whereas, in current commercial agricultural approaches, field workers or day laborers may face unjust wages and oppressive working conditions, permaculture upholds human dignity from an anti-oppression framework. 

Another example is the IDEP Foundation, in Bali Indonesia. Their philosophy of ‘helping people to help themselves’ empowers communities and individuals alike for a more sustainable and safer approach to farming.

Their agricultural program has a positive impact on the community due to increased income for local farmers and taking action to prevent natural disasters that lead to landslides and dangerous flooding.

The IDEP Foundation has an entire disaster response branch of their foundation to supply direct assistance to families and communities affected by natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, floods, and landslides.

Of course, the work they are doing to prevent natural disasters, such as preventing soil erosion, planting trees educating the community about proper irrigation systems, and keeping waterways clean is clearly “Earth Care”, too. The ethics of permaculture are interdependent; and inherently connected, because when we properly care for the earth (Earth Care) it naturally benefits the community, too (People Care), helping them increase their income and also protecting their homes from flooding and landslides, in this particular case.

Fair Share

There are several ways to consider the ‘fair share’ ethic; as a means of distribution (sharing of surplus and handling waste), but also in considering fair use of nature’s resources, not only now – but for the next generations, too.

The ethic of fair share, then ensures that waste is handled responsibly and re-used in a closed-loop system as much as possible. Reduction of consumption of resources and making a minimal, temporary impact on the environment is vital to permaculture ethics.

Many of the commercial, capitalist-centered agricultural approaches are dangerous for the future of the world. They are not only unsustainable, as they rely heavily on non-renewable resources (or using renewable resources at a rate faster than they can be renewed), but they are also damaging the soil or polluting the air and water.

Permaculture’s approach seeks not only to go forward with a sustainable approach (which is flexible, depending on each environment and climate) but to also reduce waste and distribute resources fairly, as well.

It recognizes the implications of caring for the earth and caring for people in the context of the future. This has vast social implications, which so far, have shown to have a direct impact on poverty, inequality, and balance of power.

Real-world Permaculture at work:

The Senegal Permaculture Project, based in Sare Souma is a good example of the “Fair Share” ethic of permaculture. Mamadou Diamanka learned about permaculture in Australia and brought it back to his native land of Senegal, using his own property to restore the land by planting trees, growing high-yield crops that required little rain, and replenishing vital nutrients back into the soil all while employing members of the local community and educating the village about sustainable permaculture approaches. 

Several innovative approaches in India, including Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, have made a difference by focusing on using permaculture designs for reforestation and encouraging a return to traditional agriculture practices.

These projects help the local community gain knowledge, grow food, increase their incomes, and protect the land for the next generation. It is easy to see each ethic of permaculture in these approaches:

Earth Care: restoring the land by reforestation, planting fruit forests, and returning to sustainable, traditional growing practices and crops that thrive in a given climate.

People Care: individuals are employed, they see an increase in incomes due to higher yields and healthier harvests, families are healthier from the local, fresh food, and the community is educated in sustainable agricultural practices.

Fair Share: Individuals are empowered to become more self-sustaining, the environment is cleaner, safer, and healthier, there is sufficient, nutritious food to share, and the next generation benefits from a healthier environment and direct education about nature and minimizing waste.