The 12 Principles of Permaculture

David Holmgren and Bill Mollisson developed the modern principles of permaculture, to provide more practical solutions for a better world. The 12 principles of permaculture are often used to understand food growing systems and how they can lead us towards more ethical and sustainable livelihoods.

The principles are universal but their application depends on the place and situation. The 12 principles are founded on the three tenets of permaculture and how it works; care for the planet, care for the people, and equitable shares. 

Here are the 12 principles of Permaculture:

1. Observe and interact

By taking time to observe and engage with nature, we can be able to design solutions to suit our particular situations. Being observant and responding to what we see in nature is crucial in moving towards a more ethical and sustainable way of life.

a woman and man walking in the forest
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Farmers can learn from nature, and other people and work with the world around us to lead towards achieving our set goals. 

You should have the capacity to observe the seasons, watch the changing microclimates on a certain patch of land, understand wind patterns and how they influence plant growth.

This principle is also essential in ensuring you make wise decisions on how to design or eco-renovate houses with naturally occurring elements.

2. Catch and store energy

Solar energy stored in batteries, wind turbines and the thermal mass of rocks of well-designed buildings are key elements of energy in permaculture.

black and silver solar panels
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Even the potential energy of water stored at high elevation in dams or ponds. In permaculture, it is important to learn how to catch and store energy in plants by using renewable energy infrastructure. 

Growing your own food at home is a way to capture and store energy from the sun. This further includes the capture of biomass and fertility, water and heat to ensure self-resilience. Developing systems to collect resources in time of abundance, allows farmers to tap into them during periods of scarcity. 

3. Obtain a yield

Your permaculture garden should provide an adequate yield to enable you to live off the farm. You can obtain a yield from your farm by using organic gardening techniques for food production.

The effort you put into your garden should be worth it in the end. Focus on tasks with a high likelihood of success on your farm and avoid activities that will not be able to provide value to you.

You can get both intangible and tangible yields if you live a sustainable lifestyle that adheres to permaculture principles.

Are there disadvantages of permaculture?

4. Apply self-regulation and feedback

To create lasting change and achieve your farming goals it is best to accept feedback from nature and other people. It provides information on the impact of our actions and allows for better decision-making.

Self-regulation helps in the management of your limits and relationship with the environment. You can make better decisions by evaluating your purchasing habits, examining the impact of your energy sources on the environment, and reducing and recycling to preserve environmental degradation. 

5. Use and value renewable resources and services

Permaculture seeks to use renewable resources to ensure a profitable yield from your garden. You can harness the power of the sun, wind, water or biomass to power your home, grow food and regenerate the environment.

You can switch to green energy and focus on energy-generating systems using home infrastructure and nature to ensure sustainable living. This can be applied to ecological building, soil conservation, planting perennials to protect soil fertility and organic farming. 

6. Produce no waste

brown soil in orange plastic bucket
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You should examine your waste management techniques in order to achieve a zero waste lifestyle. Assess how your waste dumping is affecting the environment and make an effort to reduce the waste from your farm.

You can reduce the amount you buy, reuse and recycle where possible through activities such as composting and working with ethical companies who match your sustainability goals. 

This principle is also applicable to the effort you put into the farm. Do not waste effort on products that will not have value. Ensure your input matches your output, with no excess that could damage the environment or your commitment to the farm. 

7. Design from patterns to details

Thinking holistically about the state and progress of your permaculture can help maintain commitment and drive towards a certain goal. Harness the observed patterns in nature, rather than working against them.

This works with your plants as well as the people around you. Observe and identify their productivity patterns to get the best out of them. 

8. Integrate rather than segregate

Both plants and people will work well in a diverse system. Polycultures is an example of this principle on your farm. Companion gardening has been found to have a high success rate in increasing yield and suppressing the spread of weeds and pests. 

This is also applicable to people through cultural diversity. It leads to a robust culture that empowers people to act, innovate and take responsibility for their actions. Further, integration will foster collaboration and cooperation toward the achievement of sustainability goals. 

9. Use small, slow solutions

Starting small can help you get a perspective of your situation and manage any small changes before adverse impacts are felt on a large scale. Slow solutions accommodate feedback, adaptation and correction of any unexpected impacts. Identify the activities on your farm that you need to change and make minimal adjustments over time to ensure sustainable growth. 

10. Use and value diversity

Diversity is essential to any sustainable system. It represents resilience and adaptability to any internal or external forces of change. Diversity works best when mixing different plants and animals in your ecosystem.

You should also employ a diverse group of people at your farm to foster a healthy community.

It is advisable to cultivate and advocate for diversity on all aspects of your farm. Valuing diversity among people ensures a peaceful and equitable society which creates the best conditions for sustainable development. 

11. Use edges and value the marginal

Sustainability involves using all resources at your disposal to achieve optimum success. This is applicable in land use, employee management and in general society. To best use the available resources requires valuing elements on the fringe. 

In nature, edge refers to increasing diversity by improving the relationships between earth, sun, air and water. It is vital to increasing opportunities for life. You can use the neglected corner of your land to increase your food production. Edges can also represent a collection of different ideas that can help in innovation and increasing productivity. Edges also reflect cultural diversity and the nurturing of fringe ideas. 

12. Creatively respond to change

Holmgren said that ‘Vision is not seeing things as they are but will be’. There are natural processes of succession in our surroundings. Bare soil is eventually taken over by weeds. This will in turn pave way for the growth of trees and shrubs to stabilize the soil and maintain the landscape’s productivity. 

Permaculture is not only about the present moments but also about the future. You should design your permaculture farm in response to changing climatic patterns, and attitudes on production to shape sustainable progress.

Draw on personal and organizational assets to understand challenges and make the appropriate changes to effectively address them. Living systems are dynamic and will always present new challenges. Creativity is good in facilitating resilience and achieving self-sufficiency. 

See how permaculture compares to syntropic farming.


Permaculture farmers should understand the practical applications of these principles to transition into a more ethical and sustainable way of life. The principles allow you to better engage with humans and nature. Permaculture allows abundant, eco-friendly living by drawing from the environment. These principles should facilitate the transformation of lives and into a more ecologically balanced and equitable world. 

Sources: Krebs J, Bach S. Permaculture—Scientific Evidence of Principles for the Agroecological Design of Farming Systems. Sustainability. 2018; 10(9):3218.