Permaculture and Ecological Design

Today professionals and students in business, government, education, healthcare, building, economics, technology, and environmental sciences are being called upon to ‘design’ sustainable programs and activities.

Through systems science we have learned that actions taken today can affect the viability of living systems to support human activity and evolution for many generations to come. Sustainability is a concept introduced to communicate the imperative for humanity to develop in our built environment those conditions that will  sustain the structures, functions, and processes inextricably linked with capacities for life.

The challenge we face in this new era of sustainability is a realization that the goals and needs for developing sustainable conditions in our social environment are complex, diverse, and at times counter to the dynamics of ecological systems.

In recent years ecology has been called upon to include the studies of how humans interrelate with ecological processes, within ecosystems. (“Ecology”, 1998 Ernest Callenbach). Although humans are part of the natural ecosystem when we speak of human ecology, the relationships between humanity and the environment, it is helpful to think of the ‘environment’ as the social system. What are the relationships and interactions within this ecosystem? What are the relationships and interactions between the social system and ecological environment (this includes air, soil, water, physical living and nonliving structures)? How do the interactions between systems, affect the global ecosystem?

The most fundamental means we have as a society in transforming human ecology is through modeling and designing in our social environment those conditions that will influence  sustainable interactions and relationships within the global ecological system.

“The social system is a central concept in human ecology because human activities that impact the global ecosystem are strongly influenced by the society in which people live” (“Human Ecology”, 2001 Gerald Marten). Currently, social system designs create fragmentation, and counter productive relationships with ecological environments and dynamic processes. Such design in social organizations directs human activity towards unsustainable patterns of behavior and living conditions that create imbalances in both social and environmental ecologies. We must learn anew how to ‘design’ within our social environment, viable, sustainable, and regenerative system conditions.

Humanity has the cognitive capacity to learn, envision and project through design to application, intended future outcomes. Until now this capacity has been utilized for economic prosperity which has created many complex structures, and processes within the social environment that impede our capacity for sustainable development. Many people are being called upon to design and develop within the socio-economic environment the means for sustainable development. But along with the awareness of the need for transformation, is a growing realization that the environment in which we have learned to interpret information, develop skills and apply knowledge, to date have shaped our capacity to understand systems and their functioning process in our own lives.

Survival in our culture has been inextricably linked with our socio-economic environment. It is within this environment, that our observations and understanding of ‘how life works’ has been maintained for generations.

The social environment was not developed with an understanding of ecological structures and functions for building and sustaining those capacities inherent in succession, and regeneration. Fragmented from this understanding, humanity misuses ecological resources, which support processes for succession, regeneration, and evolution. All natural resources are moved or converted from the ecosystem to support the socio-economic system. Human constructions have been conceived and designed as though our function and survival is not only separate from the ecological systems, but unaccountable to sustaining those capacities in which we depend.

Socio-Economic Design

Conventional economic design, and production methodologies that serve one purpose such as economic wealth/profit, results in a one way relationship in which commodities are being developed at increasing levels of resource use and energy consumption. If surplus does not go into replenishment of those same resources being used or consumed in the production process, and the resources are not being accounted for by the same valuation method as the commodities they were converted into; there is a one way valuation and accountability that hides resource depletion. Resource depletion within social, environmental, and human equity has become inherent in current social design.

Ecological Design

On the other hand ecological design, functions and self-organizes to create system-efficiencies, regenerative capacity, and succession. Yields and surplus are returned to the system in order to strengthen and optimize the developmental capacity of the elements or parts within the system. As the parts, (i.e. elements of a system) are able to develop and function to their fullest potential, and form capacity building relationships, there is an emergence of a viable and abundant eco (life)-system. Production and Consumption within ecological design is not the means to an end, but are instead part of an ongoing process of fortification. All resources, including waste are considered potential building blocks to be utilized to regenerate the systems’ form, feedback, and functional health.

The most comprehensive source for transformative design in the human social environment begins with Learning how to DESIGN Permaculture systems within any context of social, environmental, or economic organization.

The Permaculture Design methodology teaches students to learn through careful observation, and develop the ability to think through the cycles, functions, structures and dynamic principles of ecological systems.

The Permaculture Design process takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding ecology, systems, and sociology. This is integrated with specializations in appropriate technologies, eco-engineering, design & building, physical-chemical- iologies, renewable energies, and economics. In order to create, in human design, the structure, conditions, and capacities for sustenance that will be sustainable over time, we must allow for a more ecologically stable and viable human culture to evolve.


Ecology is a branch of biology that studies the relationships between living organisms and their environment. Ecological science has contributed much to our understanding of whole living systems.

Ecology is a multi-disciplinary science. Because of its focus on the higher levels of the organization of life on earth and on the interrelations between organisms and their environment, ecology draws heavily on many other branches of science, especially geology and geography, meteorology, pedology, chemistry, and physics. Thus, ecology is considered by some to be a holistic science, one that over-arches older disciplines such as biology which in this view become sub- isciplines contributing to ecological knowledge. (Source: wiki/ecology)

Originally “ecology” referred primarily to species or organisms as they exist in natural ecosystems. This science has grown to consider “the close couplings that exist between organisms and their surroundings on a global scale.

Organisms can be studied at many different levels, from proteins and nucleic acids (in biochemistry and molecular biology), to cells (in cellular biology), to individuals (in botany, zoology, and other similar disciplines), and finally at the level of populations, communities, and ecosystems, to the biosphere as a whole; these latter strata are the primary subjects of ecological inquiries. (Source: wiki/ecology)