Permaculture Design, Sustainable Living Space Planning - A mindful approach.
Creative solutions for an uncertain future.
(A system is sustainable when, in its lifespan, it generates more energy than it requires to reproduce itself)
PERMACULTURE-SCHOOL, Christoff Schneider
Join me on a journey of imagination. Take a few deep breaths... Picture a living space you would want for you and your children.
Leave the private jet, yacht, Rolls Roys, laptops and mobile phones aside. Concentrate only on what you need: water, food, shelter (a house and clothes), energy, knowledge. Basic needs for survival and securing your independence.
Where does the drinking water come from? Where does the clean air come from? Where do you obtain ingredients for cooking your meals?
Is your drinking water polluted by liquid manure from the neigbouring farm? Would you drink the water from the rivers and streams in your area? If no, why not?
Do your potatoes come from fields where the soil smells like a forest floor?
Imagine the bees, attempting to return to their beekeeper, fall from the sky because of insecticide in the fields where your supermarket produce is grown. 40,000 bees are dead in front of every beehive.
Close your eyes for a minute and project, with your mind’s eye, your personal living space. A place you would wish to have for yourself and your family.
Now, return to reality.
Ask yourself one last question. How independent and future-proof are you?
In our fantasy and our imagination, we have considered these contrasting situations. When we look at our daily life from the outside, you will see that our civilisation is built around consumerism and is growth obsessed – this mindset is the Titanic heading towards the iceberg.
Central Europe has enjoyed 70 years of unprecedented peace. Our generation in Central Europe does not know any other life. However, there is no guarantee this peace will last. Humanity is like a frog in slow boiled water: it gets used to the changing temperatures until it suddenly dies. How will we, as a species, handle future crises. We, in central Europe, are no longer self-sufficient as we obtain resources from all over the world.
The world population has doubled every 40 years in the last two centuries. There are currently 8 billion humans on the planet, in 2050 it is projected to reach 13 billion. This is an exponential growth in the Homosapien species. Currently we need 1.4 ha of productive land per person. This includes water, food, shelter, energy, clothing, cars, computers, mobile phones, holidays and garbage disposal. (Dr. Albert Bartlett, Arithmetic, Population & Energy)
In the calculations of William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in “Ecological Footprints”, “Resource Accounting” and input and output calculation, it explains how much our biosphere produces and how much we consume.
According to the data of the Global Footprint Network and the European Environmental Agency, we have a 50% shortage in production compared to our consumption.
The human race consumes more natural resources in 1 year than the earth can regenerate in the same period. In simple terms, we chop down more trees than we plant, we overfish the oceans and deplete our topsoil, which is the basis for all food production, at a frightening pace.
The University of soil culture in Vienna has concluded the state of topsoil is in very bad condition. Most European arable land has less than 5kg Carbon per square meter, making it effectively arid. Without artificial fertilizer, none of the organic produce we would want in our supermarket would grow.
The figures for earth’s biological capacity are approximately 1.7 ha per person - the current global average consumption requires 2.5 ha per person. Even so, the requirements are not spread evenly across the world. According to WWF’s Living Planet Report, Europe needs 4.7 ha person but only has 2.2 ha per person available, meaning it cannot meet its own needs as a continent. This is effectively an over-cosumption rate of 100%.
Austria is unfortunately in 17th place out of 152 countries relating to over-consumption. By comparison, although China uses 16% of all global resources, it remains in 76th place when it comes to its biocapacity. (WWF Living Planet Report 2014).
The ever growing hunger for consumption in industrial nations is eating away earth's natural capital from future generations. 10% of humans in industrial countries require 90% of available resources, robbing our children and the generations to come of basic necessities with frightening speed.
How can we stop this decline so future generations have enough resources without depleting the natural world and live sustainably on this planet.
That is the essence of Permacultur-Design. Sustainable, future-proof living space planning.
The concept of Permaculture design started with the short but intensive teamwork of 2 Australian scientists. In the mid 1970s, Bill Mollison and
David Holmgren coined the term Permaculture as the creative solution and alternative to the blatant environmental destruction by industrialised countries. (Book, Permaculture One)
In that time, there was no synonymous term for this kind of “Permanent Agriculture” and “Permanent soil culture”. (Book, Collapse by Jared Diamond). In 1981, Bill Mollison received the Right Livelihood Award.
The foundations of a future-proof way of life are derived from humanitarian and ecological ethics. Permaculture ethics are simple and follows rules that are applicable to any culture.
(in this context, ethics means the highest principles and how to apply them - “What should I do?”
Care for the earth,
A careful and conscious relationship with our planet.
Thinking ahead for 7 generations, planning and application. Think globally, work locally. Honour the abundance of nature and accept its limitations.
Care for the people
Help for your fellow man and all living creatures.
If that is not possible, at least do not harm them. Take immediate responsibility for yourself, your family, your relatives and your neighbourhood.
An equitable distribution of available resources is the basis for a happy and peaceful existence. It is also vital for the survival of our species.
Without these kind of spiritual ethics - society, governments and interest groups are on a rudderless party boat named “main stream” - harming ourselves and others.
Permaculture Design is more than ecological and biological agriculture. It intertwines environment, agriculture, water management, ecological construction, energy, economy, knowledge and social components. It harmonises natural and future-proof systems.
Cycles are closed, inclusive and systematic thinking are paramount. Every area and every element should have multiple functions, fusing them together and complimenting each other.
Important elements are further secured. For example, instead of only 1 kind of crop, a variety of high calorie crops are planted together. Potatoes, Maze and other similar crop are planted side by side to protect each other from pests. The same goes for water and energy production. This principle is applicable to small households all over Europe and beyond.
This brings us to the practical Permaculture design principles, which are the foundation of Permaculture ethics. These are, to name a few:
Every planned element should have multiple functions – at least 3, ideally more. For example, the Pergola in front of the house is not only an aesthetic element, it allows for creepers such as kiwi, wine or pumpkin to climb. It provides shade for relaxation and allows space for a hammock during summer.
The shed is used for storage, work station, shelter for small animals, collects water on the roof and a space to install solar panels.
All important elements such as food, water, energy production, knowledge etc are secured on multiple levels, just as in the multiple crop example.
Best usage of solar energy (passive solar design).
Focus on the usage of regenerative raw materials and biological resources instead of fossil fuels.
The advancement of plant diversity and soil improvement.
Closing all cycles, ideally where they are found – water, food, energy and waste cycles. This should also include support to local industry in order to keep financial wealth in the area.
Systems should, in their lifetime, produce as much energy needed to recreate themselves. Energy return on energy invested.
Structural zoning requires special tools for the implementation of projects in this regard. It is worthwhile to plan for an energy efficient system in order to be prepared for all outcomes. In that sense, the more intensive a zone or element is, the closer it should be to zone 0 or the living space. In zone 1, next to the house, should be all the elements that are regularly needed. This includes greenhouses, plant nurseries, vegetable garden beside the kitchen and a greened Pergola which provides shade in the summer and, when there are no leaves, the sun shines on your kitchen workstation. The sand box for the children, tea leaves, flowers, a summer kitchen, wormfarms, a place to store firewood and tools etc.
Up to 50 different elements have to be considered such as sun exposure, wind direction, energy flow which compliments your working conditions.
Zone 2 is defined as a less intensive zone. A potato or berry garden would require less attention, for example.
In Zone 3, you will find the fields, pastures, fruit gardens and lakes.
Zone 4 includes large independent trees and Zone 5 is will be left to nature.
The amount of zones depends on the size of the land area and the soil conditions.
The farm can have up to 9 zones. A small garden has preferably 2 or 3. Zoning is not just about real estate. It allows you to structure all sorts of sectors, regardless of the nature of the project, be it a house, social structures, companies or charity projects.
By now, you will be asking where you can learn Permaculture. Most people in the Permaculture movement (Permis) start with a Permaculture Design Certification. In this 2 week course, you will learn creative planning and implementation for all climate zones and how to live with mindfulness and reciprocity when it comes to plants and animals.
The curriculum is based on Bill Mollison and the Permaculture Research Institute:
• Principles of sustainable living space planning
• Practical planning tools
• Nature's language
• Climate and environmental protection
• Trees and their influence on soil
• Water and biosphere
• Water cycles and water management
• Soil resources and earthworks
• Permaculture planning in temperate, tropical and arid
• Transition to change, future-proof thinking, planning and
• Permaculture crisis management and charity projects For 30 years, this course has inspired people all over the world.
It is holistic thinking to live in harmony with nature without drain
ing our natural resources and returns personal responsibility to society.
This short course will provide specific knowledge for future generations of how to live on a healthy and vibrant planet.
Certified Permaculture Teacher & Designer (PRI, PINZ), Head of the Permaculture School Austria.
For 15 years, I have been working on sustainable living space planning and asking myself: what does humanity need to live our best lives on this beautiful planet, in the framework of ecological sustainability.
References: United Nations,