One of the more annoying aspects to some of permaculture study is that it has no “official” definition. This is not an accident. The originators of permaculture thinking, principally Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-1970’s, wanted to create an “open” system that allowed for students to modify and color the term permaculture with their own observations and thinking. They did this out of opposition to the institutional culture that engulfs many practices. For most professions, institutions determine the definitions and best practices for the profession and only those inside the institution can make these determinations. This reality creates hierarchy and bureaucracy as the institution exerts it’s control over the definition and practice and excludes the input of others not part of the official structure. Mollison and Holmgren wished to avoid these unfortunate tendencies of institutions and chose instead to spend their time teaching and practicing their versions of permaculture.
That being said, permaculture does have certain precepts that are attached to its birth and have persisted throughout its history. David Holmgren created perhaps the most detailed of these when he developed the three ethics and 12 design principles of permaculture.
To help those interested in getting a fuller picture of what permaculture is, we’ve provided several typical definitions as well as Holmgren’s ethic and design principles.
Permaculture, or permanent (agri)culture, means working with natural forces – wind, sun, & water – to provide food, shelter, water & other needs with minimum labor & without depleting the land. Permaculture is a holistic approach based on traditional agricultural practices.
Permaculture is the art/science of observation and intelligent design to direct natural laws of nature in a way to optimize efficiency and production while minimizing waste
Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.
Holmgren’s ethics and principles are provided in this link.