The world is abuzz these days with concern for our natural environment.
Have you noticed?
Our population is growing. We’re consuming massive amounts of energy & resources.
If we want to continue living on this planet then we need to find solutions for the major environmental issues that are arising from current world conditions.
Luckily, there are many brilliant people who have dedicated their lives to observing how nature and people can coexist as a symbiotic relationship.
I’m talking about permaculture.
Permaculture is an amazing design system that addresses how each person can live their life in a more ethical way by using simple design strategies.
These strategies can be used to accomplish pretty much anything in life with much greater efficiency,
Permaculture gives us a way to reduce our impact, while transforming the way our culture integrates with nature.
It’s not necessary to give up a satisfying lifestyle in order to forge a new path to sustainability.
Many permaculture solutions not only save energy, but also save time, money & less tangible human resources.
So in this article I’m going to share a few of my favorite design principles that can be applied to your life whether in the garden, your relationships, or even in the office.
Designing An Ethical Lifestyle
Permaculture is all about sustainability.
At the most basic level this means caring for the earth, caring for people & re-investing in long-term productivity.
The modern world has embraced & created many beautiful things in life but if we’re not careful, we could lose what’s most precious to us.
Caring for our planet ensures that we’ll continue to enjoy the fruits of this incredible world as long as possible. With the right orientation, you can start wherever you are to integrate a more sustainable approach to life.
Even if you’re not ready to give up the busy city, you can still make a difference.
Permaculture doesn’t require everyone to become farmers.
It’s more about how we can begin to make more conscious choices about how to design our entire lives in order to promote a better use of resources.
There are some basic design guidelines that will help anyone create more sustainable life systems. These are design principles that can be applied to any environment, whether natural or human generated.
Here are 5 foundational principles that will increase the effectiveness and sustainability of any system:
1. Diversity is Good
Diversity ensures that a system has a wide variety of all the essential nutrients required to be productive at its task. Whether that task is to produce food, social services, or manage our health & wellness, diverse systems always have greater long-term impact.
Food & Nature
In agriculture this means that when you grow food, the more diversity you have in form and function, the more long-term productivity will increase.
Mono-crop systems like endless rows of corn or wheat are much more likely to succumb to disease & require fertilizer or intense watering in order to work.
Natural systems never consist of just a single plant. They always contain a mixture of shapes, sizes, root structures, annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, herbs & vines.
We all know that companion planting is a good idea because it supports complex symbiotic relationships.
In relationships it’s often the people who are most different from us that have the most to teach us.
If we shy away from diversity then we miss out on entire perspectives & ways of viewing the world. You never want to get too stuck in any one way of thinking.
The value of diversity is especially apparent in the business world.
When you need to come up with good ideas, and also have people who know how to get things done.
It’s always valuable to have a mix of cultures, ideas & perspectives.
Investing in diverse systems is akin to not putting all your eggs in one basket. You always have something to fall back on and all the diversity makes your work easier.
Some ways to promote diversity in your own life systems:
- Learn about other cultures
- Make some new friends
- Listen to new ideas
- Read books with diverging opinions on the same subject
- Use companion planting
- Promote edge habitats
- Use both perennial & annual systems
2. Long-Term Sustainability Trumps Short-Term Rewards
Sustainability is any system that produces and stores enough energy & resources for its own production & maintenance.
This is another way of saying we should never sacrifice long term goals for short term results.
Food & Nature
Perennial systems always provide a greater return on investment than intensive annual crops. This is because we only have to plant once and they’ll keep on growing for years and years.
An apple tree is a great example. It takes longer to get a return on an apple tree than a lettuce plant, but once that apple tree starts producing fruit, then you can have fresh apples every year for a very minimal amount of work.
The long-term approach to gardening, relationships & business is always the way to go.
Perennial systems enable you to capitalize on the work you do and bring an ever increasing level of abundance into your life.
The diversity principle is pretty obvious in the world of finance, but it’s amazing how many people still completely ignore it.
We’ve all heard stories of people who lost everything trying to make a quick dollar on some risky investment.
The most successful business people don’t invest in short term projects because they know that long-term trends are more predictable, less volatile and require less time & energy to maintain once established.
Let’s take another example from relationships… Have you ever pretended to be someone you’re not in order to get people to like you?
Most everyone does this in bigger or smaller ways from time to time.
It’s natural to want people to like us, but this is only a short term strategy.
If you build a relationship on the basis of a lie then overtime that relationship is doomed to fail.
In relationships it’s better to adopt strategies that lead to long term mutual (and genuine) bonding.
It’s much better to be honest about who you are and get rejected, than to waste months & countless energy trying to hold up a facade that isn’t truly fulfilling to you.
It’s a good idea to take time and consider, which areas of your life are you wasting energy for a short term gain with no substance?
There’s nothing wrong with taking care of your needs in the moment, but we need to adopt different strategies if we expect those results to continue on into the future.
3. Scale Projects According To Your Situation
Permaculture can be applied in any situation regardless of what resources you’re working with. Big things start with small actions.
If an action seems impossible for you then ask yourself, “what would make it easy?”
A lot of people feel that just because they live in the city & don’t have access to acres of land that they can’t apply permaculture.
It’s never a matter of if. It’s always a matter of ‘where’, and then ‘where next?’.
All situations do have solutions, but if you try to apply something too big or too small for the actual needs then you’re less likely to find good results.
Food & Nature
If you live in the country then it’s easy to set up a compost pile.
But if you live in an apartment in the middle of city then it might be much more reasonable to compost with your community.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. The space is there, all you need is someone with an idea to make something happen.
So what’s your idea?
Not everyone has interest in caring for a compost, but most people will be happy to contribute when invited. Same thing with gardening in general.
If you don’t have an outdoor space to grow food, then band together with neighbours, use windows, pots, etc.
If you have a dream to create your own business, you don’t have to go out and start up a million dollar corporation. You can get going with small & simple steps.
You might have big dreams that will require lots of work to complete, but that doesn’t mean you should quit your day job.
Being in a rush to get to your ideal vision can be discouraging. It’s easy to feel that you’re not making progress when there are major gaps between what you have and what you want.
As long as you’re moving in the right direction then you’re on track.
Five years down the road you’ll look back and be amazed by how far you’ve come.
Building deep relationships & community takes time.
If you want to do something big in your community, don’t expect that you’ll be able to do it in a day. But you also can’t ignore the real results that come from doing just a little bit on a consistent basis.
Don’t pressure yourself to find the ideal thing in a day. Start with one relationship.
Focus on finding one person that you connect with on a deep level and invest in that relationship.
Everytime you try something new, plant an herb, meet a new friend, you learn new things about yourself and the world.
Your learning process can’t be rushed. Don’t try to take on too much too soon.
Slow & steady wins the race.
4. Smart Design: Seek Low-Tech Solutions
Low-tech solutions force us to be smart about our design. The more elegant the design the less energy is required to maintain it.
If you’ve ever heard the idea ‘work smarter, not harder’ that’s exactly what this is talking about.
Some people work very hard in their life and get very little back in return.
If we put just a bit of thought into ways of doing things smarter, we often can accomplish the same result with much less work.
Food & Nature
Modern agricultural practices could seem at first like they would make things easier than doing it all by hand. This may or may not be true, but the one thing that’s for sure is modern agricultural practices certainly aren’t smarter.
All the cost of machines, oil, transportation, maintenance just to get the food from the farm and to your table is an incredible amount of output required for such a simple thing.
Many permaculture sites demonstrate that it’s possible to grow a kitchen garden in a small area that provides 90% percent of all the food consumed by a family in a single year.
Much of it even comes from crops that regrow every year without planting and require very little maintenance. All with just some simple tools, some seeds and the will to set it up.
It’s very low energy, very low-tech & very elegant.
In business, smart design is also known as using the 80/20 principle.
People frequently opt to use the more expensive & more time consuming methods in order to get the last 20% that uses 80% of all the resources.
Have you ever stopped to reflect on this?
- What are the simplest things you do that get the vast majority of your results?
- What takes up most of your time, energy, resources yet gets almost no results?
Permaculture guides us to stop doing what isn’t working, and start doing more of what is. Then you’ll be able to get more done for less effort.
It’s important whenever we make life decisions to consider what we really want to accomplish.
Don’t waste your time, money & energy doing things that aren’t going to fulfill you.
Most people take vacations in order to relax & take a break from life.
But many people find that their vacations actually wear them out. I’ve always found it so strange how people will put so much time & energy into planning things that end up being stressful.
Simplicity is one of the great keys to fulfillment in life.
A good way to think about how to gain more fulfillment in life is to ask, ‘what is the simplest thing I could do that would give me what I want?’
Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Just because something is more expensive, more technical, more prestigious, or flashy, doesn’t mean it will make you happy or be more effective in the larger scope of things.
- How can you use your resources smarter?
- How can you simplify your life to the essential components that will bring the greatest benefit?
- What’s a better way to do what you’re already doing?
5. Connect Everything Together
The greater number of symbiotic relationships you can create, the more time & energy you will save & the more sustainable your life will be.
Food & Waste
The most obvious example of connecting food systems is using the waste from your food preparation to enhance the productivity of future harvests. Instead of sending your food scrapes off to the landfill in your garbage, setup a compost pile.
Even if your city has a municipal composting system, it’s much better to keep the compost circulating in your personal food system. Centralized composting requires trucks and gasoline & then the actual product doesn’t ever get back into your soil.
When you reinvest the waste back into your own systems then you support the long term fertility & sustainability of your own life.
Business & Relationships
Other people can often accomplish things for almost no effort that would require an immense amount of effort if done alone.
This is the basis of networking.
If you don’t have space for a compost pile, connect your food scraps with your relationships.
Your friend might have a compost that you can contribute to, and the end product will come back to you in direct or indirect ways.
Any project that we do in life produces waste. Whether it’s leftover cardboard boxes, a potential new client, or that book you bought but never read, there’s someone out there who can benefit from what you can’t use.
One mans trash is another mans treasure. The more meaningful connections you have with other systems the more everyone benefits.
It’s a good long-term strategy to connect the waste of your business with the needs of other organizations.
Look for opportunities to share your personal leverage, resources, skills & knowledge. Other people will be willing to share their skills back.
With knowledge of smart design principles you have endless potential for both improving the quality of your life, while also living in a more ethical manner.
So now it’s up to you, how are you going to Permaculture your life?
Pick one area of your life that you want to improve and ask, ‘how can I apply permaculture to this situation’
- How can you increase diversity?
- How can you create long-term rewards?
- What would be more effective if done on a smaller or larger scale?
- How can you get better results for less effort?