This is Part 2 of a four-part series about the Permaculture Principles in everyday life. Here in Part 2, I’ll cover Permaculture Principles four, five, and six, which are Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback, Produce No Waste, and Use Renewable Resources and Services. I’ll go over each principle, giving a brief explanation, an example in permaculture landscape design, and then some more examples from everyday life.
If you haven’t already read it, then start with Permaculture Principles Part 1, in which I discuss the first three principles, Observe and Interact, Catch and Store Energy, and Obtain a Yield.
Depending on which permaculture teacher you follow, the principles may vary in number and wording. In this series, I’ll refer to the twelve Permaculture Principles laid out by David Holmgren in his book, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (amazon affiliate link). I’ve put in bold the principles covered in this post.
Holmgren’s Twelve Permaculture Principles
- Observe and Interact
- Catch and Store Energy
- Obtain a Yield
- Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
- Produce No Waste
- Use Renewable Resources and Services
- Design from Pattern to Detail
- Integrate Rather than Segregate
- Use Small and Slow Solutions
- Use and Value Diversity
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
This principle is trickier to understand than some others. Here’s a quote from Holmgren to help explain it.
Principle 4 deals with self-regulatory aspects of permaculture design that limit or discourage inappropriate growth or behaviour. With better understanding of how positive and negative feedbacks work in nature, we can design systems that are more self-regulating, thus reducing the work involved in repeated and harsh corrective management.David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Revised Edition, p. 94
A representation of this principle is the earth as a self-regulating system. Through positive and negative feedback, systems self-regulate and come into balance.
A Biological Example
A small-scale example of a self-regulating system is the breastfeeding mother and infant. The infant’s suckling provides feedback for the mother’s milk production to self-regulate and meet the nutritional demands of the infant. As long as the mother eats and drinks somewhat regularly and continues to offer feeds, the infant has continued sustenance, even if the mother’s access to food is sporadic. Her milk supply is self-regulating.
In Permaculture Gardens
In Gardening, we apply this principle when we allow natural systems to work for us, and when we create systems based on natural ecosystems. We might simulate a natural ecosystem by bringing in mulch (in place of natural forest litter), but if we bring in too much mulch, it will overwhelm the system, won’t break down fast enough, or might even tie up too much nitrogen as it breaks down.
We can fix this problem by regulating the amount of mulch we add, adding more nitrogen-rich compost materials, or adding more water. But we can’t just go in blindly to make changes. We rely on feedback from the system to make appropriate adjustments to our inputs.
Examples in Urban Life
Our daily and weekly routines can operate as permaculture systems as well. We are more productive, healthy, and happy when our routines run smoothly. But when something is off, it can upset our lives. By adapting our routines when they no longer suit us, we are applying self-regulation.
Examples in Parenting
Sometimes, the best way to parent is to step back and let the child experience natural consequences. We can also set up situations and expectations in a way that allows “natural consequences” to occur when our kids behave in unacceptable ways.
In this way, were are allowing our kids to self-regulate their own behavior based on the “feedback” or natural consequences they experience.
This last example falls outside the realm of “everyday life” for many of us. Still, I think it’s a prime example of how our society is failing regarding this permaculture principle. This is the failure of self-regulation by elites.
We are in an era with a massive wealth divide. Most of us struggle to even comprehend how large of a number one billion is (at least I do). Yet as a society, I think we downplay the importance of self-regulation of the elite.
Once again, I’ll use Holmgren’s words to express this point.
The historically recurring problem with elites is that they start to believe that the whole social ecosystem is simply for their benefit. This corrupts the process of acknowledging higher power (god or nature) and also fails to provide functional feedback control to keep the system healthy and adapted. This breakdown of self-regulation and tripartite altruism at the highest levels tends to cascade back through the social hierarchy until a corruption at all levels leads to some sort of breakdown and reform.David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Revised Edition, p. 101
Produce No Waste
Whew. That last principle was a lot to wrap our heads around, but this next one is pretty straightforward — produce no waste. It may be impossible to follow this principle perfectly, but that’s not the idea anyway. The idea is to strive toward limiting our waste. Purism with this principle will only lead to defeatism and not even trying at all. We don’t want that. Instead, think of Produce No Waste as an ideal, not the goal.
Producing No Waste in the Permaculture Garden
We can apply this principle to the permaculture garden by composting all of our “yard waste” and kitchen scraps. Or turning fallen branches into a hugelkultur mound instead of hauling them to the dump. When it comes time to shovel out the chicken coop, the manure goes into the garden. And instead of letting stormwater run into the street, we can redirect it to garden beds. These small actions move us toward closing the loop.
Producing No Waste in the Home
Stepping beyond the garden, we can consider moving toward a zero-waste lifestyle or zero-energy home. Doing things like replacing disposable products with reusable ones is a start. What about insulating and sealing our homes better, to minimize the waste of energy used to heat them?
Producing No Waste in Motion
Finally, we can reduce wasted time, gasoline, and our own energy by better trip planning and grouping of errands. This is true when out and about, but it’s also true at a smaller scale. For example, when you’re walking to another room in your home, don’t go empty-handed. Grab that empty dish or piece of paper and save yourself the time tidying it up later.
Use Renewable Resources and Services
When most of us think about renewable resources, we probably first think on a municipal level — solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric plants. But there are many more ways to make use of renewable resources.
Renewable Resources and Services in the Garden
An example of this principle in the garden is growing your own food — fruit trees, berry bushes, and perennial vegetables. Growing plants uses the renewable resource of the sun, and the services of pollinating insects to create food.
Likewise, we can consider seeds a renewable resource, and saving vegetable seeds for future seasons rather than buying them each year is making use of that resource.
Using Renewables in Everyday Life
I’ll start with the obvious: powering and heating your home with renewable resources such as photovoltaics, geothermal, or wood.
To think of more examples, consider how can we simplify things, go off-grid, or do things the way our grandmothers did.
A classic example is hanging laundry out to dry on a sunny day instead of using an electric or gas-powered clothes dryer. Another is using a solar food dehydrator to preserve excess fruit harvest.
These simpler methods might not always be the most convenient, or time efficient, but there is a certain charm to stepping back to simpler systems. It brings us closer to the natural systems that we are a part of and dependent on.
The principles I covered today are Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback, Produce No Waste, and Use Renewable Resources and Services.
I took a look at just a few of the ways we might use and understand these second three permaculture principles in our everyday lives. How do you apply them in your life?
We’re halfway through the series now. Check out part three here, Permaculture Principles In Everyday Life: Part 3 – Principles 7, 8, & 9. Until then, once again, happy “permaculturing” your life!