One of our latest projects has been to produce a large-scale design for a yoga retreat.
Our Design Process
Conduct diagnosis of existing site features (including risks).
Prepare guiding policy. The permaculture design offers a detailed plan to build wealth and empowerment to the residents and visitors.
Set an action plan based on the fundamental ethics and ideals. These actions are driven by passion and feelings of the residents and result in self-reliance, abundance and greater harmony within the local community.
Firstly, we examined the current land use and drew up a sector analysis. One of the aspects of the sector analysis was the narrow solar window. The yoga retreat sits in a narrow valley. This means the morning sun is late and the afternoon sun falls away early in the afternoon.
We looked at all the natural energies on the site. The analysis included the surface watershed to and from the property. We identified which risks were threatening property. The risk diagnosis alone will save the client in substantial costs far greater than the cost of the design. There were expensive threats to key structures. One of the threats to the foundations of a building was by local deer. Another structure was suffering erosion by surface water from a poorly directed drain.
Although the current practices on the site by staff and residents were fairly sensible, there were plenty of opportunities to increase efficiency.
Zoning enables the design to put groups of elements into an area based on their needs and products. Put elements that require high levels of observation and attention close to the staff and resources. When an element requires less attention, it is positioned further away.
Delicate sprouts and seedlings require daily observation and attention to keep them watered and pest-free. Simply position needy elements near to the care-givers. Zone 0 contains the elements that demand the highest level of attention.
In contrast to the sprouts and seedlings, vegetable greens are harvested as they become ready. These elements are slightly less needy. They belong in Zone 1.
A tree that bears fruit only once a year goes further away in Zone 2 or 3. Crops that need lots of space include pumpkin vines, corn or choko. So these go in Zone 3. Crops that are harvested only as required (e.g. tinder for winter fires) are positioned far away. But they sit along a track to make the harvest, storage and transportation easy. Deer and other large animals are directed to outer zones only.
Sun Trap Gardens
The sun-trap garden faces the morning sun. Plant deciduous trees on the north-east boundary. The winter sun will penetrate through the bare branches. Whereas, evergreen trees sit on the southern and western boundaries to shelter the sun-trap from hot afternoon suns rays.
Slow the water to consolidate your resources. One can never argue with water. Water knows gravity and follows. Slowing the water increases the chances for plants to absorb it. Water falls gently to the plants below.
Easy Tea Gardens
There were areas where expensive and thirsty lawns had died off to expose the dusty soil below. The design adds wicking beds of tea herbs. These structures are multi-functional. They include relaxing garden seats.
Making A Sacred Space
A Sacred space is positioned beside the riverbank. The focal point could be a very large rock or platform. Large rocks are abstract but majestic. Abstract creations are not easily damaged by passing travelers. Sculptures, one the other hand, are at higher risk.
An alternative focal point is a defined space. A space can hold reverence. Often a sunken area formed by mounds, a glade of trees or walled garden feels inviting and embracing.
Residents will learn to eat what grows easily in their environment. This is easier than forcing the landscape to grow foods that we are in the habit of demanding. The notion of re-educating our palette helps us to adapt to climate uncertainty.
Connections with the broader local community are enriched by the allocation of space for a community garden. This design element is a win-win. The community garden would help maintain the neglected corner of the property whilst benefiting from ideas and better connections to the local community.
Key Activities in Staging Plan
Redress the risks
Build diversity and intensity within the existing gardens before building any new garden areas
Use natural attrition plan to replace evergreen trees on northern side of structures with deciduous trees
Start at Zone 0 and work outwards. For example: grow sprouts, seedlings and tea herbs. These provide a good yield for minimum cost and effort. Then add companion plants to the orchard.
You could be forgiven if you thought that permaculture was about self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is not the idealised ‘GOOD LIFE’ as speculated in the 70’s by BBC. If you want long days of lonely, repetitive hard work and the very real risk of starvation and disease, then self-sufficiency would be for you.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a lifestyle that connects you with nature and your neighbours, boost your Self-Reliance.
In a nut-shell, Self-reliance enables empowerment through increased local production by giving, trading and/or sharing. ‘Self-Reliance’ values and cares for the weak and the elderly. Self-Reliance has the power to strengthen community connections, improve our health and the planet’s health.
Community Values You
Permaculture promotes a sense of community. The basic ethic of Caring for People drives us to build better communities. By consulting the community we design adaptable structures – physical and invisible. Physical structures include social hubs, educational and recreational areas. Invisible structures include trading centers, banking systems and news exchange facilities.
Permaculture designs for whole ‘villages’ not just individual households. This increases the efficiency of the waste cycles. Resources (physical, intellectual, social) are more immediate and usable. At best, the cycle of local production and disposal of the waste are tightly connected.
Self Reliance Grows By Sharing
Frequent exchange of little resources requires very little planning. In a busy community, resources are shared, traded and loaned. ‘Hand-me-downs’ are passed on as needed. Harvests and meals are casually shared. Valuable and timely knowledge is offered informally.
One of the most obvious features of this ‘informal’ economy is that the consumer and producer meet. They tend to be kind to one another. In his free e-book, Permaculture Strategy for the South African Villages Terry Leahy explores the power of the gift economy. The gift economy fulfills the permaculture principle of ‘working where it counts’.
In surprising contrast to this, small holdings can be highly productive and rewarding. This works especially well when the local community supports local food production directly through farmers markets.
Given that Rural suicide is significantly higher than urban, healthy relationships are the key to survival. When farmers need assistance (psychological, medical and veterinary services) help needs to be close at hand. Enriching the community bonds through localised trade helps to build bridges and understanding.
Owning a large property is huge responsibility
Large properties have heavy maintenance requirements. The cost of neglect can increase the risk of disasters such as fire. A community management team can help share this responsibility and combine resources for tree loping, noxious weeds control, soil erosion management, water pollution filtration, and emergency response.
Elders adopt the ‘benefactor’ model
Elders can share their workload whilst mentoring young people. Sharing your resources, skills and know-how creates a closer-knit community.
This is known as the ‘benefactor’ model. This model works well for Polyface farms and other small communities. As a result, a succession of skilled people in a specialist field is ensured.
Permaculture values people as well as our environment.
The brave step of supporting a new technology can be full of confusion. Techno-confusion is mounting as more, and more technologies are invented. The world is desperately searching for technological improvement to help solve climate uncertainty. [Permaculture is one technological and cultural solution.] Yet even as we discover healthy technologies, humanity will continuously aim to reduce inefficiencies.
Everyone wants to be part of the solution. Many of understand why it is good to search for clean and efficient technologies. But most of us are confused about ‘how to tell what is best’
How can we rid ourselves of confusion, build our confidence; make informed decisions; remain unswayed by emotion; ignore slick sales pressures and side-step [or lead] new fashion trends?
At PermacultureVisions we created a decision tool to help you determine your own values and priorities. It may also lead you to consider environmental aspects. The least it can do is help save you time and money.
Master the Art of Decision Making
Lectures are useful to get up to speed on facts and figures. Tutoring helps you understand the factors in those decisions. Mentoring guides you as you tailor the choices to suit your individual needs. The table below is part of our mentorship and teaching program. Instead of telling you what to buy, like a sales team, we would rather help you make technological choices.
How Can I Compare All the Different Technologies Available?
We can evaluate new technologies and compare like products when we consider each feature and cost. Here is a guide to help you compare technologies or products with similar purpose. This evaluation tool was developed with our students Morgan Stephens, Tessha Mearing, and Penny Cross.
The aim of this tool is to equip permaculture designers with a means to evaluate a new technology themselves rather than being told what is best. Technologies change rapidly, so advise can get conflicting and the technology efficiency is dependent on the context of the user.
You can set your own rating value. This will reflect how important this aspect or feature is in your choice. Sit back with a cuppa, set the priorities and enjoy!
The consumer can become the leader. The consumer can test, adapt, and develop techniques and strategies. We can give informed feedback to the product-developers. If the product has modular parts, we often find new uses and by-products . Further inventions can be lead by the grass-roots users.
“The question I ask myself is: what do I want to achieve? and what are all my options to get the task done? For example: when I buy a drill I am really wanting something to make a hole. Essentially, we need to Keep the endpoint in focus and the options wide“ Green Technology Engineer – Paul Kelly, Research Support at Permaculture Visions.
Wide Spectrum of Solar Opportunities
Solar power is abundant, free and the oldest power source known to humanity. The Sun beams a broad variety of energy waves to us. For thousands of years humanity has used the heat, light and UV for our daily tasks. We are enjoying an explosion of research and development as we near peak pollution and warming targets. Along with the rise in Solar technology a number of female engineers are leading research and many mature women are able to contribute to installation and maintenance.
if you live in a cold climate – build a cozy outdoor nook in the sunny corner of a tiny greenhouse. Incorporate lots of thermal mass (ie. mud-brick benches and pillars) and you can sunbathe in it on sunny days in winter. Install a shower with a rocketstove water heater in another corner and you could spend most of your winters daytime happily in there as do many on Carraig Dulra permaculture farm in Ireland!
The Chicken is one of the most successful species on the planet. The chicken has traveled the world, exhibited in shows and been pampered affectionately. For centuries they have enjoyed the best seats, fully catered free rides on ships, planes, trains, buses, canoes and rafts. Contrary to recent reports, Chickens are likely to adapt faster to climate change than humans. They have adapted twice already during their companionship with humanity. They are set to stay.
Chickens Process Waste and Provide Perfect Protein
Over Ten Thousand years ago, the chicken became the first domesticated animal. What attracted the chicken to people was the abundance of waste. Chickens don’t mind eating slightly off-meat and love maggots and other distasteful horrors. Chickens rarely compete with humans for food. They eat a wide range of food and grit. People probably decided to keep the persistent chickens because they are relatively easy to catch at night and have highly nutritious eggs. They would have seen how quick and efficient chickens are to clean the waste.
What do Chickens have that we don’t?
Chickens often have carers. Chickens are also opportunistic eaters and learn to adapt to dietary changes. They are persistent parents. In good conditions they will breed every year. The chicks learn quickly and are independent within a few short months. Quite often, if things go poorly in the mothering house, a chicken will simply take a short break, fraternise with her favourite rooster then start laying and sitting again. Each generation provides a chance to genetically adapt. Even old hens [ie. our 9-year-old chicken, ‘Ginger’] suddenly started laying again if the conditions are right.
Chickens wake up with purpose and sleep well.
Chickens have been bred to be docile. Many domestic animals can die from stupidity. Chickens are highly unlikely to cause themselves harm. Chickens have been known to accidentally drown or get trapped. Nor are Chickens so gallant that they choose to die. However, Roosters have been known to nobly defend the flock.
Chickens come originally from the dense forests of the Tropics. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that they have already adapted twice before to enable them to grow obese and to breed all year round. They can adapt again, if they are given the r. Dr Carl-Johan Rubin of Uppsala University.
When we provide chickens with the chance to shelter in the cool sections of a food forest, they help to control the weeds, fertilise the trees and clean up fallen fruit. Their tendency to get fat makes it easy for us to catch them when we need to.
Creative Chickens Train Their Keepers
It is us, the keepers that need to adapt if we wish to continue enjoying the company of Chickens. We can devise solar passive chicken houses, give the chickens some self-determination about where to lay or hang out during the day and take time out to observe them.
Terry Leahy writes: How can it be good that one in four Australians experiences serious attacks of anxiety at one time or another in their lives? In any twelve month period 14 per cent will get anxiety attacks.
What is there to be Anxious about?
What is there to be anxious about when we live in the lucky country, surrounded by mod cons and ever-increasing wealth? The environmental catastrophe that everyone knows we are in for but nobody talks about too often. Work and economic survival in the neo-liberal economy.
Once upon a time jobs were for life if you wanted that, and there was full employment. House prices were low and government supplemented the housing market by building low-cost rental accommodation. Now a huge proportion of the population in work are doing casual jobs rather than having permanent positions. Those who are in permanent work are scared that it cannot last. House prices are crazy and there is no security in renting. Unemployment seems minor at six per cent but most people who cannot get a job do not register as unemployed, it is so hard to stay on welfare.
Add to all that the sense that the recession of 2008 has never gone away and the realization that the Australian economy still hangs on a knife-edge. People are made constantly aware that their life security depends on constantly jumping through hoops and being ready for anything.
We need an economy where people’s daily well-being does not depend on the vagaries of the global market, where the environment has priority and where you can really expect your grandchildren to live as well as you have.”
Self-Reliance versus Self-Sufficiency
Self-Sufficiency is rare. It has the goal of complete independence from society. In the self-sufficient culture, the sick or elderly are often left to die. Self-Reliance is different. Self reliance is a way of thinking and living that enables others to be part of the responsibility of providing for our needs by trading and sharing. The ‘Self-Reliance’ economy would involve care for the weak. Permaculture promotes self-reliance.
Keeping the Power of Feelings
When we are faced with anxieties it is hard to maintain optimism. Yet “optimism has more power than fear” (Bob Brown). Optimism is patient, organised and forgiving. Whereas, Fear is reactive, quick and often unplanned, leading to panic and regret .
What an amazing era of technology we live in! Super efficient technologies pop up daily. But when the average earth-user reaches out to adopt them, there’s no-one there to guide them. It’s tough and expensive to yearn for new technologies. The pioneers have to be prepared to take an active role in implementing new technologies and providing constructive feedback.
A key permaculture principles is: Information and observation replaces energy use. The more we learn and observe, the less effort we will need to spend getting it to work.
Are your thinking about adopting a new technology? Maybe it is solar air-conditioning. This is a great recent science invention based on adsorption (not absorption). Or perhaps you want to convert your conventional toilets to a compost system. Well, how do you go about it? who can advise you independent of the sales people of a particular brand or particular technology or method?
There are lots of teething problems and pitfalls in the commercialisation of the eco-technologies. Consumers risk failing with the business that strives to help them. When we recognise the pitfalls for the businesses, we can assess them better and help them and others.
Each Eco-technology manufacturer needs to build their:
supply chain security with distribution methods
support network for parts
expert after-sales service
methods to listen and learn from user feedback
installers – trained installers
demonstration sites where people can touch and feel the gear before committing
The early adopters of new technologies pay a lot of money for products that are usually only just at the adequately functional stage.
These consumers often have to
write their own ‘operations manual’ and
source after sales parts and
make modifications or improvements are at their own risk
be able to service the equipment themselves
At Permaculture Visions we were the first people in our region to set up a solar-hot-water radiator heating system. We took temperature measurements for 12 months to help provide feedback to the supplier and write our own user-guide. With some self-maintenance it is still working well. Sadly the provider, along with many local manufacturing companies, has closed down.
Speeding up the Eco-technology uptake
Eco-technology uptake can be sped up on three levels: government, business and grass-roots. Greater government leadership can:
provide regulating authorities who provide advise on national and international standards
limited and targeted subsidies can make big impacts.
Business can bridge the gap
There is a gnawing gap between displays of new technology (crowing about it) and honest appraisal and evaluation. The consumer has to know their own needs and be able to assess whether the new technology is appropriate.
If you have a head for technology, are people savvy and don’t have an investment (financial or emotional) in any particular type of technology, here is a good business opportunity for you. You could advise people on which technology would suit their needs best. You could set yourself up as an aggregator. There are some aggregators for individual technologies ie. solar but there are no aggregators for a range of eco-technologies. This can be done as a consultant or in software format.
Business and institutions need to SHOW, EVALUATE, INFORM, SOURCE improvements and MAKE COMPARISONS.
Choices on the domestic front
Whenever we make a purchase, we are making a technological decision. If we choose an old technology, we might feel we are playing it safe – but are we really safe? When we reach out for an older, proven technology our choice has two impacts.
It supports the current way of life that is not sustainable and governments are already acting to limit this technology.
It fails to support technological advances unless there is a real improvement on the old technology.
The safest option is to adopt a mixture of safe and new technologies to serve our need. This is like wearing ‘a belt and braces’ to be sure the pants stay up. Consider first the soft technology options. There are a lot of natural and traditional technologies that cost very little to set up (eg. planting deciduous trees on the sun-side to cool the house in summer, using double glazing to hold heat and allow natural light).
Tailor and Blend your technologies
Optimise your soft-technologies like permaculture and dabble intelligently in the cutting-edge eco-technology to build a path to a healthier future.
Who wouldn’t want freedom from economic slavery? What would a world of economic honesty look like? Many of us sing: “I OWE, I OWE IT’S OF TO WORK I GO”. In reply to this mournful choir you may hear voices offering hopeful refrains. Ted Trainer urges us to explore simple living. His is an alternative to the obsessive consumer slavery.
Here’s the good news! It costs nothing to aim for lower expenditure. There is no risk of failure in our quest for freedom. Challenging the economics of global consumption can benefit us in surprising ways. We can stop to smell the roses, enrich our social interactions, question what we really need and reduce our waste. Some of us will develop creative, productive habits. Others might explore green technologies. We can all build lifestyles that work toward physical and mental health and a healthier, more peaceful Earth. “What people must see is that ecologically sane, socially responsible living is good living; that simplicity makes for an existence that is free.” – Theodore Roszak
Dr Ted Trainer is a visiting Fellow at the University of NSW. He invites us to go one step further than the noble pursuit for freedom from economic slavery. He suggest we turn work into fun. Much of Ted’s work is invisible. He explores the intricacies of social connections and aims to find ways to support inventive and creative thinkers.
On his alternative lifestyle education site at Pig-face Point, Sydney, Ted has a playful approach to food production. He shifts the focus from a sense of work to a sense of exploration and creation.
Ted says “Work doesn’t feel like work when you’re having fun”. Part of his site was designed for fun (bridges, arches, islands, caves, etc.) and other parts have purpose (dams, rammed earth shed, cob oven, and home-made furniture from found branches. He uses his site as a model to show people how to create an interconnected, well-resourced and equipped ‘village’ or housing complex. Here is one of his students 3D models where we can see retrofits of whole suburbs to better connect the community, reduce waste and increase local production.
Ted is like a happy nutty professor escaped from the lab! He has a lot of energy experiments (tidal energy, water wheels, methane gas, composting toilets, etc.) For years I had believed someone else that said that a methane converter couldn’t work in our cooler climate. Now I know that to be untrue. Simple bio-gas chambers off composting toilets can work in warm-temperate zones. Ted had one working off his toilet. If Ted, hadn’t bravely tried this, I wouldn’t have seen it for my eyes. He also had some low-tech stuff which demonstrated in a fun way, like a simple hose coiled to pump water as you turn it.
Permaculture is a design tool. The permaculture design principles can also be applied to the design of a small business. Here are some examples of applied Permaculture Principles. The principles used here are those taught by Bill Mollison (and some by David Holmgren).
1. Identify Your Elements
An element is a component of your system or business. Your list of elements may include: intellectual property, office, marketing, natural capital (such as water, fruit/nuts), presentation material such as boxes, jars, labels, product information, transport, time for delivery (especially for services), customer feedback processes. These elements are then analysed to determine their needs and all their potential functions, not just the functions we seek. We then use the principle of relative location to link them together to optimise efficiency.
2. Use Relative Location
Connect elements by their function and needs. Elements can be linked in a energy chain or network. Here’s how it could work in a simple system like an orchard:
An Orchard needs protection from fire, a good water supply. It also needs to be weeded and rotten fruit needs to be removed.
The processing shed can capture rain water which can be used by the fruit processing system then fed to the geese, then it could go to the orchard if we locate the shed uphill from the orchard and use gravity as part of the water management.
Geese can weed, mow the fire break, eat rotting fruit and provide droppings as a natural fertilizer.
Through the principle of relative location we link the shed, the orchard and the geese (a biological resource). Some elements are linked more closely ie. Workers need education and procedures. Procedures need feedback from workers.
Position elements of business so that there is minimal transport between them.
Use natural forces where possible to work for you. (Eg. Information transferred by email, mail or fax so workers don’t have to travel far to work.
Use local inputs. Physical elements such as manure can be collected, filtered and processed nearby, are easily relocated and you can determine manageable sizes (in the same way bee-farmers move their hives).
Sunlight can warm the wall of a processing unit – be aware and determine if this is helpful or increasing your refrigeration costs.
Solar power can be used to run computer monitor systems.
Your office can be mobile and paperless.
We can bring the information to the customer in a variety of ways.
Waste can be valued. It can be integrated into the system, process and sold. ie. waste water can also act as fire-prevention by being positioned in a useful location near a main path and up high where it can be distributed easily needed.
3. Enable Multiple Functions
Each Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions.
Marketing is performed in a variety of ways, through different media, and to different types of customers.
Services and Products are modular and durable. Customers can tailor their purchase or use by purchasing the components they want, expand or reduce interconnecting parts and purchase as and when they want it.
Transport can be shared with other suppliers, businesses or projects.
Tools and equipment can be shared with other businesses. Sharing includes hiring.
Equipment and physical resources will be recycled or reused as much as possible.
Multiple elements for each function
The variety of skills can satisfy other functions either for other elements or for other like-minded businesses (for example: your efforts to promote sustainability will help other similar organisations). Therefore, you can band together and form a co-op or just a friendly relationship with other businesses.
A business function is satisfied with more than one element: eg. Other businesses refer customers to yours because your marketing has been general as well as specific and has helped build general interest in sustainability.
Use a range of inputs ie. herbs or fruit, especially seasonal and local ones, to create the products whilst maintaining the quality expected by your customers.
Rely on more than one source for your supplies. Ie. water, produce or power collection needs various methods to create resilience during dry periods. Rainwater tanks, condensation traps, in-ground collection such as swales and rain pits. Similarly, use a wide range of suppliers or types of inputs to build resilience when a supplier is suddenly unable to meet your needs.
Use a combination of security measures such as dogs, geese, friends with neighbours, fencing, hedges and housing.
Use variety of pest deterrents such as animals (cats or ratting dogs) indoors in warehouses to deter rats, ultra-sonic beams to scare away rodents, as well as rodent-proof construction of shed walls, floors and doors. Steel wool is eventually biodegradable and is an excellent rat-hole plugging material. Unfortunately a lot of degradable materials and techniques have been abandoned and forgotten in the Plastics era.
Use a combination of hazard prevention measures such as a building a culture of care, clear signals, clean workplace, good relations with workers.
Use different means of support. Ie for fences we can use metal stakes interspersed with wooden poles made from woody weeds. When a farmer plants living fences or hedges as well as wire fencing, she is creating a durable, long-term security system. Hedges can last hundreds of years. She could use the wire fence in the short-term (up to 20 years) and be confident that the hedge will only require low-tech (but specialised crafting) for good maintainance.
Pumps can be solar-powered with a back-up facility such as a windmill, hand pump or ethanol-powered generator. Etc.
4. Stress-Free Yield
By giving each element several functions we accept that not all the functions can be performed all the time.
The workers can choose to from a variety of tasks unless there is a strict time frame, then there should be a rotation system so they don’t get bored or injuries from repetitive work (such as picking fruit, or bending over to pick salads).
Listen to ideas of workers, suppliers and customers to improve the system.
Production may be lower than in forced conditions but the sum of all the functions is greater (ideas, harvest collected, respect and observation of trees).
A reduction of stress on each element in the business, if they are all working for the good of the business, will result in the sum of efforts will be greater. Every worker and component will run efficiently and have greater productivity.
Safety is a very important consideration, without safety in the workplace; the cost can outweigh all profits over the years of the business.
Early in the implementation of our permaculture enterprise we aimed for stress-free yield because we knew our work was pioneering, and vulnerable to stress. We didn’t borrow money for the business because this would have enforced a level of profitability that would be stressful. We didn’t seek government funding because the project would have to meet the government expectations rather than the real customer needs.
Small and Slow Solutions
A small business can be a pilot for a larger company or you may discover that you are happy staying small.
Some services and products can be expanded or contracted according to market demand.
Obtain a Yield
Ensure that your short-term efforts have some immediate rewards but keep some profit for long-term goals ie improved software and documentation methods)
refine work procedures (homework answering, student management),
Re-evaluated your measures of success
sharing surpluses once the business is functioning well by providing scholarships, support or donations to others in need.
5. Energy Efficiency
Use existing physical, social and biological capital to maximum energy potential: share resources such as cars, support local transport, build structures that can work to shelter the garden as well as store heat for night-time, require minimal energy in maintenance, and are durable. Avoid abandoning ideas, technology, machinery or computers that are not competitive without first examining ways to update/expand and increase their efficiency. Many users do not use their equipment to full potential, they are still learning the potential of the current one while considering a new model.
Some offices can be made more efficient by natural resources such as natural lighting, solar or sun-heating, coupling the room with a greenhouse window or room. Remember that customers will expect your office to be a working model of sustainability. Ideally it should not look expensive but should be simple, comfortable, accessible, well-lit, full of natural fibres and a view of a garden.
6. Biological Resources
Maximise the use of biological and physical materials.
Consider the full life of the product.
Search for biodegradable alternatives that can be used as mulch or compost at the end of their first use. Eg. A wide-spreading tree is a more efficient use of resources for a shade house than one made of wood and nails. In the promenade at Notre Dame Paris, the trees form a durable, seasonally adjusting, air filtering shade. In the narrow streets of El Bosque in Spain, citrus trees are the posts to guide to cars, their trunks are painted white and flowers grow at the base. Consider only biodegradable packaging and insulation such as popped-corn for fragile packages instead of plastic pieces.
A clever small business example is GroCycle in Totnes, UK where the business cut the processing cost of growing mushrooms by using an abundant pre-processed waste – coffee grinds.
7. Energy Flow
Design to harvest and use natural energy flows E.g. Wind, wave solar or running water. Animals can be guided into narrow paths that serve to compact and stabilise slopes on contour. Water can be used to maintain an edge. Gravity can aid harvest machinery by collecting fruits from the top of the hill and roll the machinery downhill as the loader fills with fruit and becomes heavier. We can position collection points, processing equipment and export sheds with a road out at the bottom of the hill. This can help minimise the need for imported energy inputs.
Reduce costs of storage of products or equipment by keeping the product fresh and utilizing the just-in-time processing concept. We can keep the order process prompt and maintain a closer contact with our customers.
Let nature do her work
In a Business design we can use natural energy as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to tell a customer that nature can offer a similar service. Consider the Osteopath that recognised that the customer needed to walk to help heal their back. The customer who takes this simple advice may no longer be a regular customer but will refer other.
On a chicken farm we can set up systems where the chickens can feed themselves.
On a Maron or Yabbie farm we can create ideal conditions that support natural breeding rather than engage in expensive artificial breeding systems.
Silk worms can be housed close to or in the trees if we can devise protective shelters.
Nuts may be able to harvested more easily during particular climatic conditions.
Allow crops to self seed or allow crop residues to act as nurse for a different crop.
8. Natural Succession
Imitate nature in your plans to help a system evolve to meet your needs.
For commercial crops investigate systems similar to Fukuoka. Eg: You could allow the grasses to become seeded with herbs and flat ‘weeds’, grow tall grasses and pioneer species that act as green manure (Oats, Wheat, Sorghum) to protect young climax species (eg. fruit trees) from frost and insect attack.
A social example would be to glean the wisdom of our elders (canopy and support species)
Be active in social or professional guilds (companions and guild people) and seek a niche for our talents (a place in a complex society)
Allow time to explore growth opportunities as they appear (as in the forest when the canopy opens and new light appears).
9. Value Bio-Diversity
A farm would aim to include a variety of species of food plants, pollinators, animals and workers. This principle works in Business when we value a diverse range of supplies, techniques and technologies.
Diversity in nature builds resilience and resistance to pest attack. It also lets us find which variety works well in our own particular climate and micro-climates.
There are some government subsidies, customer value (including organic and Forestry certification systems) and other Integrated Pest Management rewards for farmers who strive to preserve. These are tangible economic rewards for the active efforts of businesses to preserve and promote diversity in natural systems.
Diversity creates opportunity for initiatives and inventions.
Explore a range of biological solutions to complement and eventually replace the conventional.
This concept aims to maximise the productivity of a system. In the same way a food forest can have numerous layers. A business can have many layers and zones:
Family and friends provide support and promotion in personal circles
Associations, educational bodies and accreditation bodies provide support and quality maintainance
Like-minded businesses provide branches of promotion
Customer Relationships – we can use diverse channels for promotion and feedback. Observe and accept feedback as a chance to connect better with your customers.
11. Appropriate Technology
Optimise the use of a technology by making it serve more than one need, have it work to full potential without overload. ie. David Homgren says “the easiest way to double efficiency of a car is to take an additional passenger.”
Favour simple and effective technologies. Consider delivery and running costs, it is efficient, prompt and reliable. Here is a comparison chart to help choose the best-fit in efficient technologies.
Favour natural fibres and avoid destructive materials such as plastics or inefficient fuel-dependent delivery.
Information and Observation replaces Energy
Smaller, more intensive, localised systems can be more productive and adaptable. They can take advantage of reduced costs/waste involved for transporting a product to the consumer.
Specialised products and services develop by information and observation. The natural succession or staging plan can conclude with the sharing of the business experience or intellectual property with franchisees, senior employees, students or prospective business purchaser.
Ensure your business is well equipped with tax and legal information, for example if you are not aware of the tax costs upon sale of the land or business, then the overall profit figures may be greatly altered. If you have to pay more tax in capital gains than you have earned as a business based on the family land, then the net result is not worth the effort. On the other hand there may be a wide range of tax advantages. Information is critical in business.
Aim for optimum production with minimum intervention. This is how new farming techniques such as SRI have evolved.
Work with the natural and social context. Fit the design into its surroundings. Look at the wider social environment as a key to what will work. At the steps of parliament house, Berlin (The Reistag), there is a huge ‘lawn’ area that is designed to withstand wet conditions and high pedestrian traffic. It works with nature and provides for the needs of the people. Another example can be seen when planting expensive crops in poor regions. These require more human intervention (in the form of security). Whereas a design that considers the social environment involves the community; provides work; and shares the profits with that community. It also benefits from pride, protection and support from that community.
In nature: consideration of context can mean the choice of mixed species suited to the sites natural advantages. E.g. water collection, condensation trapping, shelter, sediment as occurs at an oasis. We can also see what to avoid. E.g. if the design is within an area of natural fragility we would avoid planting trees whose seed are carried by birds or wind.
The Web of Business:
From the initial source (sun, rain, wind, and animals) energy is diverted, used, released again and transferred from one element to another. Energy connects the elements. Their common use of energy forms the web of relationships.
From the source to the sink (the place where the energy leaves the system):
Energy stores increases
Organisational complexity increases (but there are many new management tools to help to enable better self- determination and team work between workers.)
A business can be truly sustainable and ethical when it is resilient, responsive and responsible. This is a hard conversion in the short-term, especially when competitors are cutting costs by using economic slaves and polluting the environment. However, being ethical and environmentally responsible facilitates long term market harmony and prosperity.
In-process waste recycling and choosing natural energies can reduce costs.
Environmental responsibility is a means of value adding to a product.
There are government funds and other avenues of support and some economic incentives for acts of conservation and protection.
When a business does not behave ethically it eventually faces market disapproval and risks failure through legal processes. Ethical is good. Many businesses have had to face huge legal costs of unethical, economic or environmentally damaging acts in recent years.
Innovative business that work with nature are complex and may require patience and development of specialist skills and knowledge.
You can team up with other business. Many businesses have been successful in forming partnerships that provide a hub for small, diverse and complimentary projects. Ie. The Eden Project provides a space for like-minded businesses to work with, Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm supports small business projects that use his large living capital.
Small businesses without debt have a better opportunity to grow according to the proprietor’s wishes.
There is growing network of environmental organisations and mentors to support ethical growers, producers and service operators.