Permaculture is most often understood in relation to home gardens and food growing, however its application as a design framework is much broader. It offers a comprehensive and ethical approach to designing, developing and managing any endeavour, while caring for people and the planet. It could also be called ecological design, regenerative design, nature-based solutions, or holistic design.
Businesses may be more familiar with frameworks and concepts such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), Net Zero 2050, Zero Waste, or certifications such as LEED’s or SBT’s. While valuable, most of these programs measure the end result, rather than providing a process to create an ethical business from the ground up, which by its very nature, will most likely reach the targets specified under certification. Additionally, the costs required to certify may be prohibitive, especially to smaller businesses, while understanding and applying Permaculture Design principles is available to anyone.
It is often tempting to jump straight into action and look for specific strategies or techniques, however, taking the time to lay strong foundations will set you on your right path from the start, and save time later. In this article I will look at how the Permaculture Ethics can be the foundation underpinning your business as a force for good. Future articles will explore how the permaculture principles can be used to design your business.
Earth Care: This is superficially self-explanatory, but a deeper examination may offer ways that your business can move from a ‘do less harm’ approach, to a regenerative or ‘do more good’ approach, whatever the output of the organisation, from services to heavy industry. Setting company policy to consider and address environmental sustainability across all facets of the business is your first step. Make sure there is support from senior levels, and engage with employees and stakeholders to increase their commitmment to any changes. They may also be a great source of ideas to improve sustainability throughout the business.
The science tells us that we are facing the twin crises of climate change and biodoversity collapse, so considering any negative impacts that may be present, and finding solutions to address them is a good place to start. Carry out a simple audit to determine the potential impacts of the business activities. Examples of some swaps could include switching to renewable energy sources (either purchased or on site), switching consumable products in the office to recycled copy paper, paper towel and toilet paper, making product sustainability a purchasing criteria for any new equipment, or making the most of virtual or online meetings and training to save travel. Bigger ticket items such as vehicle replacement may need to be planned for over a longer period, but unless it becomes company policy, there will be no plan!
People Care: This relates to how your business interacts with staff or employees, stakeholders, and the wider community. Do you offer stable employment with a safe and inclusive workplace, or do you consider your casual workforce as a disposable commodity, with high turnover and easily replaced? Do you value your customers, and create value to keep them coming back?
The benefits of caring for your people as you would your own family members could include greater employee engagement and retention, greater productivity, reduced costs related to on-boarding and training of new staff, or reduced rates of injury and illness requiring leave. The impact on reputation can be hard to measure, but it can be very difficult to rebuild if there is an impression within the community of a business that treats its people badly. In the same way, looking after customers will pay dividends in word of mouth referrals, leading to increased business.
Fair Share: In a world of competition, the concept of Fair Share may seem irrelevant, or even detrimental. It reminds us that being generous brings its own rewards, as well as potentially improved financial returns. It also refers to sharing a workload, and the benefits of working collectively to achieve an outcome.
Developing a mind set of collaboration rather than competition can lead to opportunities that may otherwise go unrealised. Referrals can flow from one business to another, industry networks can support initiatives such as mental health programs, or advocate for subsidies for efficiency measures. Instead of ‘slicing the pie’ into smaller and smaller pieces, is it possible to work together to ‘grow the pie’ so that everyone benefits?
This is a brief overview of how the Permaculture Ethics can create a strong foundation for your business or organisation. How it works in practice will depend on the specific circumstances of the business, and the willingness to embrace a different way of thinking. In following articles, I will explore how the Permaculture Design Principles provide a guide to implement processes and practices.
If you are interested in exploring how Permaculture or Regenerative Design can benefit your business, with REAL down to earth solutions, please email email@example.com.
Note: While the Permaculture Ethics and Principles have been expressed in different ways over the years, the publication of Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (Holmgren, 2002) describes them in a cohesive and succinct format, and is the framework referred to here.