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and Integral permaculture?

Integral Permaculture is a design practice 
based on the holistic & ethical science 
which includes all levels of experience, 
- internal & external, individual & collective,
ancient & modern - 
into a coherent & systemic whole, 
with the sole purpose of designing healthy,
sustainable cultures & environments
for all species.

It is essential to include all levels because we need to create healthy communities, local economies & effective organizations ... 

Why "Integral" Permaculture?

The clearest definition of permaculture is in the Designers Manual, p.37: 

"Permaculture Design = the beneficial assembly of the 
social, site, energy & abstract components 
in their proper relationships". 

This is a very clear & succinct definition of permaculture design, dated 1988 (here with added AQAL correspondances in gray).

The problem is that in practice, traditional permaculture has been propagated mainly as design of the site & energy components - sometimes with some passing reference to the other two.    Although at least some of the social & abstract components have to be considered for any design to work, these aspects have not been as develop and consequently as well taught, as the other, more material components.

For example, all PDCs (Permaculture Design Certificate courses, the most basic permaculture qualification) will be taught about the natural succession from bare soil to climax ecosystem, but very rarely will they include any mention of cultural, group or individual people's maturity developmental natural successions.

Yet experience tells us that it is usually some oversight in integrating these "internal" quadrants in the design that causes projects to fail. 

Integral Permaculture specifically re-instates the other components to equal importance in the design, with the science to back them.

So Permaculture always has been, in theory, & from its origins, Integral.   But in practice unfortunately it rarely is.

Honoring Women Pioneers

The origins of permaculture as they are normally told (with Bill Mollison & David Holmgren + sometimes Masanobu Fukuoka listed as the iconic 'fathers' of permaculture) are interestingly quite patriarchal, even though in fact women have been instrumental in both creating and popularizing permaculture, from the start.  With integral permaculture we explicitly include the great contribution of the many great women who are usually 'forgotten' (or ignored) on the way.    

We see this cultural pattern in other forms...


The Permaculture card game promoted in permies.com (with the aim of "infecting brains" with Permaculture ideas) & financed by thousands of people, includes 10 celebrated & recognized male pioneers & not one woman

(another very important idea at the base of "conventional" permaculture that continues to "infect brains" in practice with sexism in this way, even as it talks about equality, in theory). 

This interesting absence of women pioneers is (possibly?) also why the Social & Abstract components are often not so well developed in 'regular' permaculture: integrating of these invisible components into designing physical structures is something women pioneers have excelled at & we have taken some time in realizing just how crucially important this perspective is: internal perceptions, beliefs, models, culture, history, etc. affect absolutely everything we think, do & certainly what & how we design, and to the extent that we are conscious of this we become better holistic designers. 

Some examples of these exceptional integral pioneers that we include & honour in this new curriculum are Vandana ShivaWangari Maathai,  Hazel Henderson (who published an integral model of development years before 'the fathers' of integral did... a pattern?)Dana Meadows (honored by us as the mother of Integral Permaculture)Helena Norberg-HodgeNorie HuddleNicole FossMargrit KennedyJean LiedloffMargaret WheatleyArundhati Roy, & others.

The reason the influence of these outstanding women are often un-acknowledged (& only briefly mentioned, if at all) in most permaculture circles we can all guess at ... but we suggest it is 
- clearly not because they didn't practice permaculture, 
- & not only because women's ideas are often coopted without credit 
- & women's voices are typically less respected in any patriarchal culture, 
- but also because theory always precedes practice (often by decades, & in any sphere).  
- and also because any radical & potentially threatening (to the main culture) knowledge tends to get diluted or assimilated with time, if it can't be ignored altogether.  

It is interesting that this is a quote from Bill Mollison: 
"Women are the holders of all knowledge, 
everything a man knows he stole from a woman."  

We're aiming to accelerate the natural succession toward all pioneers being fairly credited and celebrated for their important contributions to all knowledge important for creating sustainable societies, for example by stating visually the original sources of the Integral Permaculture curriculum, here (work in progress).

Not Just Gardening & Building

From the Foundation Year Book of the Permaculture Academy (by Bill Mollison): 

"It is always necessary to return 
to the roots of knowledge 
and the origins of institutions, 
for the latter drift from their purposes 
even if many individuals 
hold true to origins 
and ideals".

There are far too many times good permaculture designers have found themselves saying "permaculture design is not just about gardens or buildings, it's a design science".   ... only to find that:

a) there are lots of people / websites / publications / urban myths out there saying something quite different & busily propagating the 'permaculture as gardening' myth, &

b) most people don't know what you mean by 'design science' anyway, hence a) happens a lot

So Integral Permaculture is about making the wonderful range & span of permaculture a lot more explicit, and actually teaching, in much more detail, how much more than a earth(-as-soil) science it is. 

In an interesting way it is actually about going back to its roots - which is why we say that the mother & father of Integral Permaculture are Dana Meadows and Howard Odum.    

Now we are ready to understand the profound insights & wisdom they had to share, in their original form, which actually goes a lot deeper than including most permaculture graduates can imagine.

With this we don't, in any way, wish to under-estimate the primary importance of the restoration of vital ecosystems, nor, indeed, all the brilliant work done to date.  

What we believe it is important & urgent to do, however, is to address the fact that things have gotten markedly worse during the last 40yrs of passionate campaigning by ecologist and of demonstrably successful land-restoration work by permaculture designers all over the world.   

& it's not because we don't know how to restore vital ecosystems, but because we've failed to design holistically (also with the society's mythology & economy, and our individual psychology) - or in a truly integral way.

We believe this is because we have focused the brilliant permaculture design tools on 'external quadrants' solutions (the physical world) 

whilst the new-age movement has filled the inevitable void in the 'inner quadrants' needs & interests - which are just as important for all of us - with lots of semi-magical & pseudo-spiritual half-truths, most of which (demonstrably, in their practice) actually support the status quo in just continuing on its incredibly destructive path.   

Integral Permaculture  integrates all quadrants, internal & external, but using the same applied scientific aim & vitality, innovation & originality, guided by strong clear ethics and principles that are the mark of good permaculture design.    Still 'no belief required' !   Only tried & tested models are taught & questioned, even as our primal need for myth, imagination, fun & story is acknowledged & consciously included in our design tools repertoire. 

An ongoing Co-Creation

Integral Permaculture graphically can be envisioned as the tip of the advancing wave above, the yellow part which represents Permaculture thought in the "yellow" or "systemic-integrating" meme.    It's the one that strives to include all stages & types of permaculture we see now and integrates them, together with the latest emergent collective thinking on the subject of how all things come together.

Integral Permaculture is an emergent creature: it is constantly evolving and we invite you to be one of the integrating people who are exploring and co-weaving this particular piece of the fabric of history.

This is simply a conscious application of natural successions when it comes to the cultures of entire groups, neighbourhoods & societies.        

We can make much more effective interventions if we accurately understand where communities are at in terms of social development, in a very similar way that we can restore landscapes a lot faster if we have an understanding of where they're at in ecological terms. 

There are also individual and group development stages which we ignore at our peril, when we come to design with people (and all permaculture designs are about people just as much as they are about soil & the whole surrounding ecosystem).   

Integral Permaculture includes many more models pertaining to the 'Inner Quadrants' of human experience, to supplement & empower the excellent range of models we already teach of the 'Outer Quadrants'. 

An Integral Map

Models of Conscious Evolution

Now we have many new models which are coherent and resonate well with the essence of Permaculture,  which clarify where we are, and can guide us on our path to radically re-design some inoperative old ways of thinking.     Change is not just a matter of more & 'better' hardware technology.    It is the software technology that actually most matter: our ways of perceiving and thinking about the problems.

These models ARE EVOLVING all the time, & they evolve through inclusive Dialogue.

When viewed together, the viable old & emerging models  are now starting to give us a more interesting, more holistic understanding of how the self-destructive systems are held together - so we can re-design them.

Spiral Dynamics

Clicking on the image will take you to a definition of this model in Wikipedia.

The spiral describes what in permaculture is called a "Natural Succession", in this case of 'ways of thinking' or 'memes', in terms of civilized cultures (= those that have created cities).

Permaculture is a science which (by definition, but rarely by practice) belongs to the yellow meme, that is, is understood in its most correct form from within this way of thinking, because it was created from this perspective.

This meme is called the Systemic or Integrating Meme, and is the level where permaculture starts not only to be understood in a holistic way, but also to be able to be applied in its most complete and powerful form: this is Integral Permaculture.

And Integral Permaculture, also by definition, includes and transcends all other previous forms, which today co-exist, and can be recognised sometimes clearly, sometimes as mixtures.  

These forms explain some of the differences that often separate us, and this model gives us some ideas about how it could unify us - as well as giving us a more global and satisfactory understanding of the design challenge itself: this model makes possible a real systhesis and holism rarely achievable without this type of clarity. 


Here is the Spiral Dynamics class page in the e-bookif you would like to explore more about this model.

What is Permaculture?

There is an article about this here, but it is interesting to observe that really there is no agreement amongst permaculture designers about what the definition of permaculture is in practice, although the theory has always been very clear on the issue.   One of the briefest definitions is in the Designers Manual and is represented by this drawing:

Permaculture Design is the beneficious association
of the Site, Energy, Social and Abstract components,
in their optimal relationships.
p.37 Permaculture Designers Manual, Bill Mollison 1988

You might notice that this diagram is very similar to Wilber's 4 Quadrants (see below), and we can observe that in practice the great majority of permaculture designs take much more into account the Site and Energy components (equivalent to the External Quadrants) than of the Social and Abstract components (equivalent to the Internal Quadrants).

This is understandable as in the West we are immersed in a culture (now exported as dominant culture in most of the world) which is based on a reductionist science (and form of thinking) - that is that mostly only considers the physical or material components of what it studies, & then divides up some components to study them in more detail, loosing the view of the vital connections between the parts, in the process.     

These ingrained habits have led us to use permaculture as this type of science, and for this reason also, permaculture is now mostly known & used as something for designing physical systems: land & buildings, + some economic structures ... but not really the whole Culture, as the name PermaCulture actually promises.    

For all these reasons, Integral Permaculture consists in going to the roots or origins and reclaim its holistic meaning, and develop the forms of practice that are most balanced and coherent with this pattern.  It is about consciously learning how to think in more systemic, holistic ways, seeing much more detail whilst keeping in view the really big picture.   It is for people who know that creating lovely food-filled gardens is not enough to bring peace & harmony to human societies.

The Transition Movement is a good example of Integral Permaculture because it really does consider much more than usual the Abstract and Social components.   For this reason also it is a very good design.

The Four Quadrants

Here below ther is a Ken Wilber video which explains the Four Quadrants as a part of the 'operating system' that we all come with. 

Wilber is considered the most important modern phylosopher & creator of the Integral Model ...    

An example from  Integral Ecology of the various forms that we can see, study and think about a frog (here very simplified)

the subjective reality of the frog

the objective reality of the frog

its social relations

the frog-environment system

These are very similar to the 4 Component types that are considered in permaculture design.

Globalization or Planetarization

This diagram is taken from Great Transitions & maps what in Permaculture we call a Natural Succession.  

"Working with not agains Nature" is a permaculture principle closely associated with the principle of "Accellerating (or Liberating) Natural Succession" because once we know in which direction a system is trying to evolve (usually towards higher complexity and fertility), we can at the very least 'get out of its way' and so encourage something much more sustainable to evolve.   It also takes a lot of energy to stop, thwart or slow down natural successions, and usually higher fertility and complexity is very much in our interests to encourage.

Most (if not all) big design errors usually originate in not understanding natural successions (or "what Nature wants to do").   There are natural succession maps in all systems, from ecosystems to human psychology.  This is a simplified map of a natural succession of civilization types, based on patterns seen so far. 

This map gives us a lot of very interesting information, as permaculture designers.    
For eg., if it is accurate, it suggests that a Planetary Phase is the next & natural great jump for post-modernist societies, and that a Global Government will be part of that picture.      
Note this natural succession map does not assume that jump will be achieved with an increase in energy use (which we know is not possible nor desirable) and in fact the very permacultural science-fiction scenarios of The Green Planet & Avatar in fact fit well into that (as an example).

A big question for all people concerned about a sustainable (just, culturally diverse, ecologically thriving) future therefore will be "How do we design for this not to be Globalisation (the explicitly promoted and well-resourced plan of the multinationals, already being carried out from time), without going backwards to some romantic ideal of forms that belong to the Stone Age or Early Civilizations, but forwards, to an alternative Planetary society, with all the advantages of previous forms, but not their disadvantages?

We are now deciding, collectively (consciously or unconsciously) whether 
  • we opt for Globalisation (a global village) or Plantarisation (a globe of villages)
  • we will be governed by Representative Democracy or by Participative Systems
  • we increase the control of internet by and for the multinationals, or by and for the people 

Appropriate Technology

How we learn (in the 'alternative movements') to harness Internet to create an effective and just (well-designed) Global Citizen Government that this Planetary Phase will require is perhaps one of the most important designs that we need to develop. 

Increasing internet literacy for permaculture designers (and permaculture literacy for software and IT systems designers) is therefore also crucial, and something which we consider therefore one of the tasks of Integral Permaculture: to fully integrate the very best of modern technologies (and which ones?) to the service of sustainability.

So although Integral Permaculture cannot be strictly defined - since it is evolving - we do have some very clear directions, based on creative ways of combining traditional permaculture models with those of other old and emerging sciences & movements, like the Integral model. 

For example, we can say with some certainty that this would be a permaculture that: 

  •  includes and transcends, honoring the valid and important contribution of all types of Permaculture (which includes many other ancient and modern science) and all historical stages which are the necessary part of its natural succession: an important principle of permaculture design in itself. 
  • seeks coherence and integrity in every way, without fear of conflict or difficulties but actually living the permaculture principle "the Problem is the Solution": recognizing that fear in any form is what separates us, we embrace the fear of differences with the love for finding common ground, the love for a shared struggle towards an identity beyond our small personal identities and personal points of view  
  • embraces technological progress and in particular IT as appropriate technology that we can use wisely to re-locate (physically) but at the same time help us to (virtually) design a conscious evolution of the noosphere, the meta-technology needed to create the planetary awareness that we need to solve global problems we face
  • created by and for promoting the "we paradigm", leaving behind in a conscious but inclusive way the individualism and separation that has caused many of today's problems and still prevents and drags at us in our efforts to change society: our personal passions and talents, coming together with a commitment to inclusion and to learning to transcend - all important internal drives that align us with the force of Evolution 
  • integrates all quadrants in a conscious way: applying to the internal quadrants the same thorough selection of viable models that traditional permaculture has so successfully applied to the external quadrants.     This means integrating, in a scientific way, the best individual, collective, internal and external models known to date recognizing the importance and place of each in our quest for the holistic and expansive wisdom we need to do truly evolutionary design
  • promotes planetarization (a globe of villages) as the next evolutionary step for humanity, rather than the globalization vision of the multinationals (a global village) nor the vision of atomized primitivism (back to the past) unconsciously or consciously promoted by those who cannot believe that humanity is capable of joining in a peaceful and consensual manner towards a greater collective intelligence and collective creativity.
  • as such it strives to be truly multicultural, defying the currents of Anglo standarisation that accompany globalisation and seeks to actively learn the most tried and tested sustainable models from all cultures, not by romanticising & appropriating forms and traditions from native cultures (as too often happens in our shopping mentality culture), but by in depth study of what many sustainable cultures have in common and cultivating thorough understanding of systems science.
  • It emphasizes the importance of incorporating the best practical know-how from systems theory with the PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) basics, since we need to become much better complex systems thinkers if we are to design anything that will realistically challenge the current destructo-cultural institutions and global systems. 
  • understand how 'the system' uses us to effectively defend itself from real change by structurally silencing the contributions of indigenous people, of women, of cultural minorities, fo the working class, and other under-privileged voices, as well as the most radical ideas and new emerging sciences which are most threatening to it.   This is why change is so slow & how too often we see history repeating itself.   Without a scientific & Integral Permaculture design focus it is too difficult if not impossible to understand how these powerful underlying design forces interact & so can end up coopting even our best intentioned projects. 


A great Integral Permaculture Designers Manual is being compiled as a free resource for everyone to enjoy & learn this frontier holistic science from: www.PermaCultureScience.org

And a Certificate & Diploma in in Integral Permaculture are certified by the Integral Permaculture Academy: www.PermaCultureScience.com 

The Great Transition is a very integral (especially in the 'we' perspective) document we refer to above.

Brad McManus from The Sustainability Centre, Thailand wrote a paper (date?) called "An Integral Framework for Permaculture" which you can download here (also attached bottom of this page)

Article called An Integral Permaculture (2009) by Tim Winton

An Introduction to the Integral Operating System (IOS an article series where Ken Wilber shares an overview of the Integral Map



as much as we need to re-instate healthy ecosystems, create organic gardens & rational technologies... 

Integral Permaculture fully acknowledges that we cannot ultimately succeed in re-designing any EarthCare without re-designing the PeopleCare side of the whole system.

The Integral Permaculture Design Course

The Integral PDC now can be taken through several action-learning programs, from Beginners to Advanced & Diploma level. 

It has its own page here:  

it has this ship as its icon to remind us we're busy designing & learning how to design sustainable human cultures, as the current culture - like the Titanic - sails on to its predictable fate.   

See the first video for the full story.  

The painting is by Vladimir Kush & titled "Butterfly Ship"