“Are a guide to what is considered right and wrong in the relations among people and between people and the larger living world” – Earth Charter
Permaculture is a design process to meet human needs while enhancing ecosystem health and it is less about what we can do, but more about what we should do.
The permaculture ethics are the foundation of what we do. Much like when we build a house or other structure we need to have a solid foundation in place. If not, then the structure is significantly weakened and can fall easily.
When the father of permaculture – Bill Mollison and the co-creator, David Holmgren first came together at the University of Tasmania and shared their ideas, one of the ideas they had was to look at indigenous cultures that had not only survived but thrived and find what the unifying factor was.
After much research and discussion, they boiled it down to 3 different Ethics – Care of the Earth, Care of People and what is typically sloganized now as Fair share.

Earth Care (Care for the earth) is about exactly that. We only have one planet that we all collectively live on. It is about rebuilding Natures Capital. While the word capital is typically used to define the concept of monetary wealth, in this instance we are referring to the natural or environmental resources so that we not only have enough for a sustainable existence but also add to that balance sheet – enhance our ecosystem.

People Care (Care of People) is about looking after self, kin and community. While most consider ourselves separate from the more extensive system, we are a big part of the system that has evolved in this environment, and we have the choice to help to not only our environment but also each other.
Self-care is not ‘selfish care’ as I heard someone put it once, but more about the care of self. We cannot pour from an empty cup, and we need to understand that we need to look after ourselves if we are to help look after others.
Kin (family or chosen tribe) is about the understanding that we cannot do it alone. We also need to look after family and friends. In the ’70s there was a huge movement for ‘self-sufficiency’, but honestly we cannot do it all ourselves. It is more about self-reliance and community abundance, and that starts with our family or chosen tribe.
The community is the understanding that we are a part of a greater community and that this ‘cultural capital’ is something that can help us celebrate our successes and help shape our character, to help us become more self-supporting and as Aristotle wrote approximately 2300 years ago, celebrating the good life.

Also, there is Third Ethic which is usually sloganized by the phrase Fair share. I sometimes think this is my favourite (if you can have a favourite ethic ;)) as it has gone through some transformations over the last 40 years.
While I know this has frustrated some and has created much debate in some circles in the permaculture community, what inspires me is that fact there is a conversation about it. An evolution of sorts as it shows that we are still learning, evolving and aspiring to be more.
What are we talking about when we are referring to a fair share? It could be said that we are talking about celebrating nature’s abundance while accepting and respecting nature’s limitations.
Celebrating Natures abundance because honestly, it is. NATURE IS ABUNDANT. Who has not walked into a rainforest and not been in awe of the wealth that surrounds us. The trees, the animals and life within the soils.
However, we also need to respect and accept that nature does have limits. If we continue to take and take without the understanding of boundaries, then there will be nothing left for that future growth – for future generations.

While traditionally there are only three ethics that are used and talked about, I like to talk about a couple of others that help guide me not only in my life but also when I do design work.
While these are not strictly ‘ethics’ I think that they are just as important to consider.
Transition. While there is some talk of this, mainly around the transition initiative, what I am referring to is that fact we need to understand that it will take time, that we are not going from zero to a sustainable existence overnight.  We need to consider appropriate technology to help create our systems and the time frame that is required to have it happen. Even a tree that we plant on our property can take 3 to 5 years before we start obtaining a yield from it.
Also, lastly is the potential of Future Care. I was first introduced to the term ‘future care’ from someone who was attending Dave Jacke’s Forest Garden Design Intensive with me three years ago. She was telling me that the idea came from an ongoing discussion in the USA about the meaning of ‘Fair Share’.
Future care was about the need to not only look at closed looped systems and how the surplus needs to be distributed between the first two ethics but that we need to consider if our designs are caring for the future, not just now but the seven generations – regenerative and looking toward legacy.
The Ethics in Permaculture mean different things to different people, but if we want to make real change we need to consider these in the foundations of our decision-making processes, as a guide to asking ourselves are we caring for the earth, caring for people and caring for the future.

Click on the picture link below to the free download from David Holmgren with the art work and links from 

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