About a decade ago, I discovered a new way of looking at the world. One that recognizes the inherent interconnectedness of all things. I was fascinated. All of the sudden, the world made sense on completely different level. I wanted to dig into this system and learn all that I could. There seemed to be a healthy lens and viewpoint built into this framework.


This framework is called permaculture.


I first learned of this concept while I spent a semester abroad in Australia, learning about sustainability and the environment. My field study classmates and I spent a day at a permaculture homestead in New South Wales, weaving in and out of garden beds, watching the resident geese, and learning about how all aspects of the garden worked together – each playing multiple functions. It was one of the first human systems I witnessed that felt like it was working with and within the larger natural world in a harmonious way.


Permaculture recognizes the world is made of whole parts that become new wholes. Seemingly separate parts come together to form a bigger picture.


Let’s think about a cell. It is is a whole in and of itself. It is also part of a bigger whole – whether that is a human being, your pet dog Fido, or a tree. Humans are the same – a whole in and of themselves – and also part of a bigger whole, a family unit, different communities, the Earth.


When you start to look at your life like a holistic system where there are inherent checks and balances, you can read into the signals that life is delivering that will bring you into a place of living life in a more connected way. You’re not just a body floating in space, your actions are impacted by others, and they have repercussions on the systems you move through. What is our place in the greater systems we live in?


The study of permaculture is a “creative design process based on whole-systems thinking informed by ethics… It was developed practically by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer on his own farm in the early 1960s and then theoretically developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications.” (Source: Wikipedia)


Permaculture, most commonly applied to garden and living spaces, is a set of design principles that guides us to work in harmony with the way of the world. It brings greater connection and support to the way the elements within a system work together.


Three years after I first learned of the concept of permaculture, my sister, Magdalene, and I took a semester permaculture design course at a small college in New Hampshire where we studied with two of the state’s leading permaculture practitioners – Lauren Chase Rowell and Steve Whitman. We spent several months learning the design process, studied composting toilets, learned about forest gardens (the concept of growing forests that produce food), and completed project concepts that would remedy lead in soil and create more beautiful and productive urban environments.


The garden elements were fascinating to me, and as I am always thinking in a broader scope, I sat with the question – how can we take permaculture principles and apply those to business? How about applying it to the way we live life? Since permaculture is such an effective practice in restoring ecosystems and gives us the tools to engage with agricultural practices in a more holistic way, what would be possible if we took the same framework and applied it to areas of life that have nothing to do with flowers or berry bushes?


When you get sick, your body has a whole host of defenses that it brings to the table to rebalance you and get you to a place where you are healthy. Internally, you have this system that keeps you in a place of balance. On the outside, life can get to a place of being out of balance, too. What mechanisms exist on the outside to rebalance you?


Internally, we rely on homeostasis, the system that maintains our body temperature. Ecosystems rely on dynamic equilibrium, the state of constant change that maintains the balance of all systems to support the life within the ecosystem. It’s an active process that keeps all parts interacting in a way that leads to inherent health and well-being. Externally, we have to take in information from greater systems to know when we are out of balance and then take steps to remedy that state.


Permaculture is comprised of twelve principles that guide how it’s implemented and reflects how natural systems work together to produce a sum that is greater than the individual parts. Its foundation is also based on the ethics: earth care, people care, and fair share.


Top designers in the world are inspired by nature in their design process – from bioinspiration to bionics, studying nature is leading to breakthroughs in how humans are able to solve problems.


What if we apply the same thinking to business, what might happen? Would you have more time or energy to do the things you love outside of your business? Would you be recharged by your life? Would you find a greater sense of meaning and purpose? Would your business have a greater net positive impact on the people it serves? Could business be a force for creating improvements in the natural world itself?


Over the next twelve weeks, I am exploring each of the twelve permaculture principles and how they can be applied to small and medium-sized businesses.


The question I am exploring is: how can businesses be run more effectively and in harmony with the world when we look at business through the lens of permaculture?


Why is this exploration relevant? As sustainability and how we care for the planet we live on are imperative actions, the way we think about business needs to shift. We must shift from the take-make-waste paradigm to one that operates more like natural ecosystems – closed-loop systems that operate from constantly renewing resources created from the waste of the systems themselves.


I hope you’ll think about the connections between these principles and the way businesses operate, so you can draw new parallels and your own connections to the framework. Share your insights in the comments. This is a topic in its nascent stages, so we are on the edge of creating a new understanding. It’s an exciting place to be in and there is much to discover. Let’s do it together.


Join me next week as we kick off the journey with principle 1: observe and interact. We will look beyond the business itself to the people who are inherent to running the business and the other systems that support the business’ existence. For new articles, sign up for my email list.

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