The Mollison Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles

Principles card set and mindmap notes designed by Brett Pritchard (Diploma of Permaculture Design in Education and Community Services).

This 21 card set based on the original permaculture ethics and principles is being made freely available as a mark of honour and respect for Bill Mollison, the ‘father of permaculture’. Bill’s visionary work and his decades spent travelling the globe developing and promoting permaculture have given people everywhere a template on how we can live sustainably on this planet. Permaculture is an ethical and sustainable design system that can be applied anywhere, from windswept desert areas to inner city apartments. It is adaptable to all climates as well as to local cultural, religious and social beliefs. The fundamental foundation of permaculture are its ethics and principles and it is through understanding these that one gains the full picture of what permaculture involves, and not through looking at the techniques and strategies derived from ‘permacultural thinking’ (swales, banana pits, mandalla gardens, etc.).

While there are numerous versions of the permaculture ethics and principles available there has been a need for a clear and comprehensive set of the permaculture ethics and principles. The Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course was developed by Mollison, and this card set has been designed to be taught in PDC courses as they cover the original permaculture ethics and principles in full. This includes the all important attitudinal principles that are left out of some more ‘garden orientated’ versions of the principles. To enable PDC teachers and students plus interested members of the general public to easily access the full permaculture ethics and principles I have organised them into a 21 card set, and am making them free to download from this site. I am also working on developing non-English versions of the cards and they will also be free to download from this site.

I have been teaching the PDC since 1993 and this organisation of the ethics and principles come from my many hours spent preparing for courses. The ethics and principles in the Designers’ Manual are mainly on pages 34 and 35 but they are not in any specific order and other principles are scattered through the book. While I had to name some of the principles and also had to ‘dovetail’ some complementary ones together to keep the total number manageable I stayed as true as possible to the original ones and avoided as much as possible putting on my own subjective interpretation. The 21 card set I finally came up with consists of 3 ethics cards and 18 principles cards. They are taken from Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (Mollison 1988), the text book for the PDC, and Introduction to Permaculture (Mollison and Slay 1992). When Bill Mollison was given a draft set of these cards he stated these are the clearest and most comprehensive layout of the permaculture principles he had ever seen. One of Bill’s daughters, Frances Mollison, is an artist and painted the illustrations for some of the cards and is currently working on illustrations for the rest.

The cards have been divided into categories and are designed to be laid out in a pyramid shape to help with learning and memory retention. The main ethic card crowns the pyramid followed by the ethics on natural areas and the ethics of resource management cards. These are followed by the three energy principles, the four functional design principles, the five principles from nature, and the six attitudinal principled at the base.

While some ‘principles cards’ have just a brief sentence or line drawing I wanted to make these cards as ‘information dense’ as possible. In addition to a graphic and brief description of the ethic or principle I have also included practical examples, turning the card set into a great design tool. The free digital version of the card set has been designed to be printed as 6×4 photos, so feel free to download the cards onto a usb and take it to a photo printing kiosk or centre. The cards fit well into 6×4 24-page photo albums. A set of accompanying A3 mindmaps are also available from this site and are in black and white to allow for cheap copying and distribution. Just click the link at the left of the page.

I have been a permaculture designer since 1991 and jumped in the deep end, and just months after gaining my PDC I was running a two year permaculture based overseas aid project in a village of 300 Penan in the middle of the Borneo rainforest. Due to a bad fall in 1996 while building food gardens in an Aboriginal community in the Australian desert I ended up with no meniscal cartilage and chronic arthritis in both knees. I only work part-time and focus on community projects rather than seeking private commissions and still try to do as much permaculture aid work as I can.

I still have deep links with the Borneo village I initially worked in back in 1991-92 and organised a Penan Cultural Festival in the village a few years ago. Last year I took a friend Paulus from the village to the Phillipines to attend a Green Warrior PDC which I co-taught with Steve Cran. The Green Warrior style of permaculture was developed by Steve and is based on his decades of work in the field, and I was very much the junior teacher on this PDC and was there to learn as much as to teach.

Paulus was first introduced to permaculture in 1991 when he was just 14 and spent a lot of time with me on my first 2-year stay in his village as he could speak a little English. As well as learning more English he was one of my main teachers in learning to speak Penan, which was necessary as the majority of the village only spoke Penan and Malay. Now he is in his late 30s with a wife and three lovely children of his own and wants to be the first Penan permaculture teacher to teach in his own language. I am seeking donations to help fund a trip over this October so I can assist Paulus in establishing an alley crop trial as a demonstration of a more sustainable agricultural practice than slash and burn, as the village is running out of suitable flat land and are encroaching on their own rainforest reserve area. More details are at the left under Penan Permaculture Project and there is a link to my gofundme page. If you appreciate the card set and want to assist me in return it will be very appreciated.

Cards designed by Brett Pritchard, Bachelor of  Natural Environment and Wilderness Studies (UTas 2007), Diploma of Permaculture Design in Education and Community Development (1993), Recepient of the Permaculture Services Award (1992).
Desert project