What is Social Permaculture?

How do permaculture principles apply to social situations? And how can we use the same design strategies we use in the garden to improve our relationships?

“Permaculture is the art of designing beneficial relationships.”
–Patrick Whitefield

Those other two ethics…

Most of the text in this week’s class was written by Marit Parker. 

Many people come to permaculture to learn more about growing food. The Earth Care ethic resonates easily with many of us, and applying a permaculture approach can be really helpful in the garden. In this course, however, you have already seen that permaculture means much more than that, and in fact, is applicable anywhere and everywhere.

All three of the permaculture ethics are equally important and inextricably interlinked. This means that if you want to address environmental issues, you need to look at the social issues involved, and you will need to understand the connections between them.

Some of you may be asking “Why?” Surely saving polar bears/stopping climate change/growing our own food is about saving the earth? Why do people matter when it’s people that have made a mess of the world? Well, that’s exactly why. We’re the ones causing the damage, and we need to get at why it’s so hard for us to change, even when we KNOW what we’re doing is unsustainable. And a good design makes changing so much easier.

Here’s Lucie Bardos explaining what Social Permaculture is:

What is Social Permaculture?

Diving deeper…

This article explores the pattern language of a social permaculture landscape.

This article by Lisa DePiano does a great job of diving a bit deeper into this topic and presenting some of the principles through a social lens, and also in the video below:

Socially Engaged Permaculture - Lisa Depiano

Climate change and Social Permaculture

At the Paris climate talks, a major part of the discussion was where to set the limit. Initially the plan was to limit the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees. This was eventually reduced to 1.5 degrees.

But even this leaves many people vulnerable. And the plan assumes that the wealthiest, most impactful people will make sacrifices to help the billions of poor people who suffer from those impacts. It’s a dubious plan, at best.

Indigenous campaigners and groups like the UK’s Wretched of the Earth point out that those most impacted by climate change are black and brown communities in the global South, with women often experiencing worse impacts than men.

Yet it is the industrialisation of the West that is largely responsible for altering and damaging the planet-wide systems.How does this affect how you think about climate change?How can a permaculture approach help?

This article discusses climate change and environmental racism. ​

And this article posits that, to solve the climate crisis, the only winning strategy will be love.

permaculture ethics


Social permaculture is all about seeing things from different perspectives. ​Challenge yourself to listen to and consider the experiences of different people. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask a friend or neighbour with a disability if they would be willing to talk to you about accessibility and the barriers they face. Practice active listening, i.e. listen to them without saying anything yourself! If you have a disability yourself, talk to someone with a different disability from your own, e.g. if you have mobility difficulties, talk to someone with a sensory impairment or a learning disability.
  • Go to a talk by a person from a group or about an issue you have not heard of or not heard their side of, e.g. a talk by a refugee, a war veterans meeting, or an event run by people with learning disabilities.
  • Visit somewhere you have never been before: A mosque, an old people’s home, a homeless shelter, a community centre for people from a minority or indigenous culture. Listen to their stories.

Relevant Links and Resources​

The Black Permaculture Network is a network of Afro-indigenous people who have come together through the practices of permaculture, agroecology, natural living and care of the earth. Here is one of their founders, Pandora Thomas, discussing social permaculture.

Pandora Thomas ~ Social Permaculture: The Magic of Diversity

How social permaculture helped a diverse community survive for 25+ years:

Robin Clayfield on Social Permaculture

Inclusion, belonging, and integrating people with disabilities:

Inclusion, belonging and the disability revolution: Jennie Fenton at TEDxBellingen

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