This essay compares the permaculture principles of David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. It looks briefly at those principles with direct correlations, gives an overview of two of Holmgren’s principles that overlap with Mollison’s and discusses three of Holmgren’s principles with no obvious intersection in Mollison’s work – however it finds commonalities within the application of the ideas.
2. Direct correlations
Mollison and Holmgren’s principles have direct corollaries in the areas of energy use, diversity and edge effects.
Energy use: Holmgren (2012) describes designing systems to catch energy and store abundance for future use and Mollison’s principle similarly describes creating energy cycles to maximise catchment and use (Coleman 2013).
Diversity: Mollison highlights the value of increased yields within diverse environments (Mollison & Slay 2009) while Holmgren focuses on the reduced vulnerability to threats (Coleman 2013).
Edges: On the topic of edges, Mollison and Holmgren agree they increase yield and diversity and edges should be maximised within the system (Coleman 2013; Diver n.d.).
However, the distinction between the remaining principles is less defined.
3. Observe and interact
Holmgren’s first principle, ‘observe and interact’ (Coleman 2013) rightly sits at no. 1 on his list of permaculture principles. This principle symbolises the focus on learning the land and its patterns to exploit the existing advantages and mitigate or repurpose the disadvantages. None of the remaining principles can be followed with any depth without thoughtful observation of or interaction with the environment or the permaculturalist themselves.
The observe and interact principle is embodied within several of Mollison’s principles although not stated explicitly. Coleman’s explanation of Mollison’s attitudinal principles comes close with ‘long and protracted thought rather than thoughtless careless actions’ (2013, p. 7). This indicates that time should be taken to consider various options and their results – the idea of careful observation is further embedded within some of Mollison’s other principles:
• Energy efficient planning – determine energy flows. Observation of the solar and water cycles, for example.
• Using biological resources – use plants and animals to do the work. This cannot be done without recording the work required or the work done by plants and animals.
4. Use and value renewable resources and services
The fifth principle of Holmgren, ‘use and value renewable resources and services’ describes the idea that reliance on non-renewable resources is by definition unsustainable and should be reduced by taking advantage of the great quantity of renewable resources available in nature (Holmgren 2012).
These ideas are again captured in Mollison’s principles:
• energy efficient planning – determine energy flows to take advantage of them,
• use of biological resources – exploit the functions of plants and animals to do useful work, and
• energy cycling – recycle energy, maximise energy use and minimise losses.
5. Principles without direct correlation
Holmgren’s principle to ‘produce no waste’ (2012) has no particular mention in the principles of Mollison. Similarly, Holmgren specifies to ‘apply self-regulation and accept feedback’ and ‘design from patterns to details’ (2012) and these ideas are not referenced directly by Mollison in his set of principles.
However, it is easy to find overlap within the details. If Mollison’s principles of energy and plant use are followed then waste is reduced. If Mollison’s ‘long and protracted thought’ (Coleman 2013, p. 7) is invested then self-regulation is inevitable. If all the principles are combined then patterns will emerge and the design will follow. Such is the interconnectedness of permaculture. Everything is linked, on one level or another.
6. The layering of the principles
In general, Holmgren’s principles appear more compartmentalised than those of Mollison. Overlap exists, however it is far more obvious within Mollison’s work.
For example, Mollison’s principle of edges bleeds into diversity, which is itself a principle. Diversity can be created through having functions supported by many elements and each element performing many functions – more principles again. This type of interconnectedness is found throughout the permaculture principles, and is in fact the fundamental idea behind the design system: maximising interconnections.
This essay has compared the permaculture principles of David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. It has briefly compared several of the principles, both those with obvious connections and those without.
It has found that while the principles differ in words, the application of the principles will result in a similar outcome – the mapping of patterns, the maximising of interconnections and the minimisation of energy use. Those that wish to achieve such outcomes are recommended to attempt to put these principles to use.
Coleman, R 2013, Topic 1: a framework for design: permaculture ethics, principles and strategies, RMIT, viewed 14 March 2013, via RMIT Learning Hub.
Diver, S n.d., An introduction to permaculture, The Permaculture Activist, viewed 31 March 2013, <http://www.permacultureactivist.net/intro/PcIntro.htm>.
Holmgren, D 2012, Essence of permaculture, 2nd edn, Permaculture Principles, <http://holmgren.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Essence_of_Pc_EN.pdf>.
Mollison, B & Slay, RM 2009, Introduction to permaculture, 2nd edn, Tagari Publications, Sisters Creek.