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Permaculturebusinessworld.com

It’s been three years in the making — researching, designing, testing the application, and now it’s ready for the world to tap in and download the knowledge.

During my PDC back in 2009 at the PRI, I sat there as Geoff Lawton was going through the many applications that permaculture covers. All I could think about was how many different business ideas I had come up with that could follow the movements three core ethics and make a profit at the same time. Limitless, absolutely limitless are the possibilities to take a niche and run with it and make it a success.

While the opportunities for me were boundless it was so clear what I had to do. I couldn’t work out why others were not seeing what I could see. Stepping back and really observing what was happening, I saw that 90% of the PDC graduates I was encountering had hit what I call a ‘permaculture brick wall’, or as Daniel Parra Hensel described in an email to me, "post PDC syndrome" — Paralysis through (way to much) analysis and not knowing where to start, or just reverting back to old careers because that’s safe for them.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I emailed Geoff at the PRI and described my idea for a business based course entailing permaculture design and consultation on a real life job site with real clients. It turned out to be a huge success. Students couldn’t get enough of it. Even with the time limitations of the 5-day course, everyone was screaming for more.

After the courses, student emails turned into Skype chats, chats turned into bookings for my time, bookings turned into paid mentoring and coaching on business startup, and now its current iteration www.permaculturebusinessworld.com will continue to evolve like any successful regenerative business.

I named the site Permaculture Business World because a business is just an idea, and like any idea it has no boundaries and a business idea here in Australia is no different to one in the Americas, Europe, Africa or Asia. Creating a market for yourself and getting paying clients is the same everywhere. The only thing that changes are local or state laws for how you legally set up your business.

The support for permaculturebusinessworld.com has been outstanding since it first sprouted before the Australian Permaculture Convergence in 2010.
Since then, some of the many successful permaculture business owners across the globe have lent their words of wisdom to us on the importance of business and permaculture.

We asked the following two questions:

  1. In your mind, why is business & permaculture so important in an ever changing world?
  2. Why is Professional development so important for the Permaculture community?

Geoff Lawton — PRI:

It is important that permaculture practitioners can demonstrate successful results in the ever-changing business world because it not only gains credibility but it demonstrates our ability to read broad patterns and occupy empty niches. To quote Bill Mollison, "we are never short of money, we just short of imagination". The world at large is asking for help from the permaculture community and we have an obligation to help using the format in which that help is of most value to the world, and that is in a professional format. We need to continuously develop our professional approach.

Darren J Doherty — HeenanDoherty:

In 1993 we pointed out that the purpose of our enterprise was to ‘move Permaculture from being a marginal methodology to an unconscious practice’. Whilst our practice in this field have become relatively unconscious as we have established ourselves, the need for many others to do the same has not diminished. Therein lies markets and the need for strong, strategic, incremental and pragmatic enterprises to deliver a wide range products and services that provides to the needs of those markets. Personal integrity, value and a devotion to the primary enterprise of biospheric regeneration through the delivery of these products and services is critical and this is the model for Permaculture in Business.

Kirsten Bradley & Nick RitarMilkwood Permaculture:

A true permaculture enterprise has to also be truly ethical, both in its processes, its internal behaviour, and what it offers. While placing ethics at the top of an enterprises’ priorities is not yet common in small business circles, it is the only way to create and sustain truly right livelihoods, ensure fair share, and create a future containing regenerative economies.

Rob & Michelle Avis — Verge Permaculture:

Because of our current ‘suicide economy’ a prevalent myth that exists is that humans are inherently destructive. If we are going to thrive on this planet we need to show people how to take care of themselves and the planet at the same time — and this is where I feel that business & permaculture can fit in. Permaculture businesses do a few things: 1) they allow us to generate an income (care of people) while repairing the earth (care of earth), 2) they provide us with an alternative to the suicide economy, which debunks the myth that humans have only one operating condition, destruction. 3) They put money into the hands of those with ethical intentions, goals and projects, allowing us to redirect where money is spent. We can make the planet a better place when we use business as one of our strategies! It is important that permaculture practitioners, as well as the practice, evolve like an ecosystem — this means adopting an attitude of continual improvement and being open to new and innovative ways of solving problems. This can occur through experimentation / observation, self study and education. A questioning and evolving mind and community is the best way to encourage positive evolution.

Please, we welcome your ideas and input on permaculture business.

Visit: www.permaculturebusinessworld.com for more details on how to get your Permaculture vocation started!

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19 Comments

  1. So this is what permaculture is heading towards. Just another business model like Amway or McDonalds. Roll up folks, come and get your chance to make money.

    Well for myself, I will just keep on using the knowledge I have gained about natural systems and living and working in harmony with nature as far as possible. I don’t need any more than that.

    At least we now know why Mr Huggins is so upset with the concept of Peak Oil, one of the first steps on the downward slope to an ending of the need for business models. When money ceases to have value, so will the concept of accumulation of wealth through business. Don’t try to tell me that there are any ethical businesses, except perhaps (and only perhaps) for Not For Profits.

    But we have been here before haven’t we? I thought that it was recognised that the majority of folk who take a PDC, do not do so with the intention of starting a permaculture business.

    To insinuate that those who do not have that as an intent are somehow less valuable, less active and somehow less ‘permie’ than those who do (as has been proposed here), is quite ‘un’-ethical to say the least.

  2. This looks might suspicious.

    So you are a life coach for permaculture enthusiasts? I don’t get it. What is it that you actually do?

  3. I expect permaculture to take different roads and paths into the future. Hopefully they will be respectful and cooperative.

    As for Organic certification agencies I see they have become wealthy with agents flying around certifying wealthy farmers.
    Within permaculture I certify/honor the poor and the struggling then the more wealthy in that order.
    Is not having a little less to do with money at this time part of the true nature of our meaningful struggle? If a small scale requires enormous ongoing funding we may need to ask is it sustainable permaculture.

  4. While I think that Permaculture as whole needs a kind of an “Image” in the public eye so as to reach critical mass and become mainstream, I sometimes wonder if that is a either a good thing or a bad thing.

    I have worked in the advertising, graphic design industry for over 6 years now and can overwhelmingly say that brand on a large scale is bullshit. It represents nothing tangible nothing real. It is an illusory image meant to deceive and lie. I may be preaching to the choir here but hear me out.

    This is a science with decades of data on human patterns, behaviors and tendencies that could rival the psychology department of the most well established university in the world. Every color, line, font face, contrast, hue, composition, object, photograph, angle, etc. etc. Everything is considered to make you want it. To spark interest and desire, and as a result people have become increasingly immune, uninterested and practically bred with a sense of disbelief in what we see on television and any other forms of advertising and since these things pervade the world so thoroughly, this feeling of disbelief bleeds into the real world as well.

    The results of this come in last ditch attempts made by ad agencies to reach people. To get that extra or falling percentage. What are these? Viral marketing and alternate reality games. While these have had success in the past years, I believe they are highly dangerous forms of marketing.

    Now what would make a form of marketing dangerous you may ask(beyond its current dangers)? It preys upon and exploits the last vestige of the non-monetized part of the human psyche. It exploits that instinctual reflex, that gut reaction that we all feel on some level or another. And once that has been exploited and people become numb to that, then they will become numb to the very instinctual urge to trust in themselves and their decisions. Because these feelings arise from the same place.

    Gut feelings of loathing and fear(horror movie viral marketing), wonder and excitement(discovery of mermaids mockumentary recently played on the Discovery channel in the states then “mysteriously disappeared”), adrenaline (ilovebees alternate reality Halo game), even activism(year zero alternate reality game for Nine inch nails). When my response to people telling me excitedly about these things is “Is there a movie or game or product of such and such coming out soon?” and their response is “I’m not sure. Why?” and then we find out that yes there is something coming out soon and then the campaign disappears I think I die a little more inside because I know that feeling of enthusiasm and excitement for something that I want to have has also died a little more. And I doubt I’ll ever get it back. This in my opinion is the apex of marketing.

    Now why the heck am I going off on a tirade about marketing?

    Because this is part and parcel of why when I tell my loved ones about how amazing and fantastic and world and life changing permaculture is they barely bat an eye.

    So does permaculture need an image? I don’t know. Some part of me thinks that when people discover truly wonderful things that others are doing and these things have no name of permaculture attached to them and then they delve a little deeper and find out that permaculture is in actuality at their core and this happens enough times it builds a sort of organic credibility to its name. Also the current trend of user generated marketing(the veracity of somethings’ quality spreads by word of mouth) made possible by the ubiquity of the web is definitely speeding that organic growth. On the other hand the immense exposure of something like the mainstream would mean permaculture practices would be taken up in a heartbeat. I guess the true question is not which form of marketing is better, word of mouth or mainstream but can permaculture be corrupted?

    And I guess I am questioning that in this very post about “The Permaculture Business World”

  5. I hear, and appreciate, what you’re saying Bernie. But, I take a slightly different view. I think you know me well enough from my previous writings to know that we think alike in many areas, but on this topic I think about a key issue – transition.

    If you consider where we are today as being Point A, and where we need to go as Point B:

    Point A: Grossly unsustainable economy, orchestrated by powerful monopolies and short-term money-prioritised players, and based on turning labour and resources into landfill as fast as possible, and at a rate that must go faster every year, to avoid collapse of said economy.

    Point B: A diverse, resilient economy based on synergistic, symbiotic and sustainable interactions between interdependent, holistically lucid and ethically motivated individuals within relocalised communities.

    Now, one aspect of Point A is that most of us are stuck in it. Willing or unwilling, almost everyone has no option but to participate. You astutely wrote: “Don’t try to tell me that there are any ethical businesses…” I agree with this entirely, and it’s my main point. I would struggle to show you a business that is fully ethical – i.e. that is a net positive on both people and place. Even a bicycle manufacturer, who can call themselves ‘green’, since they can help get people out of their V8s or their Priuses, are still destroying and polluting in their manufacturing process. We encourage such businesses, but we must recognise that they’re simply ‘less bad’.

    For example, if you have land to practice permaculture on, how did you come to procure it? It’s almost certain that, in your employ, you had to do something destructive, repeatedly, over a considerable amount of time, before you could save enough to purchase your property, when you could then start to do something positive (part time…). (And for many, they’ll have to do something destructive, repeatedly, over a considerable amount of time, and yet still never have enough to get any land.)

    I am fully against seeing permaculture devolve into yet another business model that’s focussed on profit. But, when I look around and see half of the young people in, say, Spain and Greece, being unemployed, for example, I can’t help but think how those nations could use an army of consultants who are financing themselves through showing (and thus educating) the world (in) better ways of doing things. It drives me crazy that there’s so much work to be done in the world, and yet so many are ‘out of work’, and are queuing up, looking for ways to get back into the destructive system.

    And I can’t help but think of those today who do have work, but who have one foot in their jobs at the nuclear power plant, Mon-Fri, and one foot in their cabbage patch on the weekend. Many of these would love to leave their day-job behind, for ethical reasons, but cannot do so without the family economy coming unglued, and quite possibly the family itself.

    I don’t know Nick personally. I’ve not met him. But if he has what it takes to help grow a small army of permaculture consultants who can then feel confident enough to start to step out of Point A, financing their own work of helping move the world towards Point B, then I’m all for it.

    It’s clear we need to preserve the ‘sanctity’ of permaculture. I don’t question this. But, I don’t think we can kid ourselves that we can keep it enshrined in some ideological bubble in our minds. It needs to find application in the real world, and the real world has us (excuse me) by the balls – they have us as captive participants in our own destruction.

    Unless we transform gardens the world over, and soon, we’ll continue with our current food system based on massive food miles. We’ll continue to be weekend gardeners, and week-day destroyers.

    I see permaculture consulting as filling an important niche. Many students get inspired and enthusiastic about permaculture after taking a course, but too many get disillusioned and/or distracted by the system, and do little with their new knowledge and their new view of the world. Arming them with skills they can use to work in the permaculture field full time is valuable, me thinks.

    Do you have better ideas for how people can survive in this system, whilst actively trying to recreate it? Bill Mollison, the father of modern permaculture, still requires money to survive. So do I. I hate it, but until we gain critical mass in permaculture uptake, I don’t see any escape. For myself to be living totally ethically on this planet, I need all the people in my city cooperating with me on holistically managed, relocalised survival, but they’re not — yet.

  6. I think the famous motto of Robin Hood and the third ethic of permaculture are a perfect marriage here for those are prepared to take that courageous and responsible step.

    FYI, we do not fund this website (or http://www.permacultureglobal.com) with donations. It would be nice if that was possible, but we have had very little help so far with donations.

    Geoff

  7. I find the most of the views expressed in the above comments (including some of Craig’s) a little hard to comprehend from a logical standpoint. They seem to be hung up on “the evils” of money and business (i.e. selling something for profit). Are these things evil in themselves? Are cowrie shells (a precursor of money in many parts of the world) evil in themselves? Is asking payment for a product or service that covers the cost of production and a fair percentage on top to cover your living costs inherently evil? Does someone who teaches you vipassana meditation or permaculture for a fee do something unethical by asking for their fee?

    The sooner more of us focus on the underlying issues with capitalism and consumerism and get off the simplistic bandwagon that pushes the idea that money and business are the root of the world’s problems, the sooner we will have some hope of solving those problems through development of a sustainable model. And you can be sure that this sustainable model will not include people giving away their products and services with no return to cover their living costs.

  8. I don’t regard money as evil Gordon. Not at all. I regard it (or at least try to regard it) as a tool. One of the permaculture principles is to ‘obtain a yield’. Profit is not evil. I think what is evil is when profit becomes the end, rather than the means to some greater end.

  9. The critical thing to remember is the difference between usefulness and busyness. Every activity humans (and other life forms) engage in uses energy, creates waste products and has corresponding opportunity costs (the y’s and z’s you can’t choose because you chose x). The trick is evaluating what is actually needed, and fulfilling those needs in a way that impinges on the rights and choices of other beings, as little as possible. Busyness-people do busywork. Useful people do useful work…

  10. Nicely explained Craig ;)

    In my view as well, it is a great and irrevocable initiative in this day and age and certainly in accordance with the fact that time is running out in saving the world and it’s ecosystems.

    If we want to have a greater influence and impact we need to have a foot on both sides. We can’t influence a system if we are too far apart. Remember the edge effect in permaculture designs: The effect of the juxtaposition or placing side by side of contrasting environments. Where vastly differing systems meet, there is an intense area of productivity and useful connections.

    Or in other words, think of it as a Trojan horse packed with fellow permaculturists introduced within the actual so called “system” sent on a mission to create the solution, unlock the doors, guide the masses through this transition and make the change happen. I believe our place at this present moment as permaculturists is no where but on the edge.

    And finally keep in mind that ” THE PROBLEM IS THE SOLUTION” ;)

  11. I don’t think it is a bad thing to get paid well for permaculture design services. As Craig said it is a “transition” stage. Personally I get paid well for my Pc design services, and I sleep well at night knowing that. Most people in the world are in the business of making a living. Until we are in the business of providing for all our needs non-monetarily, then money will continue to influence our lives. And I highly doubt we will reach a place of getting rid of money altogether. A few might manage, maybe even a community or two, but on the whole I have serious doubts about a non-monetary society. Even to get to a slightly less money dominated society will take decades and centuries. Nobody is transitioning overnight. We’re practically looking at geological time for many of our current destructive systems to be transformed completely. A lot of the work we are performing as permaculturists won’t show results in our lifetimes. Tough reality, but reality nonetheless. As Bill Mollison said, “we must all count ourselves dead before we tackle real risks”.

    For those that look at everything (and very much money) from purely ethical standpoints, there seems to be an element of wanting to cause ZERO harm. Certain things we do will always cause some harm to others, that’s how life flows. It is how we live with that fact that matters. And, yes, trying to reduce that harm is a good act, but good luck getting to ZERO.

    So is my business model perfectly ethical, sustainable, ecological? Nope. Do I think I will be living in perfect bliss enjoying only the fruits of my labors in 5-10 years? Nope. Do I stay up at night worrying about my karma? Not a bit. There are greater timescales at play.

    If Nick’s business can help some transition out of utterly destructive jobs into work that is designing and building of a positive future then why criticize it? Not everybody has business sense, and not everybody has the courage to blindly leap alone from their current jobs. I think Nick’s idea has the potential to contribute positively to the furtherance of permaculture design.

  12. Yes, lets work towards good permaculture business and professional development.
    For example, lets admire the work Geoff and Nadia have achieved since becoming more professional, the surplus they are returning to the system is almost beyond measure, something to really aspire to in my opinion.
    Personally, acquiring money in the destructive consumer driven world gave me a leg up to begin living the right livelihood , return of surplus life that I aspire to and I can not deny the role of that money for a minute. I think I have been very fortunate in that regard.
    I do also, very seriously, need to make money on a daily basis, I need that representation of value to trade for things that will support me and move me ever forward in bringing about the change this planet so desperately needs for all living and non living things.
    I honestly wish I could live without having to trade in an unethical system, but as yet that system does not exist, and I honestly wish I could live life with the most absolutely pure ethics driving every facet of my life, sadly and daily and often with a heavy heart, I can not.
    At this stage, I can only succeed in being ‘less bad’.
    I would dearly love to spend my days bartering my ethically based goods and services with other like minded ethically based people, sadly I can not.
    The choice for me is to make money as ethically as I can, within the current model and leverage as best I can towards right livelihood, or subsist on a pension and leverage nothing.
    I have tried both and I know which one I can live with.
    Carolyn Payne
    Mudlark Permaculture

  13. At the risk of going off on a wild tangent from the actual article, which is promoting what seems a very worthy initiative in Permaculture focused business coaching….
    Debt based money is, in my humble opinion, evil, and I don’t use the word “evil” lightly or often. And yes, it is pretty bloody close to the root of the world’s problems. As long as money is created as debt with compounding interest, there is always more debt than real currency, and we are tied to the suicidal growth economy to maintain a standard of living. Unfortunately, this is the system in which at present our businesses “must” operate.
    Perhaps our Permaculture businesses could become part of the necessary currency revolution by actively promoting Community Exchange System /Local Energy Trading System currency as a payment option for our services?

  14. I think what Nick is doing with Permaculture Business World is providing a really valuable service to people who do want to make a living from consulting and/or education in Permaculture and sustainable agriculture. Why shouldn’t Permaculture provide a living for people other than through growing their own food? Surely Permaculture consultants are analogous to (and better than!) your DPI Extension Officer or private Agricultural Consultants?

    Nick is by no means suggesting that everyone who does a PDC should then go into business as Permaculture consultants. Certainly if you want to do a PDC for developing your own backyard or property then go for it! We shouldn’t be limiting the number or type of people who want to learn and apply Permaculture Principles.

    Having had experience in the mainstream agricultural world I do believe that Permaculture has image issues when it comes to acceptance as being applicable to broad-scale land management. Giving Permaculture consultants the confidence and professionalism required to present Permaculture Design as a feasible, practical and successful alternative to the current industrial paradigm is critical for sustaining agricultural production in the future. I have come across so many people who think that Permaculture is ‘just organic gardening’ and not applicable to farming too many times to count! If Permaculture Business World helps to get the message out to rural landholders that it’s more than ‘just organic gardening’ then that has to be a good thing. With the average farm size increasing, the number of farmers decreasing (and aging) and land grabs by foreign corporations the future of Australian Agriculture is not so rosy. Wouldn’t we prefer regenerative designs and practices, diversity of agricultural enterprises and integrated production systems to become the norm?

    I believe Nick has applied “The problem is the solution” (ie “post PDC syndrome”) with this business/idea and see it as a right livelihood project. I appreciate the advice he has given me (freely) in recent months and wish him all the best with Permaculture Business World.

  15. Nick,

    Good on you!

    I am not sure why people are getting all up in arms about what Nick is doing. At the end of the day permaculture designers, teachers, worm farmers, CSA farmers and generally any business that aims at offering sustainable solutions has got to learn how to value the service or product that they give to the world. To do that, we need people to teach business acumen! Right now we need dollars to live within our existing society and if we as a group do not learn how to charge what we are worth we will never make it to the next stage of succession. For my wife and I we charge a fair price for the courses that we offer. When people can not afford to pay that price we give them an alternative way of paying. The important point is that we value what we offer. If we don’t start at a common point of exchange, in this case dollars, how do we make comparisons in value. As a whole permaculturists cave when it comes time to “charge” what they are worth, regardless of the currency they choose to be paid in. This could come in cocoa beans, sea shells or rice crackers. Nick is setting up shop teaching permies the basics of understanding how to transact deals which is relevant in any form of exchange.

    Rob Avis

  16. Profit. is it good or evil? If obtained by means that maintain, support and regenerate life supporting systems AND reinvested into the same types of beneficial endeavors then I’d say its pretty damn good!

    Businesses that do the opposite are inviting the demise of themselves and those who support them.

    Keep up the good work Nick.

    Gordon

  17. Many-many people have been socially conditioned to be business minded.

    At the opposite extreme lies the heart of a sustainable society, it is the inherent Eco-centric mind.

    I am sure that, like all of us, Nick is searching for a solution to this destructive system, & I don’t wish to discourage anyone.

    But to preach business acumen does not seem like the RIGHT solution.

  18. Great article and idea Nick and the ones on becoming a professional permaculture designer too. Until you can pay your rates with a bag of potatoes we will need to deal with the money economy. Helping people create livelihoods that provide win win solutions is a fantastic service. Money as a form of energy needs to be directed towards people and activities that provide authentic solutions to the host of issues we and other species are facing…and fast!

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