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Permaculture as a Tool for Implementing the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

Final Project for the Master of Arts in Environmental Conservation Education, NYU, Submitted August, 2011

by Lee Frankel-Goldwater


Click to download (300kb PDF)

The system of Permaculture design is an appropriate and well-defined model for teaching and implementing the goals of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). When the United Nations declared the years from 2005-2014 to be a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), the field of ESD was launched into a period of heightened global awareness and growth. Through a comparison of the core principles of Permaculture and ESD, thereby weaving the two systems together, it is hoped that the benefits of applying Permaculture towards the goals of the DESD can be made clear.

Permaculture is a conjunction of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘culture’, a point that hints at its founding principles. It is mainly a design system that, through the careful observation of nature, seeks to combine traditional wisdom with modern ecological knowledge to aid in the development of sustainable human habitats. It was developed in the global environmental context of the 1970’s to be a compact, dynamic system of thought, drawing on a wide variety of design techniques, that could be easily taught and applied to any climate or cultural setting.(1) In the time since its founding, Permaculture has been refined and has become a highly regarded system with many potential applications for addressing critical, present day issues related to sustainability and education.

In light of the recent UNESCO World Conference on ESD in 2009 and the subsequent Bonn Declaration, the direction of the DESD has been constructively evaluated and redefined drawing renewed emphasis to the need for culturally sensitive, community level action and projects that draw on international support to meet critical local needs.(2) With this in mind, Permaculture as a system is particularly well-suited for community level action, addressing the needs of the impoverished while incorporating ‘quality education’ into the process of project development and implementation. This point can be made evident through an examination of Permaculture teaching methodologies, related movements, case studies, and current projects.

Though much work has been done developing and implementing Permaculture systems, it has received little recognition in the academic setting. Given its potential applications and the needs of the time, this situation is unfortunate. It is hoped that by illustrating the relationship between Permaculture and ESD in light of the Bonn Declaration, that high-policy level recognition will be afforded to this valuable and timely tool – in affect improving our ability to work collectively towards a resilient, sustainable future across all areas of society.

This argument is made through the following sections and discussions:

  1. The identification of the core principles, practices, and techniques of Permaculture. This is necessary as: a basis for comparison to ESD and for reference in latter sections.
  2. A brief discussion of the history, definition, and principles behind ESD, clarifying the field in the context of the broader environmental education movement.
  3. Conveying Permaculture as a form of ESD, using the definition of ESD from section (2) as a framework for comparison. Considers Permaculture as a tool for implementing the DESD and includes a discussion of key educational issues and general Permaculture teaching methods.
  4. Considers the recommendations of the 2009 Bonn Declaration and the place of Permaculture in relationship to this most current of ESD and DESD documents.
  5. A look at Permaculture as applied to communities afflicted by poverty considering case studies, applicable teaching methodologies, and relevant techniques.

Download the full document here (300kb PDF)


  1. Mollison, B. (2002). Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. Sisters Creek, Tasmania: Tagari Publications., p. ix
  2. UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development – Conference Proceedings, Bonn Declaration. (2009, 31 March – 2 April 2009). Paper presented by the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, Bonn, Germany.

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