The word permaculture, coined by its co-founder Bill Mollison, is formed from the words “permanent” and “agriculture.” The concept of permaculture is difficult to explain in just a few words, because the term is used to describe (usually simultaneously) both a worldview/philosophy for living on the earth and a set of design principles and practices.
Bill Mollison emphasized the philosophical aspect in his definition: “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system” (Mollison 1988).
Rafter Ferguson, a well-regarded permaculture researcher and practitioner, has an elegantly simple way to frame the many aspects of permaculture: “Permaculture is meeting human needs while increasing ecosystem health” (Ferguson 2012). To guard against reductionism, Rafter adds a cautionary statement to his concise definition, saying, “I’m all for shorthand definitions in the right context as long as it’s being used to communicate a principle rather than obscure fundamental complexity” (Ferguson 2013b).
My own definition of permaculture is as follows: Permaculture is a cohesive set of ethics, principles and practices that help guide the stewardship of an ecosystem to ensure resilience and abundance to all its inhabitants. – Brad Ward