As I started listing these permaculture initiatives to balance my earlier story, The 11 shortcomings of permaculture, I realised how limiting it is to limit them to ten.

Russ Grayson
Jul 14 · 7 min read

SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED in permaculture since its invention a little over 50 years ago that selecting ten outstanding initiatives will certainly miss others of equal value.

But you have to start somewhere. And that selectivity is why this list is Australia-centric although permaculture is now, at least partially, a global practice. Australia, after all, is where permaculture came from in 1977, originating in the island state of Tasmania.

Permaculture, already a diverse system of design and community development, continues to evolve and adapt and is now something of a social movement around the ethics of caring for people and our biogeological systems and of sharing so that others can meet their own basic needs. Permaculture is primarily practiced within civil society.

Many of the initiatives that are listed here were developed outside permaculture and later incorporated to form elements of its integrated design system. This is why permaculture co-inventor, Bill Mollison, described permaculture as a synthesis.

I invite you to contribute what you see as permaculture’s top achievements at the end of this post. If you do this then we can build up a comprehensive list of achievements and gain some insight into how its practitioners are thinking about permaculture and what they see its strong points. My ten outstanding initiatives of the permaculture design system range across its five decades of existence.

Let’s get started…


Earthbank Society was a permaculture artefact of the 1980s, a time when permaculture’s early practitioners were taking an interest in new forms of economics. Earthbank was started to stimulate the ethical or social investment movement that was then making a start.

Earthbank wasn’t a bank in the conventional sense of handling money, more an educational, promotional and development tool.

Learn more about Earthbank from Robert Rosen:

Robert Rosen was instrumental in Earthbank and permaculture’s social investment initiatives.

Social investment

In its search for alternative systems during the design system’s early years of the 1980s, permaculture adopted the ideas of the social investment industry.

It was around this time that Sydney resident, Damien Lynch, who became a permaculture practitioner, launched August Investments, Australia’s first social investment company. Damien avoided putting investors’ funds into socially and environmentally destructive companies and developed an investment filter that allowed through only those companies whose activities had a positive or neutral social and environmental impact.

The sector matured into companies like Australian Ethical Investments.

Learn more about social investment from guest Robert Rosen:

Learn about Damien Lynch:

Early social investment pioneer, Damien Lynch.


Another economic initiative adopted by permaculture was LETS — Local Exchange and Trading System.

The invention of Canadian, Michael Linton, who spent some time in Sydney working out of Randwick Community Centre in an attempt to start a metropolitan-wide Sydney LETS. The system facilitates cash-free trading in goods and services among members, without the direct exchange involved in bartering.

Accelerated through its incorporation in permaculture design courses, LETS caught on rapidly, resulting in an Australia-wide spread. It later went into decline, however it persisted and is today found around the country.

Learn more about LETS:\_currency/

LETS currency issues by Northern NSW LETS.

Permaculture in schools

Largely due to the effort of New Zealand permaculture educator and community worker, Robina McCurdy, the use of school gardens and landscaping as an educational tool gained popularity in the 1990s.

Robina’s three-day course at Blackwood primary school in Adelaide, South Australia in 1995 offered the first training in this new field. Blackwood had been using its fruit and vegetable garden as an outdoor classroom since the late 1970s and integrated it across the curriculum.

By the new century the practice had become largely independent of the permaculture design system although many permaculture practitioners remained involved. Today, vegetable gardens are found in many schools.

Download ‘Permaculture Goes To School’, the document coming from the 1995 working with children in permaculture course at Black Forest primary school, Adelaide:\_perm\_schools\_mar97.pdf


Permafund is a tax-deductible donations scheme that distributes donor funds as small grants to permaculture projects in Australia and overseas.

It is an initiative of the national permaculture organisation, Permaculture Australia, started when the organisation was known as Permaculture International Ltd, the organisation which published the print magazine, Permaculture International Journal, that ceased publication in June 2000.

Permafund enacts permaculture’s ethic of sharing and distributionism so that others can realise their basic needs.

Learn more about Permafund:

Permaculture Design Course/Certificate

Known as the Permaculture Design Course or Permaculture Design Certificate (it offers the equivalent of a certificate of completion), more commonly as the PDC, the course offers basic qualifications recognised by permaculture practitioners and organisations.

The PDC is a minimum 72 hours in length, the duration of a university semester when it was set up by permaculture co-inventor, Bill Mollison, in the early 1980s. Today, PDCs are often longer.

Possession of a PDC is accepted by permaculture practitioners as the requirement to teach the course although this is not legally enforceable. The PDC forms a component within the workplace training scheme, Accredited Permaculture Training.

The Permaculture Institute was the design system’s most influential organisation and was originally the source of the permaculture design certificates issued by educators. The Institute maintained a register of graduates, the names supplied by PDC educators, however the effort and lack of financial support for doing this led to its cessation over a decade ago.

PDCs followed a common curriculum. In later years permaculture educators adapted course content while retaining core components. PDCs are offered as intensive, sometimes live-in courses, as part-time and as internet courses.

Represented in an illustration by Mt Kembla artist, April Sampson-Kelly, Bill Mollison developed the Permaculture Design Course as a structured entry into the practice of the permaculture design system in the early 1980s. More about April and Permaculture Visions:

Accredited Permaculture Training

Accredited Permaculture Training (APT) is the nationally-accredited permaculture workplace training scheme introduced by Permaculture Australia well over a decade ago.

APT is taught by private education providers and by TAFE. The scheme offers four certificate level courses as well as a diploma. It was established to provide more workplace-relevant training than that offered by the Permaculture Design Course. Some of the certificates are multi-year courses.

APT training is more intensive than that offered through the PDC. The PDC remains as a higher-level community sector course while APT focusses on workplace skills.

Learn more about APT:

Permaculture Institute

The Permaculture Institute was instigated by Bill Mollison in the early 1980s to provide an organisational structure for permaculture education and development and to offer the Permaculture Design Course. Tagari Publishers, which published the first books on the design system and later volumes, was closely associated with the Institute.

Originally located at Bill Mollisons property near Stanley, Tasmania, in the late 1980s the Institute moved to the backblocks of the Tweed Valley in subtropical Northern NSW, returning to Tasmania in the late 1990s.

The Permaculture Research Institute, set up by Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison, took over the Institute’s Northern NSW property. The property was later sold. The Permaculture Research Institute moved to its present location near The Channon, a little further south.

The Permaculture Institute was the permaculture design system’s pioneering organisation. Providing guidance for the design system, it retained a leadership role for decades. That started to wane in the late 1990s and the Institute’s once comprehensive influence is now less.

Learn more about Tagari.

Permaculture International Journal

Dating from 1978, a year after permaculture’s birth, the Permaculture International Journal (PIJ) wove the geographically-distributed permaculture network together until its last edition in 2000.

When Victorian, Terry White, started the magazine it was known as Permaculture. Robyn Francis took over as editor around 1984 when she brought the publication to Sydney, publishing with an editorial team at the Permaculture Epicentre in inner urban Enmore. There, the name adopted on taking over the publication, IPJ (International Permaculture Journal) was later changed to Permaculture International Journal. Robyn later took the magazine to Northern NSW before passing editorship to Steve Payne in Lismore. Steve is now editor of ABC Organic Gardener magazine.

PIJ ceased publication in 2000 due to accumulating financial pressures.

Permaculture Edge

Permaculture Edge was a publishing artefact of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Originally published by people from Permaculture Nambour in SE Queensland, the last edition was published in time for the 1996 International Permaculture Convergence in Perth, Western Australia.

The Edge was markedly different in content to Permaculture International Journal, the only other permaculture magazine at the time. Where PIJ carried some studious stories and a high portion of material suitable to beginners in permaculture and catered to a broader readership, the Edge focused on more technical stories better suited to practicing permaculturists. Many stories were reprints of articles published elsewhere.

The Edge had something of an irregular publishing schedule.

Your turn now

Those top ten points are only a starter. Now it is your turn to add your list of permaculture’s top ten achievements. If they include some of those I have listed that’s ok, just go ahead and add them and let’s know what you think of their contribution to permaculture.

If you do this then we can start to build a picture of what has mattered most over permaculture’s nearly 40 year history. Doing that might provide a few clues of what’s best to do next.

Add your ideas to the comments box below… off we go…


Ideas for and stories about a new version of the permaculture design system for new times

Russ Grayson

Written by

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the road in a minivan for awhile and traveling the Pacific coast.


Ideas for and stories about a new version of the permaculture design system for new times

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