Permaculture: Green Building Meets its Revolutionary Cousin

By now you might have heard of Permaculture. The ecological design system has reached the mainstream consciousness with articles in the NY times and many other publications. It is estimated that over 50,000 people in the US have taken a 72-hour permaculture design course.

Permaculture (from “permanent culture”) is a holistic process connecting  site design, ecosystem restoration, food and medicine cultivation, home building, urban planning, and social design. It is a movement to guide sound land use and the building of sustainable communities, through the interrelationship of water, soil, plants, animals and humans.

As Graham Burnett says, “Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening”

This system, which emerged in Australia has its roots in aboriginal culture and got its inspiration as its founders Bill Mollison and David Holmgren sought to identify a system for ecological living that was modeled after a forest.  If you have walked through a permaculture land scape you have probably seen how it is consciously designed to mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while providing an abundance of food, fiber and energy for meeting local needs.

This regenerative system has twelve principles. These principles calls us to observe and interact with the natural patterns of a place, design from patterns to details, to catch and store energy and water, obtain a yield from the land, receive feedback and apply what you learn, use renewable resources, produce no waste, integrate rather than segregate, use and value diversity, value the edges and margins (in an ecosystem and society), and creatively use and respond to change.

Just as Green Building helps the building industry evolve the codes to encourage better building quality, with design and products that minimize environmental impact and save money, Permaculture principles and design elements can help evolve green building.  

Our Green Built NC rating system includes several measures that embody permaculture. Measures such as the following incorporate these principles.

  • Install permanent stormwater controls such as rain gardens, bio-retention basins and/or infiltration strips to reduce storm water impacts
  • Landscape uses native and/or edible plants
  • Drought resistant landscaping
  • Raised garden beds
  • Access to bus routes and bike paths
  • Do not build in the floodplain or within 100 ft of a body of water
  • Greywater systems
  • Composting toilets
  • Rainwater catchment systems
  • Passive solar design
  • Solar electric and solar hot water
  • Use permeable materials for 50% of walkways and patios
  • Use permeable materials for driveways (except for required curb cut)
  • Vegetated roof system to reduce impervious surface
  • Remove existing invasive plant species from the landscape
  • Preserve existing and plant new trees
  • If trees are removed during construction 80% of them are milled and used onsite

Additionally, The Green Gauge program encourages the plant of edible landscapes, walkable community development, and site restoration to minimize stormwater runoff and create raingardens and rich, abundant landscapes that retain water, grow food, create habitat, and provide beauty.

Building codes need to evolve to legalize and encourage things like greywater systems, composting toilets, and some natural building techniques and materials.  As more people use these products and systems, the familiarity will increase, precedents will be set, and regulators will get more comfortable seeing them.

If you are searching for a good introduction and overview of permaculture read “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.

WNC is an epicenter for permaculture education, resources, projects, and design professionals. Please check out these local permaculture organizations:

Ashevillage Institute:

Grass to Greens:

Organic Growers School:

School of Integrated Living:,

Wild Abundance:

Sam is the executive director of the WNCGBC and has been working in the field of sustainability for 18 years with local governments, small businesses, and nonprofits. He is a LEED AP and Certified Permaculture Designer. 

You can also view this article as it was originally published on pages 58-59 of the 2016-2017 edition of the directory or as a pdf.