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Sustainable Design Part III

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Permaculture It’s Only Natural Nick Radford, Director of Ecoliving Design, outlines out some sustainable design techniques from Permaculture and how they can be put into practice.
Permaculture is applied environmental science. Australia’s Bill Mollison (known as the founder of permaculture) published the book Introduction to Permaculture in the early 1980s. He also published the book Permaculture: a designer’s manual which can be applied all over the world. He taught in almost every country in the world about the principles that could be applied in locally appropriate ways. 

The cover to Introducion to Permaculture.

He pioneered sustainable design techniques using a multidisciplinary approach that involve sustainable house design, sustainable landscape design, water, forestry and animal husbandry. He spent a lot of time with traditional people gathering their wisdom about the land and how it works, in his quest to apply the efficiency of nature into farming systems. His sustainable design techniques are the blueprint that Nick Radford uses.

The first technique is to employ biological cycles. In practice, this means using nature as an ally. Most agricultural landscapes are divorced from the natural one and the owners have to fight the land to maintain that unnatural landscape. It is better to let the land be in its natural state and strategically place crops and animals within it. It is better to mimic natural systems and to design food systems based on local, natural ones. 
Another technique is to make mutually beneficial connections and cycles. Ecology is strong because of its many connections. There can be many connected elements, or a smaller number of stronger elements. A fence, for example, is an ideal trellis for growing food and it really suits urban areas. 

Below: Make the right connections and every ime you wash your hands you water the garden    
Rooves can be used for solar panels, and to catch rainwater for tanks. Household waste water could be diverted to the nature strip or crops. A block of units, for instance could be treated as one entity and its waste water directed somewhere useful. Such connections make waste a resource, as nature does. 

Seaweed would be a great component at the end of a waste water chain. All seaweed needs is plenty of nutrients, which ocean outfalls have. A structure for the seaweed to grow on would be needed and the seaweed could be farmed as it is very nutritious, as the Japanese know. This is another example of using connections to make a pollutant into a resource. Trees are often part of a mutually beneficial connection. Grazing animals, for instance, like the shade and the trees benefit from their manure. Trees put judiciously into an agricultural situation will improve productivity. There is less wind stress to animals, less wind erosion and an improved microclimate which is better for crops. All tress build up soil fertility and organic matter and some trees can also be crops. Trees in urban areas provide shade, microclimate and biodiversity.

Sustainable design techniques are the opposite of linear thinking. Linear thinking produced concrete canals that got rid of storm water as quickly as possible. Sustainable design turns those canals into wetlands. When it floods the plants just fold down and in a slow trickle the plants stand upright using nutrients that would otherwise be pollutants. Everybody wins in this situation. Concrete structures (which wear out and have to be maintained) are converted to a wetland that maintains itself and provides biodiversity, as well as potentially edible food. A wetland also reduces the heat island effect. Roads and concrete can’t be a higher priority for humans than soil, water and air. Without soil, water and air there can be no civilisation. As soils get less and less organic matter, agriculture will collapse within the next 100 years or even the next generation. Humans rely on the biological cycles of water, air and soil and it is vegetation that is needed to maintain those cycles. 

Did You Know?
The Barefoot College in India (www.barefootcollege.org) is a very good example of local people, mostly women, providing solutions for their community. There is also a Radio National program about it.

We need to have a balance between the footprint for people and the landscaped areas around them. This means integrating landscapes with the built environment. Urban areas are not 100% hard surfaces and there is usually some deep soil which could easily be productive for food growing. Permaculture was meant for people who did not expect the powers that be to solve such problems. How right they were! Our people in power are short-sighted and the problems are still there. So it is individuals doing as much as they can with the resources they have to make the connections and to use biological cycles to solve those problems. All those individuals add up to a very big and a very relevant movement worldwide. It’s only natural to look after the environments we have. 

Nick Radford presented this discussion on A Question of Balance with Ruby Vincent,.  Summary text by Victor Barry. Images from Nick Radford, June 2018

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Sustainable Design Part II: New Designer Genes Sustainable Design Part IV

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