Every Element Performs Multiple Functions

This is the first of a series of short blog posts exploring the core permaculture principles and relating them to our work at Social Landscapes. 

Lately, in my work as well as on Permaculture courses, I have been exploring the topic of livelihood. Livelihood is often described as “that which sustains us” and for us in the west, more often, “that which brings in an income”.

It seems that in our culture, the function of work, or certainly employment, is more often than not reduced to income. In a Permaculture sense, spending that much time of our lives working for the sake of income alone seems highly inefficient. It leaves us little time to look after our other needs, such as health and wellbeing, companionship, belonging, purpose and self-actualisation.

Working with others to improve public space is a great way of building relationships, connecting to place and looking after our own health...

Working with others to improve public space is a great way of building relationships, connecting to place and looking after our own health...

This is where the principle ‘Every Element Performs Multiple Functions’ comes in handy. If we look at a fruit tree and call it an element in our garden, we can quickly see that the fruit tree does more than just provide fruit. It gives us a nice shady place to rest, it serves as the habitat for many creatures, turns carbon dioxide into oxygen, and reduces the effects of climate change; With its roots it holds the soil and prevents erosion, it cycles nutrients, turning them into foliage which in turn drops down in autumn to again provide food for life in the soil. The fruit tree performs multiple functions.

Can we directly meet our needs through our work? Wellbeing, belonging, purpose, self-actualisation?  Click to see source. 

Can we directly meet our needs through our work? Wellbeing, belonging, purpose, self-actualisation? 

Click to see source

Although the tree does so anyway, as a Permaculture designer, following the above principle, we are able to integrate these functions into the working of our garden and be so much more efficient than if we didn't.

Work is able to perform multiple functions too, beyond providing an income. Often our work helps us build relationships, sometimes it makes us feel like we belong, and for some of us, it makes us feel healthy and come alive.

Could good design using the principle ‘Every Element Performs Multiple Functions’ help us make a living, while making a life? We believe it can.