Enabling and limiting factors for permaculture enterprise

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Understanding factors that help and hinder permaculture enterprise is crucial for the design of new enterprises (or redesign of exisiting ones), efforts to create contextual conditions amenable to successful permaculture enterprise, and devising actions, frameworks and strategies to support and foster enterprise. These factors may be specific to the enterprise or entrepreneur, or more contextual. In both cases relationships are crucial: with the immediate context, with existing permaculture enterprise, and with the permaculture movement as a whole.


Three key dimensions identified in discussions so far are:

  • Personal - motivations and demotivations
  • Contextual - the effect of existing permaculture enterprises
  • Cultural - the different forms of capital that permaculture entrepreneurs can leverage

Personal motivations and demotivations may be particularly important in the face of widespread distrust and suspicion of money as an organising factor and business as mode of action. Exploring and communicating relationships between enterprise and permaculture ethics, and with the personal values of many practitioners, may be an important area.

The existence of established permaculture enterprises may affect prospects for establishing new businesses (and for existing businesses to expand, to bud or to 'permaculturise' their approach) in different ways.

On the one hand, a form of competitive exclusion is possible if an established business occupies a particular market niche to the exclusion of others. If only a certain volume of permaculture enterprises can exist, the existence of pioneering businesses that are now long-established may not permit new entrants to do the same.

On the other hand, the presence of existing enterprises can in theory enable the creation of new ones in various ways. They may change expectations - both among potential entrepreneurs and clients or customers, who may become more used to businesses operating in unconventional ways or providing unfamiliar products or services. They may also change local conditions - in effect creating new market niches that did not exist before.

These enabling changes may cause shifts in the context in which businesses operate so that the whole environment becomes more amenable to permaculture and similar forms of enterprise. Emergence of a solidarity economy has been observed in many bioregions where existence of a critical mass of cooperative and socially minded enterprise creates new opportunities for mutual support among both established and new businesses. An enterprise ecology is a concept in regenerative enterprise, based on the 8 forms of capital model: a conjectural situation where interacting businesses in the same locality each have strengths in generating particular forms of capital, which can be made available to the others. So each enterprise in the ecology provides to other the forms of capital it is most able to generate, and is able to receive those it is less able to produce for itself from others.

Key sources of capital mentioned by respondents to surveys in the KEEP project were social, cultural, economic and intellectual. Few raised fund-raising as an issue. Networking and promotion were common issues, and respondents placed more emphasis on using existing resources better than they did upon creating or accessing new resources.

Conjecturally, the permaculture movement is potentially rich in various kinds of capital. Intellectual capital in the form of the permaculture principles and the existing body of knowledge on how to put them into practice, including in business. Research projects have obvious contributions to make to enriching intellectual capital. Social and cultural capital derive from the existence of the permaculture movement, pioneering permaculture businesses, and the inspiration and support they can provide. Many potential applications of permaculture enterprise research could seek to systematise and/or strengthen these.