Recent discussions on The Oil Drum and elsewhere have thrown the question of sustainability into stark relief. What is sustainability? What makes one thing or system sustainable and another not so? Is there a framework or model for comparing relative sustainability? How do we measure and account for all aspects of sustainable systems?
Permaculture offers a set of specific approaches to these questions, although in some cases more detail is needed. For example, the need to perform “careful energy accounting” is recommended (if not required) without any real guidance as to how one would actually go about this. Holmgren and Mollison seem to agree that Howard Odum’s emergy approach to this issue is the best available tool, but even Holmgren admits to never having learned it.
My goal in this article is to sketch out some of the issues that play into a more comprehensive and detailed approach to sustainability, starting from Permaculture approaches with which I’m familiar.