3- Obtain a yield

6 ways Permaculture can help to create truly sustainable business

Picture a sustainable business and we often picture renewable energy, recycling, reusing materials, and compostable packaging.

Look up ‘sustainable’, however, in the dictionary and the meaning is ‘to be able to continue over time’.

For a lot of companies, whether motivated by ethics or profits, there is a strong desire to become more ‘sustainable’. However, the barrier to preventing a lot of organisations making this change, comes not from a lack of motivation, but that becoming sustainable, isn’t sustainable for them.

How can we overcome the barriers of change to make switching to being sustainable a more realistic goal for every business?

We copy the most sustainable system we have.


In the areas that we have started to mimic nature we have found unrivalled success. Biomimicry and Permaculture are both based on designing solutions to human problems using natures patterns and strategies. Between them they have lead to leaps in technological advancement and the way we grow food and design landscapes.

Why stop there?

How can we use these same ideas of learning from the natural world to guide our decision making around true sustainability?

Below are 6 ways the Permaculture principles can be a guide to becoming sustainable in a manageable way:

1. Observe and interact

Take time to understand the full picture.

If you want to plant a fruit tree but just place it in the first place you see, chances are it won’t grow well.

Whereas, take time to understand your land, observe the sun, shade, rain etc and you will have a much better idea of where that tree will grow well.

It can be very tempting to jump into projects straight away to see immediate progress. But, if we take the same approach, create time for away days, planning or brainstorming meetings we can get a clear understanding of our circumstances and what might be the best changes to make.

2.Start Small and Slow

Most things in nature change slowly. The forest is forever adapting to changing climates and conditions.

Changing our business should be no different.

If we want to change the landscape of a forest, clear cutting and removing all the trees is not an effective approach.

In business it is no different, if we attempt to change offices, packaging, suppliers, and switch to renewable energy all at once, it will cause a great deal of stress on staff and resources.

A much more sustainable approach would be to focus on one thing to change at a time and build from there.

In the day to day the business looks the same. But over time, like the forest, everything can change.

What is the easiest thing your business could change to make it more sustainable?

3.Integrate Rather than Segregate

Every element in an ecosystem works towards the survival of the whole.

Each plant in an ecosystem fills multiple roles. Whether it be providing habitat/food/shade/nutrients for another, everything contributes to a much bigger picture.

It is all integrated.

This could involve changing the way you have meetings to be more inclusive of different team members.

The way your office is laid out.

Encouraging team building activities to bring staff together

Looking at bringing in an income from your waste or byproducts.

Promoting a cycling to work scheme to reduce emissions and at the same time boost the health of your staff.

Looking at ways to cross sell. If certain customers only buy one of your products, how can you share the rest of your business with them to have them use you for more of their needs?

Nature integrates. An integrated business is a more sustainable one.

4.Obtain a Yield

There is a stigma about sustainability that it shouldn’t be for profit or gain. There is some negativity around Patagonia, for example, that they make a lot of money from their ethical approach. Sustainability sells.

The reality, however, is that changing to become sustainable isn’t the easy option.

If you do make changes, promote it, share the story. Look for ways you can gain from the changes you are making.

If you can increase your revenues from changing to a more environmental approach it will make your business more sustainable long term. It will also encourage staff, and shareholders to get behind the changes, making the whole project much more achievable.

Replicate nature and try to make you’re efforts worthwhile.


Nature is diverse.

Often our businesses are not.

Diversity comes in many forms.

The people who make up our team. The products we sell. The flexibility of working hours. The markets we operate in.

Encouraging diversity in these areas has multiple benefits.

It brings in a range of ideas and view points. Allows us to target a wide range of customers. Benefits the wellbeing of the team and allows us to select from a wider range of talent. Protects us from changes in the market and demand for our product/services.

Encourage diversity.

6. produce no Waste

This one is quite obvious.

Nothing in nature creates waste except for humans.

Our businesses are often the worst offenders.

Turning your business into a zero waste one is a clear big win for sustainability and replicating nature. But, it isn’t easy and can be a big challenge to take on even for the most ethically minded business.

However, if we can use nature as a guide we can make this a much more sustainable goal:

  1. Observe. Take time to understand how much waste you produce and where it goes.

  2. Start Small. Create SMART and small realistic goals to make one small improvement to you waste.

  3. Integrate. Get the whole team on board. Don’t just leave it to one person to take responsibility.

  4. Obtain a Yield. Celebrate your success. Create rewards for the team if you hit your target. Share what you are doing to your audience.

  5. Diversify. Once you build momentum, tackle another project. Keep the momentum going!

Lots of companies already use these approaches to great success, and perhaps there is a reason why they work so efficiently.

Nature knows best.

Do rich people take more than their fair share?


Do rich people take more than their fair share?

Rich people are getting some bad stick in the media at the minute. Turns out quite a few of them don't like to pay taxes. Unfortunately, I am not going to be helping their cause here. But before we get out our flaming torches and lynch the nearest rich person we may need to pause to take a quick look in the mirror. What if you and I are considered rich too?

With all these revelations of tax dodging in the papers it got me thinking about people taking more than their fair share. I was enraged to see so many people making excessive amounts of money and not giving back to the system. One thing I have learnt through Permaculture is that the key to a sustainable community is for people to only take their fair share of resources. The First Nations communities of Canada have a philosophy for this called the Seventh Generation Principle whereby any decision they make must consider the impact it will have on people in seven generations time. It's a beautifully simple way to look to the future and not just the present. It's fair to say this is not a philosophy shared by those implicated in the Panama Papers.

But tax avoidance aside, I started looking more into the principle of fair share. While it is easy to look at someone with a bigger house, larger car that burns more fuel, larger amount of waste, etc and assume they have a bigger footprint and are therefore taking more than their fair share it isn't easily quantifiable.  Perhaps the best way is to look at how much money someone has. As I thought about it further, I realised that their seems to be a direct correlation between money and the world's resources. The more money someone has the more of the world's resources they have used. Now I should make it very clear, I am not an economic expert, so someone with more knowledge on this might be able to explain that I have no clue what I am talking about. But I have thought about this a lot and I can only see this as holding true. Even if you did extremely ethical work that benefited the planet, if you charge money for your service and make lots of it, then you have very little control of how that money is generated. For you to have lots of that money, resources would need to have been used along the way. If you imagine the world's economy as one big piece of pie, having more money means you have a bigger slice.

With this in mind I set out to find out what the average slice would be. Thankfully someone else had done the math's for me here and concluded that the average salary in the world in 2012 was US$18,000/£11,291 a year. This amount takes into account exchange rates and gives an indication of how much people across the planet would have to spend if they lived and worked in the US or UK. I was shocked to realised that even though I earn a below average salary where I live in Canada, I was still taking well over my share of the world's pie. I also realised I didn't know anyone who lives off such a low salary, nearly everyone I know is also taking more than their share too.

But this isn't all doom and gloom. My aim here isn't to make us all feel guilty about having money. I certainly don't plan to ever live off such a low amount, I think it would be incredibly difficult to do. While I am willing to make sacrifices in the name of sustainability that is not one I am comfortable to accept. However, I do think it is important to realise that by living in the "developed world" we are all taking more than our fair share of the world's resources and so it is our responsibility to act on this. While it might not seem like we have a lot, the majority of us can afford to pay someone to make us a coffee each morning and on a world scale that makes us rich. So while having security for ourselves and our family is important we shouldn't simply chase more and more money because it is what society expects of us without understanding the implications.  If we wasted less money on consumerism we would reach that level of security much sooner and perhaps we could use our time to do things that aren't motivated by money and benefit both ourselves and the planet. If you take money out of the equation we are also much more likely to spend our time doing things that interest us. If everyone focused on this rather than making more money I think the world would be a much more beautiful place.

Anyway, just a thought...


Change Makers Vancouver - The Homesteaders Emporium


As part of a new project called Change Makers I am interviewing people and organisations who are doing things a little differently and are creating positive change in the world. The aim of this is to showcase some inspiring projects, connect people looking to be the change to companies that can help them achieve that goal and maybe even encourage you to start something of your own. Change Makers - The Homesteaders Emporium

The Homesteaders Emporium is a store that I have visited a lot since I first discovered it. In their words they are 'a one-stop-shop for urban homesteading'. If you aren't familiar with homesteading, it is anything related to living a self sufficient lifestyle. Growing, preserving and making your own food, raising animals, foraging... it's a long list that comes under the homesteading umbrella. So for me The Homesteaders Emporium is like being a kid in a candy store. It is empowering to know that there is an alternative to simply relying on paying other people to make things for you and that with a little bit of patience, practice and mindfulness you can take a lot more responsibility for the things you consume.

Tell me about The Homesteaders Emporium what is it all about?

Homesteader’s Emporium is a small brick-and-mortar shop located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Our goal is to make it more accessible for folks to gain skills, tools, and materials to move toward more self-sufficient lifestyles. Living in a pretty unique period of time where it’s almost impossible to ignore how our interactions, behaviours and ways of life affect not only our own immediate environments, but the global climate as well, this shop is an effort to offer access and opportunity for urbanites to develop skills in self-sufficiency for more sustainable living practices. We sell and rent supplies, create community to learn with, and are also a bridge for folks to access mentors and teachers to learn news skills through our workshop programs.

Homesteader’s Emporium is one tiny window folks in the city can look into to find connection to the everyday basics of life - things our fast-paced city lives can miss entirely. I was listening to an elder share about his last train ride when a little boy pointed to some animals outside and said “what are those?”. His mom answered “cows.” The elder was shocked. My roommate had a similar story working with kids on a small farm called Southlands. Recently she told me of a group of kids who were super excited about helping out on the farm because it was like being in Mine Craft. They moved around the farm walking like pixelated square avatars, moving bales around and feeding the chickens in robotic motion. A part of living in the city means prioritizing efficiency and productivity, which sometimes means not being able to, or forgetting to prioritize the basics of life, such as food. What is ground beef? What is soap? Where does my fried chicken come from? WHAT?!?! A real chicken?? But they’re so cute!

Learn about bees at the Homesteaders Emporium

What was the inspiration behind starting The Homesteaders Emporium?

Our store was born of necessity. In 2012 if you lived in the Lower Mainland and wanted to get into beekeeping, cheese making, fermenting, etc, there wasn’t really an easy way for you to do that. You had to track down a club, mail order supplies you’d never seen before, fiddle around and jerry-rig your own equipment, and generally work pretty hard to be successful. We wanted to make DIY just a little bit more accessible, and our own experiences indicated the best way to do that was to make supplies and education available in a brick-and-mortar space.

What did those involved with the start-up do before this? Were they very experienced in this industry?

Our starting team was drawn together by our hobbies and passion for making from scratch, but none of us really had professional experience with running a store. We just were trying to create something we felt was really important. The owner (Rick) worked a bit at Mountain Equipment Co-op, and that really coloured the type of shopping experience and work environment we wanted to create. He also tutored kids in an after school program, and dabbled in IT consulting. The other early hires were a hair stylist, off-duty school teacher, and a young mother re-entering the workforce. We were and are a bit of a ragtag crew, but we make it work!

Owner Rick Havlak showing how to make soap

Were there any difficulties you faced in starting such a unique business?

There were and are. The biggest challenge is education - after all, we’re not really in the product business, we’re in the skill business. The products just happen to be where we get our revenue, but they aren’t what keeps us in business. That means we spend more of our time coordinating workshops, compiling resources, and writing instructions than we do selling product - even though we don’t earn money on those things!

Most stores selling specialty goods end up charging a high premium, but our whole aim is to make the activities we cater to accessible. That means we’re trying to juggle a large number of suppliers and many, many different products, without applying a higher markup than a larger chain store might. To do this, we use inventory tracking that is much more complex than the average store our size, and spend a lot of time sweet-talking suppliers to work with us on our orders.

Why should people try homesteading instead of just buying things from a store?

  1. It’s way more expensive to buy ready-made products from a store. For example, sauerkraut takes about 30mins of effort to make, but costs $5-10/litre in stores and farmer’s markets. If you made it at home it would cost you about buck or two at most and I’d bet you’d like it more!
  2. It’s gratifying to make things. People are creators. We’re agents of change. We like to move things around and transform them. Growing your own food from seed, making your own cheese, composting your own scraps then turning it into nutrient-rich soil for your garden - doing these things not only FEELS satisfying, but it creates a special connection between you and your self. Learning these skills shifts where your source of life comes from - your source of life being food, water, shelter, clothing, community, etc. It is extremely empowering to be very closely connected to your source of life. When you make something from scratch, you become attached to every aspect of the process. When you buy something, you’re only attached to the outcome. Can you imagine what kind of impact this can have in our lives?

Some of the educational books sold in the store

What tips would you offer someone looking to start being more self sufficient?

Start small or go all in. Whatever works best for you, but don’t be too attached to the outcomes of your experiments. The other day I wanted to make no-knead sourdough bread, which was a first for me. I had seen some folks do this at different stages of the Tartine-style process but I had never seen the whole process through. I also have a short attention span for multi-stepped instructions, so I skimmed the process and went for it. At the end of the day, I had messed up every possible step either in timing or in technique, but decided to bake my loaves anyway. They weren’t the perfectly chewy crusted, soft and airy loaves my partner and friends make, but they were excellent toasted with butter and I was happy to share them with my friends and family. Most importantly, I learned a bunch from the million mistakes I made (turning and shaping are different things for example!), so I am really excited to apply those lessons to my next batch! I imagine, like with most things, these projects get better with time, as long as we stay open enough to keep learning.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business that contributes to positive change?

Your greatest challenge will likely be to find a balance between pursuing your mission and making enough money to keep operating. Remember that while you may not be in business to make money, you need to make money to be in business. Watch your cash flow and keep on top of your books. Find a good bookkeeper before you do anything else. The values-based for-profit has not yet gained broad acceptance in our economy, so get ready to be pulled in both directions. Good luck!

One of many workshops taking place in the store

What are the next steps for Homesteader’s Emporium?

We’re working on providing more resources for home-learning, as a way to complement the in-store experience. For example, our rentals program is really popular, and our staff can give some advice on how to use a rented item (e.g. a honey extractor or a pasta maker). Soon though, we’ll have instructional videos to go with most of them!

What is the change you want to see in the world?

We want to live in a world where people are connected again to how things are made and where things come from. Obviously everyone can’t do everything, but we think by making it easier to engage with products by making them, we can encourage more conscientious consumer behavior. It starts with food - learn to make cheese, learn about dairy cow welfare! But it doesn’t stop there. Making soap leads to learning about all the miscellaneous additives that go into modern consumer cosmetics. Learning to repair a cell phone reminds you that fixing electronics is possible - and if enough people do it, or even if enough people hear about it, we can drive demand for easily-fixable devices that don’t wind up in landfills. It can create benefits for society AND the planet on many different levels.

Thank you so much to all the team at www.homesteadersemporium.ca keep up the good work.

The next time you are in the supermarket maybe just stop and consider how many of the products you are are about to buy could you try making yourself...

If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem


It seems we are all in agreement, Planet Earth could do with some improvements. A quick scan on anyone's social media feed will show that everyone has some opinion on it, global warming, deforestation, genetically modified food, famine, obesity, war, poverty, or even the shooting of a lion called Cecil. At least one of those ingredients is enough to bring out a passionate post from the calmest of souls. Yet what are we doing with this passion and these opinions, sharing a post on Facebook, signing an online petition, or maybe videoing ourselves with a bucket of ice? While all of these things are done with the best of intentions and can create change, they all have one common problem, they rely on someone else doing the work for us. Don't get me wrong, social media has become a powerful tool for bringing attention to atrocities happening across the world, petitions can create a change in policies and seemingly people dropping a bucket of ice on their head can raise a lot of money for charity. But what happens after we complete that quick, easy, convenient, online action? Most of us go back to living our lives the way we always had. We've done our bit, it's someone else's responsibility to sort that out now. I've donated, signed, shared, I'm contributing to change...That's all well and good except I'm not seeing change. All of those problems listed at the start of this post are still problems. Some are becoming worse. Our post sharing, petition signing attack on the things we disagree with doesn't seem to be working fast enough.

Now imagine a world where people saw a post on Facebook that showed how using plastic bottles is damaging the planet and instead of just liking it, maybe even sharing it, they actually decided then and there to never use a plastic water bottle again. I'm not talking about avoiding them until you forget to bring a refillable bottle, I'm talking NEVER AGAIN. And imagine that every post shared on social media that people liked or shared resulted in the same action, people changing their ways to match their beliefs. We can't rely on someone else to sort out our problems any longer as it's just not working. The attitude that "what's the point in me changing if no-one else will" isn't serving anyone. Even if you are the single sole person standing up for what you believe in isn't it still worth doing?

We need to wake up to the fact, if we aren't part of the solution we are part of the problem. If, for example, we disagree with the deforestation of the rainforest in Borneo and Sumatra that is putting Orangutans and many other animals, including us humans soon enough, on the endangered species list but still consume products that include palm oil sourced from that deforestation then we need to realise we are part of the problem. Just because we aren't the one cutting down the tree doesn't make us guilt free. The person responsible for cutting down the tree probably doesn't think he or she is to blame for the problem either, they are being paid by someone making the decision above them, they are just a logger. The person in the marketing department of the company selling the product probably doesn't think they are to blame either, they just promote the products the company makes. Even the owner of the company probably looks at the sales of the product and thinks that people still clearly want a product made in this way so they should still provide it. We are all partly responsible. If the product was made and we disagreed with it and never purchased it imagine how long that product would remain on sale for. 

It really isn't a big shift to change our habits. We don't need to all run off into the wilderness and set up self sufficient communes to make a change. We won't completely change our habits straight away but if we all start to make a conscious decision to not just go into auto pilot and simply ask ourselves "is this action I am about to take in line with the change I want to see?" I believe we could make a big change.

With this in mind I am taking on a series of month long challenges to try to shift my life to be more inline with the changes I want to see in the world. They aren't massive changes, but they are changes. Slowly but surely I aim to make small steps towards this goal and make these changes part of my everyday routine.

One thing I've learnt on this short journey I've been on is that committing to something in your head is one thing, if only you know about it it's easy to go back on it. However, voicing your intention to friends, family and even strangers brings with it peer pressure to see it through...

Instead of just liking and sharing things on social media Im trying to make a commitment to change my habits to fit in with my beliefs.

So here's my commitment: This month I am going to try to make all of my plastic waste for the month fit into a small glass jar. Both "recyclable" and single use plastic. Why a jar? Funnily enough a friend shared a post on Facebook about this lady www.trashisfortossers.com who has fit all of her waste from 2 years into a small jar. I liked the post but then realised I needed to do more than just like the post. While I am not sure I currently have the ability to do exactly what she is doing I felt a good first step would be to try it for a month. I also like the fact that it is a glass jar so that each time I look at it I will be able to see the waste I have created. One big problem I see with our current waste system is we put our trash in a place that is usually hidden out of the way, under the sink, in the corner of the room, etc, then it gets dropped off at the dump that is also hidden away. Everything is kept out of sight, out of mind and leads us to a false sense of security to how much we are actually wasting. This will be a constant reminder.

For sometime I have disagreed and been angered by the damage our plastic obsession causes to our environment and our health yet I often still turn a blind eye and buy products wrapped in it? I can hardly complain about it if I am still reliant on it. It's quite a daunting challenge for me as recycled plastic packaging is unfortunately part of so many products that I use on a regular basis. It will take quite a bit of forward planning with shopping etc too which isn't my strong point.

If you agree with what I've said why not make a stand and commit to being part of the solution in one small way yourself. It doesn't need to be a month long thing, that format just appeals and works for me. It could be a small change or a big one, perhaps one day a week without using your car or a year of eating locally sourced food. Whatever it is post it in the comments below and/or on social media and announce it to the world. Sure, people may think it different to your regular updates and your post may not get as many likes as that nice picture of a sunset you just posted but at least you will be able to say you are being part of the solution and not the problem and you may even inspire someone you know to do the same.

Convenience v Conservation


"Would you like a water?" a friend offered. I was really thirsty, I'd been working outside all day and had forgotten to bring water. The thirst could so easily be quenched with a bottle of water...seems a pretty obvious solution. However the bottle I was offered was made of plastic. Before this journey to be the change I want to see began I wouldn't have thought twice about simply connecting the dots, I'm thirsty, here is some water, problem solved. But now I seem to have acquired an environmentally conscious little voice in my head "for someone who is trying to reduce your plastic consumption you're not very good at it". I am facing more and more decisions like this since starting down this path of trying to be more sustainable. I could easily drink the water, ignore the voice, and choose convenience over conservation, or I could make a minuscule step in the right direction towards the change I want to see.

The problem is it's not just water bottles that creates this internal debate, it is with everything. We as a society seem to have started a war, convenience v conservation, and convenience is winning. We are presented with so many choices as a consumer and each time we have an option, choose the convenient option or sacrifice that for the sustainable option. Buy a takeaway coffee, forget your reusable bag at the store, whatever it is very rarely it seems is the convenient choice the most sustainable.

The convenience option is to take the water bottle which creates waste from the single use plastic . The conservation option is to go thirsty, I'm sure I'll survive, after all, it was my fault I didn't bring a refillable bottle. I realise this might seem a silly debate to have and am well aware that drinking water is important. However I can't help but feel a bit arrogant in deciding that my need for water that day far outweighs the damage of leaving that piece of plastic around for future generations.

"No thanks" I replied.

I went to a nearby washroom and drank the warm water from the tap, it tasted horrible, but I looked in the mirror and grinned.