Get a diploma in Permaculture design

Get a diploma in Permaculture design

If you want to extend your studies and your practical skills in permaculture, you can apply to have this recognized and formally certified by attaining a diploma in permaculture design from the Nordic Institute of Permaculture. After your work is approved and you have delivered your final diploma presentation, you will be awarded a Diploma in Permaculture Design.

The process for attaining a Diploma in Permaculture design is based on self-managed planning and learning. The amount of time you need to work to earn your diploma varies, but a minimum of 2 years of work after you have received your PDC certificate is needed to apply for a diploma.

Below are guidelines for the process and the different categories / areas from which you can choose to focus your diploma work. The guidelines are intended to provide inspiration and framework for the diploma work but they are flexible and the process is open to alternative methods and content.


As a Diploma holder you are responsible for ensuring that the concept and practice of Permaculture remains intact and continues to spread.

The diploma is first and foremost a kind of license the Nordic Permaculture Institute gives to formally confirm that the diploma holder can:

– Be a representative for the Permaculture movement to the public on their own

– Provide quality assurance of PDC courses held, and arrange PDC courses on their own

– Provide quality assurance for projects, and conduct professional design consulting on their own

Therefore, as a part of the requirements to receive a diploma you have to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the Permaculture ethics, principles, and methods, and that you can convey them; that you have produced a comprehensive portfolio of design work and that your designs reflect your understanding. The diploma is awarded to individuals, not places or projects.

Geographical context

The main focus area of the nordic diploma system is to help build an advanced practice and understanding of permaculture in a nordic context. It is possible to get a diploma based on work done outside the nordic countries, but in case you want to get a diploma that way, you will need to find a tutor amoung the diploma holders in the nordic countries before you registrer as a diploma apprentice. You can get help and more information by speaking to the diploma coordinator at the permaculture assoctiation in your country.

Diploma Categories

The diploma categories below show the various areas of design you can include in your diploma portfolio. You can choose to do your work in one category or multiple categories, and each design included in your diploma portfolio, may belong to one or more categories (categories were determined internationally in IPC4 in Nepal 1991, and extend through decisions made at the noridc institute meeting during the nordic meeting in 2018.)

  • Site Design. (Stand-alone design project). Project design / Professional design consulting.
  • Site Development. Several designs, implemented on the same site and evaluated over a longer period of time.
  • Education. (Training). Design for and work with Permaculture training and education.
  • Administration. Design of, and work with, organizational and management practices in line with the Permaculture ethics.
  • Architecture. Project design / Professional design consultancy in architecture using Permaculture practices and in line with Permaculture ethics.
  • System establishment and implementation. Design, establishment and evaluation of systems and methods that are instrumental to Permaculture design and implementation.
  • Trusteeship. Design, establishment and maintenance of legal structures for the conservation of land ownership for Permaculture purposes.
  • Community development. (Social development). Design, establishment and maintenance of ecovillages, permaculture in local communities or communal farms, within a bio-regional context.
  • Research. Creation of new research that significantly contributes to the development of Permaculture.
  • Finance. (Economy). Design, establishment and maintenance of economical systems, which can be a real alternative to the conventional financial system.
  • Media and Communications. Design and work in mediation and dissemination of permaculture, which significantly contributed to raising public awareness of the permaculture community, practice and/or concept.
  • Manufacturing (Tools). Design and preparation of relevant technology, manufacturing processes or tools that significantly contribute to the design and/or implementation of permaculture systems.
  • Farming and farming systems. Design and implementation of farming systems, including ecosystem-based farming of annual vegetables, Regenerative farming, Carbon farming, Forest gardens, Agroforestry systems and Sustainable forestry using permaculture.
  • Business.  Design and etablishment of new businesses and business models in line with the permaculture ethics and principles and/or addapting existing businesses to be in line with the permaculture ethics, using permaculture principles and tools.

The Diploma process

1) Registration – You register as diploma student through the Permaculture association in your country. To become a diploma student you have to have a PDC certificate approved by the association and be a member of the association. At the time of registration you should also share your reasons for getting a diploma, including why you choose to get a diplom through the nordic diploma system.

2) Action Learing Pathway – We recommend that you choose a tutor, choose the categories you wish to work with, and that you make a plan or design for your diploma with your tutor’s help, to get an overview of the pathway to receiving your diploma: an “action learning pathway”. In order to become a diploma holder, you diploma work must be reviewed and approved by a diploma tutor, that has been approved by the Nordic Institute of Permaculture. By choosing a tutor and making a plan for your diploma work early in the process, you can ensure that the work you do can be the basis for a diploma. Work done without a tutor or Action Learning Pathway can also be the basis for a diploma, but only if it is approved by a diploma tutor, that has been approved by the Nordic Institute of Permaculture, at a later stage.

3) Founding or becoming a part of a diploma guild – We also recommend that you seek out other diploma students to create (or be included in the already formed) Diploma Guilds, where you can get support and share ideas with others.

4) Presentation on the website – We also recommend that you present yourself and your work as a diploma student on the Nordic Permaculture Institute’s website and the website of the Permaculture Association in your country. This is recommended to make it easier for other diploma students to get in touch with you for collaborations.

5) Review – After at least two years of work, when you find that your diploma portfolio is completed, you can request for your work to be assessed to see if your diploma portfolio meets the requirements for a diploma in permaculture design. Your diploma tutor will approve the diploma portfolio, and then an external diploma tutor will be selected. Either you or your diploma tutor can propose an external tutor. The external tutor must be approved by the Nordic Institute’s secretariat. The review carried out by the external tutor ensures that the quality of the work lives up to a high standard. The external tutor may be from a non-Nordic country.

6) Publication – When both tutors find your work to be complete, you send it to the Permaculture Association in your country, at least 3 months before the Nordic meeting where you intend to make your final diploma presentation. It will then be published on the Nordic Institute’s website, and sent to all diploma holders. At the same time an opponent is selected in consultation with the Nordic Institute’s secretariat. It can be beneficial to also present your diploma work in an article in the Nordic Permaculture magazine.

7) Presentation – The final step before you can get a diploma is to present your diploma work at the Nordic Meeting, which takes place once a year. Depending on the number of diploma presentations at the Nordic Meeting, you will receive at least 45 minutes to present your work and a subsequent 15 minutes of questioning by a diploma holder opponent, and then by others present at the meeting. If there are not too many diploma presentations, you can have more time.

8) Approval – The final approval of the work is done at the Nordic meeting by the diploma holders present, preferably by consensus and by at least 2/3 majority.

If you have a long-standing permaculture project that is the basis for your diploma work you may request special exemptions from the Nordic Institute’s secretariat to shorten the diploma process.

What will you get out of a diploma?

– You will demonstrate that you have a sufficient level of permaculture design skills, that you have an in-depth understanding of permaculture and that you can apply the ethics and design principles of permaculture to guide your choices in different contexts, from your design work to the way you live and work.

– You will be able to assess which design tools, among the various alternatives that best suit each individual design, thus creating design solutions that are holistic, effective, and adapted to the location and situation.

– You will be able to evaluate implemented permaculture designs based on the ethics and methods of permaculture. Permaculture is holistic and interdisciplinary and should permeate all the work on the design.

– You will be able to clearly convey your designs to others. You should be able to determine which forms of presentation and what documentation best meets the needs of customers and other stakeholders.

Diploma requirements and expected content

 1) Description and analysis. The diploma work is expected to contain a brief description of each land-based or non-land-based design. A design can be done on paper or digitally. Questions that should be answered are which diploma categories it covers, the problems that were resolved with the design, the design tools you used, and a reflection on your design process. More guidelines for documentation and content in your design work can be found under the heading “What does a design entail?” found below.

2) Evaluation based on the Permaculture ethics

– Evaluation of implemented design based on earth care. Description of land-based designs should describe how they regenerate the four natural resources of water, air, soil and energy, and the organization that ensures that regeneration. If there is no regeneration of a natural resources, you need to explain how regeneration could be achieved, for example by adding more components to the design.

Evaluation of implemented design based on people care. Descriptions of the designs, whether land-based or non-land-based, should contain information on how the design contributes, and caters to, the care of people, both those directly influenced by the design and other people on the planet. It may include improved living conditions, better food, housing, work routines, inclusion, etc.

It may be a longer or shorter description depending on how central it is to the goals of the design.

– Evaluation of implemented design based on fair allocation of resources / fair share. Description of designs, whether land-based or non-land-based, should describe how they contribute to a fairer allocation of resources / fair share. Examples of tools that can be used to evaluate the use and allocation of resources are “Environmental Space”, developed by Friends of the Earth Europe and “Ecological Footprint”, developed by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel.

Presentation Requirements

Your diploma work is presented in a design portfolio that you can choose to do for instance as a written report or PowerPoint presentation (or similar). Another possibility is to use video clips that showcase your design work. Whether you make a written report or a movie, the following materials should be included in your design portfolio:

Image material and sources. Attach maps, drawings, photos, tables, and other relevant data that you have used. What you include here depends a lot on the one or more design categories / areas you choose to work with. It is important that your inspirational and factual sources are reported regardless of whether you made a film or a written work.

Activities and Engagement Describe all relevant activities you have been engaged in during your diploma process and before: Courses you have attended, permaculture meetings / festivals you participated in, if you worked in the association in any way, events you’ve organized, if you have WWOOFed or worked at a permaculture site, wrote articles or blogged about permaculture, etc. Include everything you’ve done to spread permaculture and to broaden your own perspective in permaculture.

Clear and easy-to-read reporting It is important that your design work is clearly presented, making the results readily accessible for others to build on.

What does a design entail?

A permaculture design describes a system that, based on the ethics of permaculture, is more desirable than the present system. These guidelines for design work in your diploma are pertinent but flexible:

 A design should at least describe…

  1. which design process was used (eg SADIMET, Loobys design web)
  2. the current system and its shortcomings.
  3. resources or elements needed to implement the design.
  4. how the different elements of the design system relate and connect to each other and how resources are transferred in form and over time.
  5. what design tools and how the permaculture ethics were used.

 But a design is more efficient if it also describes…

  1. the choices you made in the process leading up to the final design.
  2. alternative possibilities and their consequences – pros and cons of the options.
  3. what interventions are to be performed, when, by who and by using what?
  4. the cost of implementing the design.

To get a diploma, most of your design proposals should be implemented, so it’s desirable that you also evaluate / critically review each design that you implement by ..

  1. Comparing the result with the goals (b, c, d) that you have set for the desired design system.
  2. Compare the design result with your establishment plan (g, h)
  3. Summary of the outcome of the evaluation, describing what you learned and how you have gained in knowledge and experience.

What does evaluation of permaculture designs entail?

Evaluation of the implemented land-based designs that are part of a diploma work

After a land-based design has been implemented for a couple of years, it is important to evaluate the design to see if the design actually has a positive impact on the site: if it contributes to better care of the soil, if it helps to regenerate natural resources and if there is an organization in place that supports and ensures that continuity of any positive results is maintained.

 Evaluation of implemented non-land-based social designs that are part of a diploma work

Following the establishment of new social relationships or structures as part of an implementation of a non-land-based social permaculture design, it is important to evaluate whether the design had a positive impact on the people, relationships, etc. which it encompasses. The evaluation can be aided by e.g. personal zone analysis, needs analysis such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Loobys Design Web, etc. to see if there has actually been a change in approaches, behaviours, structures, etc. and if it has been achieved with the help of, and in line with, the ethics and principles of permaculture.

 Evaluation of implemented non-land based education designs that are a part of a diploma work

Following the establishment of a new communication or education process as part of the implementation of a non-land-based permaculture design for education, it is important to also evaluate the education: does it lead to formal or informal learning? Is it knowledge, skills or theories that are being taught? Which intelligences and assets are encompassed by the learning process? And how relevant is permaculture for the curriculum and teaching plan?

Evaluation of regeneration of natural resources

On the following page is a checklist for evaluating land-based permaculture designs: to help ensure that the design regenerates natural resources within the areas relevant to the five elements Earth, Water, Energy, Air and Organization. Through the checklist, you can ensure that there is no single area in the design that causes degeneration of resources, ensuring that the design as a whole regenerates natural resources.

Checklist for assessment of natural resource regeneration


Does the design contribute to the build-up of groundwater reserves? Building the groundwater reserve is important if the design is for an area where groundwater is on the decline or for an area with a limited groundwater reservoir, for example a smaller island. Net rainfall is precipitation minus evaporation from soil and plants; In other words the water left over for drainage and infiltration. By reducing the drainage, much of the net rainfall can infiltrate the groundwater magazine.  Question to consider are: What population use the water from the area covered by the design and how much is the infiltration per person? Is there more waters taken up from the groundwater reserve per person than what is delivered through their combined infiltration area?

 Is there a risk that groundwater will be polluted? If the design contains many perennial plants, it can minimize the risk of leaching of plant nutrition. A healthy soil will also filter the water as it percolates through the soil.


Is there combustion used as part of the design (for heating for instance)? If so, what fuel is used? Ineffective combustion can produce soot particles, carbon monoxide and dioxins, and all combustion of carbonaceous materials with good air supply emits carbon dioxide. Green plants emit oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow and, in some cases, can purify the air by absorbing airborne particles.


In terms of the natural resource, earth, we can use the calculation methods “Environmental Space”, developed by Earth’s Friends, and “Ecological Footprint”, developed by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel (1). They fit well in line with permacultures ethical limits for fair share.

Is the use of raw materials sustainable?  The environmental space for raw material consumption per year per person is 80 kg of cement, 36 kg of crude steel, 1.2 kg of aluminium and 0 kg of chlorine. Consumption per year is calculated by dividing the amount of each individual material used in the products used in the design with the expected lifetime of the products. Chlorine is found in PVC plastic and in detergents.

What area is used for the production of raw materials? What land area is used to produce the raw materials used in the design? Is that land area used in line with permacultures ethical limits for fair share? Ecological footprints or environmental space can be used to create an overview. Alternatively, you can critically evaluate and argue for the area used in the design, including the one used for the production of the raw materials used. Does the design yield a good harvest per areal unit?

Does the biodiversity increase? By systematic inventory of flora and fauna and/or your own observations, you can evaluate whether or not biodiversity increases.

Is the amount of humus in the soil increasing? Is there any damage to the soil structure e.g. compaction due to the use of heavy machines? Are there any signs of erosion of the soil? Has it changed during the design work? The ideal is to take soil samples during the observation period at the beginning of the design, which can later be followed up to evaluate changes. In this instance the earth’s humus content, organic matter / carbon (C) content, are of special interest  as it is the basis of soil fertility, and because changes in humus are a measure of whether we actually bind carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into the soil. Even in cases where soil samples have not been taken, we can look at whether permaculture techniques have been used such as ground-cover, perennial plants, high levels of biodiversity and minimization of soil cultivation in the form of digging and tilling. If that is the case, we can likely assume that the humus in the soil has increased.


Are we binding more carbon than we are releasing? To calculate how much carbon is released, we must aggregate all CO2 emission equivalents in the design; Emissions from, among other things, production of the raw materials used, transport, construction, heating, and from production of the electricity used. Subsequently, we can calculate if the carbon that is bound in the soil and in plants, including wood, is larger than the total emissions.

Is more energy used than is being produced? If wood is used as the fuel source for heating, is there a regrowth of new trees, which is at least equivalent to the wood consumed for the heating? Here wood production can be measured in kW.

In some cases, storing large amounts of water in high places in the landscape can be a way of storing energy for hydropower.


Are the goals of the design ensured also for the future? It takes a long time to regenerate natural resources, and our work is only meaningful if we can be sure that the design goals will be safeguarded even in the future. What happens, for example, if the land changes ownership?

Is the site integrated with the bioregion? In short, a bioregion is the smallest area within which we can cover our basic needs if we relocalise our economy to the area.  It could for example, be a municipality, an island, a peninsula, a valley, or a big city with surrounding lands. Working from the bioregion as a starting point is important both to minimize energy consumption for the transport of goods and to make the site more resilient for different types of crises and changes in society.

Is there participant-inclusive governance? Organizations differ depending on whether we are for instance talking about a couple who run a farm, or a larger group in a city or an Eco-village. If it is a larger group, there must be a form of governance that both secures the basic objectives of the design while also including the people in place so that all involved can get a sense of ownership to the place and an opportunity to make their mark.

More information, sources and overviews of carbon storage in various biotopes, etc. can be found in the article “Evaluation of permaculture projects” in the Nordic Permaculture magazine, no. 12. 2014, and can also be found here.

Evaluation of social regeneration

“Caring and designing for ourselves, each other and the planet. (LoobyMacnamara)

Purpose of criteria and evaluation

The following should not be seen as a checklist to make sure that everything mentioned is included in the evaluation of a design, as this is not possible.

The aim is to showcase several different known and unknown theories that can be used to evaluate the design’s use of the permaculture ethics and principles, thus ensuring that the design falls within the limits of permaculture in all relevant ways. We must ensure that in any area of ​​the designs, materials that are incompatible with Permaculture are not used.

Below are some topics that may be of inspiration. These can contribute to many other topics, maybe some that are even more relevant!

Social zone division can inspire reflection when defined as; zone 00 myself, zone 0 my closest, zone 1 those I meet daily, zone 2  those I meet often as well as friends and family, zone 3 colleagues and work-related contacts, zone 4 interested people, zone 5 all others who can be informed about permaculture. Later on, a design can be based on it.

Needs Analysis It may be beneficial to look at the needs of the design. A tool for this is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: 1. Physiological needs, 2. Safety needs, 3. Need for love and Social contact, 4. Need for self-esteem, 5. Need for self-actualization. If the lower needs are not satisfied, there is less interest in the needs at the levels above, also within permaculture.

Multiple intelligences, different people learn in different ways. By adapting the learning to different people’s needs, you can learn more effectively. (H. Gardner), NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, can also be a useful tool for a social / learning process.

Six Thinking Hats. (E Bono) Things can be understood better by looking at them in different perspectives. The six thinking hats correspond to six common perspectives to approach things from.

Learning Circle (D. Kolb) describes the different phases we undergo in practical learning.

Blooms taxonomy describes different levels of learning or management of information (Bloom)

Zone of Proximal Development Describes problem solving ability with and without help (L. Vigotsky)

The Transition Town Movement has many interesting theories

GAIA theory describes the planet’s function as a living creature

LETS: Local Exchange Trading System is an interesting system for localised economies