"The biggest modification you can make for engine efficiency is properly adjusting the nut behind the wheel."

Most of good planning is about mapping the flows of energy within and through your organization - both internally generated and those that come from the outside. Like the anonymous post above to a hypermiler’s forum, or the famous software support status PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair), much of what is required for proper planning and design is about realigning our understanding and expectations of how that energy is best used and directed.

When building an energy and resource management plan, it helps to break elements into categories for simplification. One tool that help us with this in permaculture is zone analysis. Zones provide a way of categorizing elements according to how often they are used or need service: Zone 0 is you and the things you have with you, Zone 1 consists of things we use intensively every day, Zone 2 might be things we make contact with once a day, Zone 3, once a week and so on.

In an agricultural plan, Zone 1 is your workshop, your kitchen, or your salad garden, the place where you go every day to get your work done. In a personal business context, it might be your desk or your office. In a business planning context, it might be the triangle between work area - copier - breakroom.

By moving the coop 200 feet closer to the compost pile, you can save yourself 100 wheelbarrow trips a year. By moving the printer to the conference room, you can avoid tripping over it every time you try to set up the basketball hoop. (You do have basketball hoop in your office, don’t you? Zone 1, definitely.)

Zone 2 is where you keep your chickens, because they need daily attention. It might be the conference room where you do a daily standup meeting.

Zone 3, is a zone where long-ranging plants and trees grow by themselves, sometimes unattended for a week or more. Think about infrastructure, the places where no one goes unless there is a need, like pruning or harvesting an orchard. This is the server closet or fusebox, where no one goes until an alarm goes off.

Zone 4 is your partially managed, partially wild land. It’s where a farmer goes once a year to harvest firewood, or the occasional hunt. You may clear space around natually occruring trees you wish to encourage, or do coppicing to encourage undergrowth for smaller creatures. It’s those little parts of the office where small work tables sit for unexpected projects or impromptu work sessions, where little toys and gizmos and spare pens inadvertantly turn up.

Zone 5 is a completely unmanaged, wild ecosystem. It’s a conservation area where things are allowed to take thier natural course. You can use it for observation of natural systems or to strengthen your connection with the natural world. It can also be the wider world outside of your business, where your customers and competitors exist. We zone it so we understand it’s also a place worth visiting for contemplation and to gain understanding.

By considering the zones things fall into, we can start to understand how best to arrange them spacially. If we hardly ever print anything, then why make a space for the printers so close to the work area, where they are noisy and take up space? If the little white table is intended for impromptu popup meetings, then why locate it where people will feel they are interrupting others at work? This can even be abstract - we want people to feel more comfortable, so why do we have so little Zone 1 space? If we want more collaborative work happening, lets plan and cater to more more Zone 4 space.

Attaching zones to budget items makes sense as well, because it helps us to understand the amount of wear and tear an item is likely to face. A conference room table that gets used 4 times a month? Why spend $3000 on it? For a coffee maker that gets used 75 times a day, it might be worthwhile to splurge on something efficient and tough. Zone numbers can become codewords for how much energy and importance to give to items and tasks within your organization.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t skimp on your analysis of Zone 5. The external world exists, and by and large your organization needs to be as heavily involved in it as possible. By having engineers do rotations in tech support, you ensure they understand the pain the end user is having which helps them focus on solving the right issues in the best ways. Bringing customers and users in to see your process can strengthen relationships and brand loyalty. It also provides added incentive for workers to be efficient, ethical and tidy.

Even keeping good relations with our competitors is valuable. There’s no reason for vicious infighting among people who share a market, other than a lack of continuing communication. Without energy spent making lives negative, more is available to concentrate on the positive issues that allow everyone to move forward and grow.

Social media can be a modern specialized form of Zone 4 and 5. For most organizations, social media isn’t at the core of the value we deliver, but it is our most direct contact with the people who depend on us to do a good job, and with those who might be our customers in the future. Keep those channels transparent and carefully curated. A social media network can become a rewarding mechanism to deliver your message and attract new followers.

Zone analysis, along with Sector planning (which we will cover another time) helps us to monitor and channel the energies flowing into and out of our planned designs. It allows us to anticipate and prepare for unpredicted events, build extra abundant capacity for critical systems and prioritize and streamline those functions that we depend upon most intensively.

New here? Reading “what is permaculture” will help you catch up quickly.