Permacultores Urbanos

Permacultores Urbanos: Sustainable solutions to life in megacities: rainwater catchment, dry toilet etc

São Paulo, BrazilSão Paulo, Brazil
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Permacultores Urbanos (Urban Permaculturists) is a collective born in São Paulo, Brazil, in order to study and multiply sustainable ways of living in large cities. We highlight the "Cistern School" project, in which we empower people to capture and use rainwater safely in a water-scarce times.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we trade our feces for organic fruits? What if we increase our resilience in the city using simple and accessible technologies such as rain barrels, vegetable gardens, composting systems and more?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We live in São Paulo, a megacity with over 18 million people on the brink of a water collapse. The reservoirs are dry and the population faces daily water shortages. There are families that do not have water storage devices and are facing up to five days without any water delivery. In addition to water management problems, we have the climate change problem. We need to relearn how to live in this new scenario, and that's what we are dedicated to.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Via the “Cistern School” project, we teach people to harvest rainwater and use it safely. Our intention is to form multipliers able to spread cisterns through the city helping the population to increase its water autonomy and resilience. This "school" also fosters a new sustainable employment possibilities, offering installation services of cisterns, solar heaters, solar energy, green roofs, vertical gardens etc. Still in the pilot phase, the project “Urban Dry Toillet” intends to break the paradigm of feces as pollution and show that this is a valuable and abundant resource, which can be used for gardening, food production and for the recovery of degraded areas, at a low cost sanitation solution.


We have been engaged by the Government of São Paulo to develop it’s rainwater catchment online course. We understand this as an award!
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

I will tell you my own experience: I am a musician, composer and always had trouble making money. Sensing the crisis approaching, I decided to install a cistern in my house. I searched in google: "cistern installer" and obviously no one found. This profession as specific did not exist. With the crisis came a new job opportunity: today I install cisterns, offer courses, help people and have a great budget complement every month. After the cisterns, we saved 30% of water in my house. Fostering sustainable labor market, we can guarantee income for thousands of people and improve the life quality of the entire population of large urban centers.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Through “Cistern School”, we’ve trained 80 people in the first four pilot projects. We also offered workshops in various public and private schools in São Paulo, for about 200 people. In recognition of our work, we were called by the state government to develop an online course of rainwater catchment, providing distance learning. Our goal is to empower as many young people as possible in order to build an army of cistern installers, willing to bring knowledge to the communities where they live and thus exponentially increasing the number of cisterns facilities in the metropolitan area. With the “Urban Dry Toillet”, we intend to foster a new business: trade stool for organic fruits. And encourage companies to reduce their carbon footprint using the feces of their employees to recover degraded areas. The government can clean up entire communities at very low cost.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

If we can find a sponsor for “Cistern School”, we will be able to train more than 1,000 multipliers opening the market for a new economic activity, able to help millions of people to increase its water autonomy period (essential in times of crisis) and increase income generation for thousands of people. Using the “Urban Dry Toillet”, we can bring in rivers and biodiversity back to life with zero infrastructure cost. Generate new business transforming feces into resources. Every big city produces tons of feces every day. So we have new resources in abundance, just waiting to be explored.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

In order to reach our goal of forming 1000 people able to build and install rainwater harvesting systems in 2 years, we are searching for potential sponsors to support our project "Cistern School". As a plan B, we are creating a business model: manufacturing water filters, rainwater harvesting barrels and dry toilets. These products can generate revenue for those who build them and also cover part of the cost for the "Cistern School" project.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

This year emerged in the Brazilian market tanks of medium size, designed specially for cities (vertical cisterns). Although practical, fine and efficient, vertical tanks cost a fortune and therefore not accessible for most people. The minicisternas are manufactured with recycled materials and simple hydraulic parts. Costing up to four times less than the industrialized cisterns is the best solution we know for urban water harvesting. Regarding the use of feces as a resource, there are several successful initiatives in the countryside. We want to bring these experiences to cities.

Founding Story

The collective "Permacultores Urbanos" was created by a group of graduates of the first Permaculture Design Course offered by 'Casa da Cidade', in São Paulo, who were all interested in continuing to gather and work in teams. Through the collective, alumni and teachers united and began to put into action the interesting ideas that were discussed during the classes, in addition to that, individual initiatives gained more power when they were appropriated by the group as a whole. We discuss, plan, train people, plant, have fun and help one another to find a good way to act to create the changes we want to see in the world.


Team members have varied backgrounds. Some have an academic experience, as architects, educators, environmental engineers and graphic designers; others have a more self-taught/experience based education, such as masons, woodworkers, designers, musicians, bio-construction masons, a more. As permaculturists, we understand the importance of a multi-disciplinary education and we consider we are in continuous formation processes. We participate in diverse extension courses, where we encounter other alumni and teachers who participated at the Permaculture Design Course we did together.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:


Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

co-Founder - member

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

I was one of the founders of the "Movimento Elefantes", a collective of big bands of São Paulo that received in 2012 the prize from Secretaria de Economia Criativa (Creative Economy Secretary) for: 1) the collaborative management of a public theatre; 2) using the concept of "pay what is worth" (watch the show and contribute after it is over, when you are exiting it); 3) using the concept of "CDê e DVDê" ("CDgive and DVDgive"), in which who received the band's media is invited to copy it and share with their contacts, in order to connect the big bands and strengthen the brazilian instrumental music scenario.

// Also in the area of music, I received the prize FUNARTE ( National Arts Foundation) for the project "Onde Está a Fronteira?" ("Where is the Border"), through which I promoted a series of didactic concerts in public schools in the States of São Paulo and also at SESI chapter (a national organization that supports small business). SESI then hired me and the support crew for two consecutive years in order to tour the spectacle.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

We are gifted to be able to rely on excellent permaculturists as our counselors. One of our great mentors and partner is the master Edison Urbano, who developed low-cost technologies and invented the rainwater harvesting barrel model we spread and many other technologies. We have participated in sustainability fairs together, learned and spread his inventions. Other masters who have great importance are Petter Web, Guilherme Castagna, Claudia Visoni, Lucas Ciola and Tomaz Lotufo, our teachers at the Permaculture Design Course who eventually participate at our working teams and help us connecting with and developing project.
We also have the support of the Professor Antonio Alves Cruz Public State School, that offers us their space to host the "Cistern School" and in the future it will be the headquarters to the Urban Permaculture School. We have support from the Institute Casa da Cidade, that offers workshops and their physical space for our working teams. In addition to them, we also have support from Instituto Kairós, that invites us to participate in several grant opportunities in order to power and expand our activities.