Building a Business for the Circular Economy

ON&ON circular design
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What makes ON&ON circular?

Sustainability and our impact on the environment is complex so we’ve always used an illustration to help explain what makes our business circular. It has helped us define 7 steps and our 7 steps help us visualise and form the circle. 

ON&ON circular economy diagram

Our ‘circular’ model allows us all to simplify and understand things in a more manageable way.

 1. Design

Our shelving system is well made and a high quality product designed to last. It is designed to look uncomplicated and straightforward so the system will not change. So you can come back in 5, 10, 20 years later and still buy the same parts.

2. Recycled aluminium

We have chosen to make our shelving system from aluminium and we aim to use materials that can be recycled, biodegraded or composted. We make all our shelving system parts in the UK making sure production is as local and regional as possible.

Our aluminium suppliers have the highest internationally recognised standard for environmental, social and governance practices across the aluminium lifecycle of production. This includes The Aluminium Stewardship Initiative for both performance and Chain of Custody certificates.

3. Packaging

Our packaging is essential, providing us with enough protection so that none of our parts can be damaged in transit. It is designed to be as minimal and as small as possible. We are aiming for all our packaging to be 100% biodegradable, or compostable. Unfortunately we are still designing out small plastic parts and are continuing to look for affordable UK based solutions where we can find a balance between production, simplicity, quality and price.

4. Waste

Waste nothing, we aim to keep our waste to a minimum – your waste may not be a waste to everyone, reuse it or find a purpose for it. To reduce waste we’ve designed and developed new products so we can use our large aluminium off cuts. We have also created a free sample service to use up our smallest pieces. Anything left over that cannot be repurposed is recycled.

100% of aluminium waste is repurposed or recycled.
Corrugated board packaging is 100% recycled.
100% of wood waste is composted or used as fuel.

5. Easy to move

Our shelving system although it is made to measure it is not like traditional fitted furniture. The system has been designed so that it is as easy to dismantle and move, as it is easy to install. We provide all the fixing and instructions so that any competent handyman can fit our systems. So we encourage all our customers to move home with their shelving. Our fitting service also provides a removal, cutting and storage service to help our customers move home.

6. Repurpose

Our system can be changed and altered with different parts. The ON&ON team of planners can give your system a new life by designing it into new configurations or by resizing or adding new parts. The planning service and cutting service is free of charge to encourage our customers to keep using their system. We will continue to innovate, designing new parts for our customers ensuring our system continues to have real functionality and purpose.

7. Buy back

This is our last and final step, it is our aim to introduce a buy back scheme. This is where we can buy systems back off customers and recondition them for resale. This will complete our cycle.

We are continuing to work on and improve our 7 steps, but they do provide us with greater clarity and focus. If you want to learn more about the circular economy or circular design we have included some useful links at the bottom of the post.

ON&ON some background

Since 2010 ON&ON have focused on creating one shelving system that can be used across commercial and residential spaces. Launching in 2013 at Design Junction in London. ON&ON have been making and living with their systems since the early 1960’s. Moving home with them, resizing them and reconfiguring them for different spaces.

ON&ON long seemless white shelves in 1960
ON&ON wall shelving begins in 1960’s
ON&ON white wall cabinets and shelves
ON&ON in production today

We’re still busy building a circular business

We still have a lot to learn and do. Our next challenge is to understand how we can export in greater volumes in a more carbon neutral way…. If you’re interested in our journey please follow us or share our post.

#circulardesign #circulareconomy #circularbusiness #designthinking#madebyonandon #onandonshelving

8 Tips for building a circular business?

As with all self financed start-ups it hasn’t been plain sailing. We’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve also got a lot of things right. In no particular order we’ve created 8 circular tips. We may have been ahead of the curve….

#1 Design will not fix everything

“Design thinking” helps us create processes and services at the same time as producing products, but in reality most designers tend to be siloed and have little influence over different areas of a business. It is a larger business problem to solve and to be circular services and products (PSS) may need to be created in tandem.

#2 Start off in the right direction

We know it’s far more productive if you get things right the first time around. To go back and change a design, process or service is difficult. It takes additional time, energy and commitment and to do it for no financial reward is hard.

#3 Be strategic

It makes even more sense now to be strategic and to plan your growth rather than it being incremental.

#4 Build long term value

If you’re only interested in building something for short-term profit or a quick way to make money then circular is probably not for you. If you are not careful circular can cost you more, requiring an investment in more time, money, resources and new suppliers.

#5 Small business thinking

Small company or a “boot strapping” attitude can be beneficial, we’ve found if your ‘values’ are right it makes you think in a more circular way, it makes you thrifty and more creative. Creating a waste nothing recycle, reuse everything attitude.

#6 Don’t rush

This also makes us believe the opposite, big business can create unnecessary unhealthy growth and investment can make us more wasteful and more linear. So don’t throw too much money at becoming circular, too much can be a bad thing and it will take time.

#7 Inside out

Get your company/brand values right from the top of the business down. To make it work, circular and sustainability needs to be built into to your company. It needs to be a joined up part of the business, not an add-on, initiative or communications exercise. Your internal and external communications will become the same thing.

#8 Build your connections

Create a more joined up business. This has several benefits, giving you greater control and faster communication. To be circular people have to work together better, as you need to work across the business not just up and down.

We believe every business can apply aspects of a circular approach and that we should take responsibility for all that we produce and do. We haven’t taken a sentimental view about our planet and climate change, but something more straightforward and practical. We believe we can all make better products and better businesses. At ON&ON we have built circular into our business, used our brand values to provide direction, built a circular plan and used our name to help communicate who we are.

The Circular Economy is getting popular – Any support for SMEs?

It is good to hear that awareness is growing and that bigger business is getting on board with the circular economy, like the Ikea Group partnering with the Ellen McArthur Foundation, but we hope it’s being attracted for the right reasons and is not just using it for greenwashing like we’ve seen around 2007.

Ikea and the circular economy
Circular by 2030

Ikea Group’s ambition to be circular by 2030 is a big ask, but lets see how it develops. We hope they share the things they learn along the way. Our concern is that anything that becomes fashionable or uses the term rapid is generally not built for the long term. It’s an inherent problem, any short term investing to make a fast profit means there is less long-term development.

Financing may make it easier for larger companies with deeper pockets to make change, but should there be more financial support for small business? We believe it will be easier for small growing business and start ups to become circular, easier to start off in the right direction than to change direction. SME’s make up 99.9% of the UK economy with a turnover of around half of the UK Private sector. FSB click here.

We can see what’s coming

If the environment and circular economy is to be taken seriously people and business will need more help. If everyone has to change from a linear model to circular it’s not going to be easy and most people know that any change can be hard.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation – is a charity that works with business and education to accelerate the transition to a circular economy An introduction by founder Ellen MacArthur youtube video helps explain how they started in 2010.

IDEO – is a global design and innovation company that has helped the Ellen McArthur Foundation. They have produced many helpful design tools, processes to help businesses change and start thinking about being circular. Tim Brown CEO of IDEO introduces design and the circular economy.

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