Embracing a New Mindset: The Key to Sustainable Profitability for Manufacturing SMEs

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, sustainability is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity. For manufacturing SMEs, the challenge is not just to adopt sustainable practices but to integrate them in a way that drives profitability and long-term success.

This requires a transformation of the mindset that almost everybody carries around as a product of the public discourse and the majority of courses, books and rapports available on the subject of sustainability.

It is such an important first step that dedicated an entire chapter (chapter 3) in my international bestseller book Making Sustainability Profitable where I offer invaluable insights into how a shift in mindset can transform sustainability from a cost center to a profit driver.

The Mindset Shift: From Minimizing Harm to Creating Positive Impact

One of the most critical aspects of integrating sustainability into your business is the shift from a mindset focused on minimizing harm to one that aims at creating a positive impact. Traditional sustainability efforts often revolve around reducing negative effects—less pollution, less waste, less carbon footprint. While these efforts are important, they are inherently limiting and fail to capture the full potential of what sustainability can offer.

To truly unlock the potential of sustainability, we must shift our mindset from one of reduction and avoidance to one of creation and positive impact.

When we focus solely on reducing negative impacts, we trigger the scarcity reaction in the older part of our brain. This part of our brain is wired to respond to threats and limitations with a fight-or-flight response, and will by default hold on to things for dear life, leading to a defensive and constrained approach. This mindset can increase resistancee to change, stifle innovation and limit our ability to see beyond immediate cost savings and compliance.

However, when we adopt a mindset focused on creating positive impact, we engage the newer part of our brain responsible for imagination and creativity. This shift opens up a world of possibilities, allowing us to envision and implement innovative solutions that not only address environmental and social issues but also drive business growth.

By aiming to create positive impacts, we move from a reactive stance to a proactive one. This approach aligns with the entrepreneurial spirit that drives our businesses. It’s about more than just being less bad—it’s about actively contributing to the regeneration and enhancement of our environment and society.

Practical Steps to Foster a Sustainable Mindset

To foster this new mindset, CEOs and senior executives in manufacturing SMEs should consider the following steps:

  1. Start with Business Goals: Ensure that sustainability initiatives are directly linked to core business objectives. This integration ensures that sustainability is not a peripheral activity but a central business strategy that drives growth and profitability – and thus value.
  2. Reframe sustainability: Words matters – a lot. Reframing the traditional reduce, avoid, less bad vocabulary into one of creating new and better will shift the perspective and make it a lot easier for all parts of the organization to see themselves in the effort.
  3. Inspire Innovation: Encourage your team to think creatively about how they can contribute to positive change. Challenge them to develop products and processes that not only reduce the negative impact but instead deploy moonshot thinking to leave a positive impact. This can involve innovative product designs, sustainable sourcing, and circular economy practices that enhance both the business and its broader ecosystem.
  4. Focus on Opportunities: Look for opportunities to create value through sustainability. This could mean developing new products that meet emerging consumer demands for eco-friendly options, improving resource efficiency, or finding new markets for byproducts and waste materials.
  5. Continuous Learning and Adaptation: Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Encourage a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. Stay updated with the latest sustainability trends, technologies, and regulations, and be ready to pivot strategies as needed.
  6. Embed Sustainability in Company Culture: Make sustainability a core value of your company culture. Engage employees at all levels, making sure they understand and contribute to sustainability goals. This collective effort can drive innovation and foster a more resilient organization.
  7. Engage Stakeholders: Collaborate with stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and communities, to co-create solutions that benefit all parties. By involving others in your sustainability journey, you can leverage diverse perspectives and expertise, leading to more innovative and impactful outcomes. And it will give you practice in explaining your positive impact approach.
  8. Celebrate Successes: Recognize and celebrate the positive impacts your business creates. Share stories of how your sustainability efforts have led to tangible benefits for the environment, society, and your bottom line. This not only reinforces the value of a positive impact mindset but also inspires further innovation and engagement.
  9. Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Encourage your team to experiment, take risks, and learn from both successes and failures. By viewing sustainability as a dynamic and evolving field, you can stay ahead of the curve and continually find new ways to create value.

The Business Case for a Sustainable Mindset

The benefits of adopting a sustainable mindset are manifold. First and foremost it will lead to more and better project that support key issues in the busienss and for core clients. Companies that have successfully integrated sustainability into their core operations report not only significant environmental benefits but also substantial financial gains. These include cost savings from increased resource efficiency, enhanced brand reputation, and improved customer loyalty.

Moreover, businesses that lead in sustainability often find themselves at a competitive advantage. They attract better talent, enjoy stronger relationships with stakeholders, and are better positioned to navigate the regulatory landscape. In essence, sustainability becomes a key differentiator that can drive growth and profitability in ways that traditional business strategies cannot.

It takes some effort

If you are like most you feel that what I just wrote about makes sense and is straightforward to implement. I might be slightly harder that than though, so don’t beat yourself up if you find you fall back in the old traditional problem minimizing approach.

Changing mindset takes some practice and I often hear people tell me “it seems so easy when you talk about it, but the next day I am back in the old way of thinking”.

If you recognize this and want to avoid it perhaps our upcoming product is something for you. Soon we will launch a 30-day mindset transformation group program. It consists of two group online sessions, daily prompts and finally a 1-2-1 coaching session with me. If you want to be amongst the first to hear about it when we are ready just join the waitlist here for free: https://mindsettransformation.scoreapp.com/

It will also give you the opportunity to affect the program through answering a few simple multiple-choice questions.

Embrace this mindset, and you will not only contribute to a better world but also build a stronger, more resilient, and profitable business.