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You Sound Smarter on Weekends

You Sound Smarter on Weekends
Photograph by Yasuhide Fumoto/Getty Images

We once ran a storytelling workshop for Coastwide Laboratories, a company that makes liquid cleaners that schools, hospitals, and bus depots use to wash their floors and countertops. About 150 executives and salespeople spent a lot of time telling us about the company’s “sustainable earth” products and its sustainability emphasis in research and development.

We couldn’t have cared less. It didn’t mean anything to us. That was 2003 and sustainability wasn’t a household word. We had no idea how Coastwide’s sustainability efforts were any different from General Electric’s or Dell’s or one of its chief competitors. If you’re in a commodity industry and you’re using commodity language such as sustainability, what makes you different?