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Thu December 09 2021

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Product marketing code critic speaks out

23 Apr Our previous report of apparent strong support for a building products marketing code has prompted a strident critic of the scheme to point out some pitfalls in the plan.

The proposed Code for Construction Product Information is the manufacturers' response to some of the mistakes, lies and deception that preceded the Grenfell Tiower fire
The proposed Code for Construction Product Information is the manufacturers' response to some of the mistakes, lies and deception that preceded the Grenfell Tiower fire

The proposed Code for Construction Product Information is more likely to make public safety worse rather than better, argues Darren Lester, founder and chief executive of SpecifiedBy, an online products database.

He says that the proposed Code for Construction Product Information (CPPI), produced by the Construction Products Association’s marketing integrity group, is designed to restore the damaged reputation of marketers, not to solve any of the underlying problems with construction product data. And by brushing the real problems under the carpet, he says, the industry will think problems have been fixed when they have not.

Darren Lester says: “As an industry, we have big challenges around how we manage product data, from the terminology and units we use, to how we digitally manage it and share it and how we validate it. The code addresses none of these issues.”

He continues: “The code will not prevent inaccurate product data. Today, whether intentional or through human error and mistakes, inaccurate or misleading product data can be passed from one company to another or one individual to another, with no way to easily check and validate this data. This will still be true even with this code in place.”

The CCPI was produced as a response by manufacturers to revelations in the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry that construction product marketers were not always honest and transparent –  with fatal consequences. “The reputation of our industry is now at risk and collectively we need to put it right,” the Construction Products Association (CPA) said at the time. [See our previous report here.]

Darren Lester says that the code will not stop the cheats and liars – “the bad actors” he calls them. “What some manufacturers involved in Grenfell did in regards to providing misleading information about their product performance was already illegal. They were already not allowed to do this. Yet they did. And they had to go to quite extreme lengths to do this. How will an optional and ultimately toothless code be more effective than the law and rigorous technical testing regimes?”, he asks.

He says that the proposed code is not even a step in the right direction.

“There are definitely some people thinking that, even it’s not the perfect solution, it can’t hurt. It’s a step in the right direction. To those people specifically, please consider the issues with this.

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“Firstly, if this does get forced through by the CPA despite the widespread concerns and lack of support, and it does turn out to be the wrong solution, and it does struggle to gain traction, we will collectively waste at least the next 12-18 months before this is finally killed off and we look for a better solution.

“By taking the risk of getting this wrong now, we take the risk of pushing a real solution much further down the line.

“Most importantly, the risk is that we actually make things worse by doing the wrong thing. I have no doubt that this code will increase risk through complacency. The absolute worst thing we can do is create the perception that we have sorted out our shit, when we have not. It would be a very, very dangerous scenario where manufacturers think their product data is accurate and up to date because they have signed up to some magical code.

“It would be very, very dangerous scenario where specifiers unquestionably trust manufacturers data because they have a flimsy company process badge. Unless there are actual digital checks and validations in place, which this code does not address, then we need to maintain a healthy dose of scepticism.

“This code will make it easier for bad actors to go undetected. Having the code’s badge will give even the worst companies and the worst people complete cover that they can be trusted. We can’t let our desperation to do something, allow us to be dragged into doing the wrong something. In the grand scheme of things, we do still have time to pause, reset and get this right the first time.”

Darren Lester has posted a fuller explanation of his views on LinkedIn

The CPA said that so far, only 1% of responses to the consultation opposed the code as drafted while 73% said that it either almost or completely met their expectations. [See 'Support for product marketing code']

Adam Turk, chair of the CPA’s marketing integrity group, said that the draft code was not yet the finished article. “The comments provided [in response to the consultation process] highlight a need for clarification around some areas of the Code, together with useful consideration to some of the specific detail, and are giving us food for thought around some concerns and topics for further discussion. These will be addressed in the coming months. We always recognised that more work would be required and the industry’s input is a fantastic sense check for us.”

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