Advocacy in Specifications

A few months ago, during the recent election cycle, I was feeling particularly aggrieved over what I perceived as extremely irresponsible and cynical advertisements aiming to cast doubt on the validity of anthropogenic global warming.  While I admit no personal expertise in global climate science, I can accept that the overwhelmingly vast majority of genuine climate experts have concluded that AGW is real, and that it is a serious problem.

A lot of the money supporting AGW deniers’ messages is coming from the Koch brothers’ political organizations, which are funding the libertarian and ultra-right-wing think tanks and political action committees that are able to then pour millions of Koch dollars into “issue ads” targeting candidates who may be inclined to support public policy accepting and addressing AGW.

To be so ideologically skewed that even accepting that AGW is fact is an anathema to a skeptic.  To wit: it makes me angry.  So when I remembered that Georgia Pacific, a company whose products I regularly specify for sheathing and gypsum wallboard, is a Koch subsidiary, I had a knee-jerk response and even thought about deleting G-P from my gypsum section, thereby using my specifications to punish them in a small way.

My more rational head prevailed.  As a specifier, my responsibility is to provide my technical knowledge as a professional service and not as a bully-pulpit.  I write specifications to support my firm’s practice of architecture: to deliver the best projects we can, using whatever products and systems are most suitable.  Suitability in this case primarily includes conforming to our clients’ project requirements, reducing their risk for future failures, being economically responsible, complying with building codes, and being appropriate to the design architects’ intent.

Using specifications to advocate, whether for political, environmental or religious purposes seems to me to be unethical, not least because minor changes to specifications like those (especially when you’re talking about an omission rather than an inclusion) are basically invisible, hidden where nobody can react to them.  It’s also contrary to our duty as specifiers, which is, in its essence, to provide specifications that align the clients’ and designers’ needs to appropriate products, assemblies, quality, etc.

Product manufacturers have a different list of duties.  They can and should still be held accountable – yes, by specifiers.  Misleading practices such as obscuring facts about the properties of their products or selling shoddy products or not supporting facility owners post-installation are, in my opinion, possible grounds for exclusion.  For lesser ‘crimes’: not hiring representatives who act as trusted advisors, having convoluted websites, or poor/insufficient standard details, we should advocate for improvement through communication with the company, but certainly not delete them from specifications if the products are appropriate.

I admit that I don’t like what the Kochs stand for.  I won’t buy G-P household products if I can help it.  But I leave my advocacy at the door of my office.