Bad Business and The Supply Mesh

Up until the current health crisis I, like many of us, had been watching another crisis unfold at the Grenfell enquiry. As the evidence was revealed around the architects appointed to the refurbishment of the Tower, I winced as each horror was held up for inspection.

  • Studio E was not a firm with any experience of refurbishing high-rise residential buildings.
  • They had no experience of cladding high-rise residential buildings.
  • The key personnel knew very little about cladding or the relevant building regulations.
  • The architects were relying on the cladding contractor to install something that was compliant and did not believe they bore any responsibility for the work.
  • They were already working on another project for the client (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management organisation) who were keen to appoint them to the Grenfell Tower project – so that they could “proceed quickly with the project.”
  • The project was not put out to tender. If it had, Studio E would have had to expose their lack of previous experience and that would have lost them the job.
  • The architects were paid £99.000 – below the threshold for EU tendering rules.

. . .  and the list goes on.

While its easy to tut and say how disgraceful the whole thing was, I’d like to ask something; how close have we ever got to being in a situation where we’ve taken on a project where our knowledge of what was needed was patchy, to say the least – and occasionally non-existent? How many times have we put a solution in front of a client with our fingers crossed behind our backs?

Fortunately for the lighting industry, we are rarely in a situation that can lead to such a catastrophe as Grenfell Tower, but I see a couple of possibilities where we might want to check our insurance and our legal position; one that’s right in our face and a new one that’s just coming over the horizon.

The healthful scam

We’ve been pushing the importance of healthful lighting for the past fie years and there is plenty of product out there that still claims to be’ human centric lighting’ with all the health benefits that ensue from that. What we don’t have is any decent proof that any HCL schemes work. We have anecdotal reports from occupants that they ‘feel better’ – but no one can say that it’s the HCL lighting that has achieved that. There is a law-suit waiting to happen, from a client suckered into paying over the odds for a technology that exploits a cargo cult at best and a straightforward con at worst.

The heathful calamity

The one that’s spooking me today comes as a result of the coronavirus episode that we’re currently enjoying. What if we could kill-off the virus by shining a light at it. What about if we could tweak our lighting so that it contains just the kind of lighting that can destroy the little buggers. What if that piece of tech leads to skin cancers in a few years’ time? What price cleverness and marketing spinnery then? Watch out for 405nm anti-bacterial radiation somewhere in a sales pitch near you.

And then I read about the Supply Mesh:

We’re happy with the concept of the Supply Chain – mainly because we all belong to a part of that chain. The Supply Mesh is a kind of anti-supply chain. Where the Chain represents a linear demonstration of cause and effect, the supply mesh is like throwing a pebble in a stream – or exploding a bomb in the middle of a project team meeting.

Looking at the Grenfell Tower debacle, we see the traditional process of passing responsibility  down to the next link in the chain (and responsibility always goes downwards – there’s never a shout from further up the chain to pass some responsibility back to the high hiedyins). And what a fine example of that old saying ‘a chain is only as good as its weakest link’ that turned out to be.

The Responsibility Supply Chain is designed to keep outrage and despair out of the public realm. Bad things happen and they get dealt with inside the project itself. Links get replaced before the chain fails; contractors and designers get removed for various types of incompetence, but those of us on the outside never get to know about it. Until now.

The Responsibility Supply Mesh became possible with the advent of social media. Today, if something goes wrong, the entire project body has to suck up some, or a lot, or all, of that outrage and despair. Here’s a few examples of what’s going on.

  • Child labour in the cobalt mines of Democratic Republic of Congo create serious grief (a court case in New York) for the likes of Google and Apple.
  • Forced labour in China makes garments for the global fashion industry, including Gap, Adidas, Nike, H&M and 79 others, all named in a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Many companies have issued denials of any involvement. The situation continues.
  • The Coylumbridge Hotel in Aviemore sacks its staff (coronavirus knock-on again), giving no notice, even though some actually lived at the hotel and would become homeless as well as out of work. Britannia Hotels, which owns the Colyumbridge Hotel claimed it was ‘an administrative error’.

It’s a safe bet that the owners of the electronics companies, the fashion brands, or the leisure group knew what was going on further along the supply / responsibility chain. You can be sure that they know now; the Supply Mesh has made sure of that.

It adds up to a simple thing; you make sure that you know what you’re doing and you pay attention to what everyone else in your supply chain/mesh is doing – and you put a stop to the bad stuff. Because, if you don’t – that nasty smell that comes off social media in ever-frequent belches may eventually envelope you.

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This article is one on the series of Good Lighting pieces for The Light Review.

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