Yesterday I reported on the rather heavy-handed actions by Guardian Building Products to shut down a blogger who showed a lousy installation of their product. You could understand them being not very happy about seeing their name all over a lousy installation, and they might have politely asked for the images to be removed. Instead they threatened to sue for "libel, slander, and commercial disparagement." Guardian is a very big company with glass manufacturing plants all over the world, and probably didn't really think twice about this.
They should have; it is a teaching moment for all of us, about the power of this medium, and the ability of hundreds of bloggers and tweeters to effect change.
The story was picked up by Martin Holladay of Green Building Advisor, who emailed me about it, and within a few hours, just about every green building blog in North America was writing about it. Today the President of Guardian Building Products, Steven Ziessler, wrote a letter to Allison Bailes offering a full apology, with some very telling words. He called it a "social media episode."
The surprising thing about an episode like this is how quickly it propagates. There are over 50 comments on Green Building Advisor, many from builders who promised never to use Guardian insulation. My tweetdeck has been beeping all day, with messages like " It's official... As a builder for the past 11 years, I will now boycott Guardian insulation."
A mistake like this can destroy a lot of business and goodwill faster than you can imagine; where back in the day it would take months for things like this to percolate, now it happens in hours. The lawyers letter is no longer an isolated threat; there is a community that can respond. Fortunately Steven Ziessler did the right thing, a quick and thorough apology, an admission that he "learned a valuable lesson" and an offer to mend fences and "engage you and interested folks in the merits of improving energy efficiencies." That's music to our ears, that's why we are here.
The next social media issue that Mr. Ziessler has to deal with is the company's continuing use of formaldehyde binders in its insulation. In their Revealing the facts PDF they continue to defend its use, pointing out that it still gets Greenguard certification and is way below government standards. This completely misses the point; when given the choice, people who care about what they are breathing are trying to go formaldehyde free. Guardian's competitors are switching to acrylic binders, protesting all the way that formaldehyde at the levels found in insulation is safer than eating an apple. That may well be true, but in a "social media" world, it is no longer enough.