Expert Interview: Ken Lambert 


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Ken Lambert is currently a Director of Industry Development & Technical Services, for the International Masonry Institute. He has 25 years of work experience within the AEC industry, mostly in the New England area. For many years Ken was a Project Manager, working for general contractors as well as commercial subcontracting firms. He is active with national and regional Construction Specifications Institute activities, and is a Licensed Builder in the State of Massachusetts.


SM: What is your role and how long have you worked in it?

KL: I am the Director of Industry Development and Technical Services for IMI. I’ve been in this role for about two and a half years.  We are a subsidiary of the International Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union.


Previously, I was a national sales engineer for a manufacturer which made fiberglass or composite rebar where I dealt with a lot of civil projects and DOT type of work. Before that, I was a Project Manager and Construction Manager for a few different construction firms in New England. I was in charge of submittals, shop drawings, procurement and value engineering.


I have also served on the editorial board of the Construction Specifier Magazine, CSI’s National magazine. With that I would review their feature articles and provide feedback and corrections. Through this role, I’ve had to dig into details and specs pretty heavily.


SM: Why do healthier materials matter to you?

KL: I’ve been in the building and construction industry for a while, roughly 25 years. I’ve seen things change over time and I’ve seen that healthy building materials have become a trend, not a fad because fads are often fleeting. This is certainly more than a fad and has grown over the last 3-5 years. Initially, people were more concerned with energy costs and prioritized LEED but several other certification systems are now going beyond LEED to address the health and wellbeing of occupants. I like to think that we’re contributing to these efforts at IMI through promotion of more natural materials that do not off-gas, are more durable, and are meant to last 80 years or more, which is not the case for a lot of alternatives.


SM: What do healthy building conversations look like in your world right now?

KL: More people are having healthy material conversations. Yesterday I was at an all-day symposium on sustainable building enclosures. There was a lot of discussion around sustainable products, embodied carbon, natural materials, and bio-based materials. There’s a lot of newer products that are coming out now that are bio-based that I think are healthier materials.

“There are some limits on their application but people and companies are pushing the envelope on what is feasible across the world. I think the next 10 years will be pretty interesting to see what works and what people are willing to try.”

The problem is that people who stamp drawings, like architects or PE’s, have to consider safety and codes which makes experimental product application a lot more challenging.


SM: Are there any products that you heard about that you see a lot of potential for?

KL: There was a company that’s doing design-build projects using locally grown straw in New England for an insulated wall panel. It has a certain amount of R-value, similar to cellulose. It’s already being done by a few companies; there’s a lot of innovation out there. The challenge is that you have to pass an ICC evaluation report and get approval from the local building department. There’s a lot of hurdles to jump through.

“Progress takes time. I ran a commercial painting crew back when it was very difficult to procure and source low VOC paint so I know the industry can adapt. Early on, there was a hesitancy in contractors and a lot of people, even in the suppliers. When the formulas were new, the product didn’t work as well as the standard coating. As a contractor who would then be stuck with the issue, that deterred me from using the product but we’ve come a long way and low VOC paints are now common and widely used across the industry.”

SM: Do you have any advice for those who are currently working in the healthy building movement?

KL: You have to acknowledge priorities and find the right balance between client needs and advancement. It could be a challenge and it will take time and some owners are more invested in a healthy building than others. Colleges, universities, and hospitals are more invested in healthy buildings and have more resources. Large scale multi-family developers often have other priorities. It’s a huge challenge that will take a lot of effort to ensure that the health and well-being of tenants are prioritized.


SM: Given your experience on the other side as a contractor, do you have any advice on how to get contractors on-board with healthier materials?

KL: Forward thinking contractors are most interested in healthy building efforts. The general contractors, especially the larger ones, are already investing in healthy building and sustainable practices. Other contractors are very reactive and tied up between time and money, there’s not much room for more. 

“The only exception to that is caring for the health and safety of their own crews. If you have an employee for 5-10 years and they’ll hopefully be with you for another 10 years and they’re out there painting for you every day, I would hope that you’d rather use the low VOC or the no VOC paint, for your crew’s health and safety.”

That’s just one simple example. I think that attitude is out there, I just hope that it grows.