Inside Cop26, with Nicola Forest

Nicola shares in an insight into her trip to Cop26, what she hopes to see in more environmentally-conscious projects and how ISG is setting ambitious goals for paving the way in sustainable construction…

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Sustainability advisor for ISG’s UK Fit Out division, Nicola Forest, joined the construction sector in 2015, with a passion for the environment but limited understanding of the construction industry.

Fast forward six years and Nicola is thriving in her role at ISG; utilising her understanding of the environment to make a real difference in enhancing the sustainability of ISG’s projects, helping to leave a lasting legacy in the communities and environments we work in.

Taking her passion to new heights, Nicola attended The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop26), mixing with international leaders, cultural figureheads and world-respected climate activists.

Nicola shares in an insight into her trip to Cop26, what she hopes to see in more environmentally-conscious projects and how ISG is setting ambitious goals for paving the way in sustainable construction…

How long have you been at ISG and what led you here?

I studied BSc. Environmental Geography at the University of York, graduating in 2015. Although that doesn’t seem that long ago, York was one of the only universities in the country to offer an environmental undergraduate degree – which seems crazy looking back, why wasn’t environment on the academic agenda at this point?

Speaking frankly, my route into construction was a complete fluke. I fell into the industry by accident, but I’m so glad I did.

Looking back now, I think it’s a huge shame that information on the diverse range of roles within construction haven’t been made more readily available to students in the past. The built environment is responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions, so I feel very lucky to work in such a rewarding role where the opportunity to make a positive impact is huge!

I’ve been with ISG for three years now and the company definitely stands out as a top employer. The business has a great reputation and working with some of the world’s most reputable and progressive brands has meant that we’ve continuously pushed our sustainability goals to work in partnership to achieve bigger and better things.

Cop26 was such an internationally prestigious event, you must feel very lucky to have been able to attend?

It was an incredible honour to be able to attend the Built Environment Day with the Construction Leadership Council. This opportunity came around because the Council were looking for young sustainability professionals to host a panel. Over 100 people applied for the opportunity and while I wasn’t selected as a speaker, I was humbled to have made the final 15 and to be offered a free ticket to attend as a finalist.

The Built Environment Day talks focused on both the construction process and the operational efficiency of buildings – which ties in really nicely with ISG’s new sustainability strategy, which aims to go beyond minimising damage to the environment and to leave a net gain to the societies in which we work.

"Looking back now, I think it’s a huge shame that information on the diverse range of roles within construction haven’t been made more readily available to students in the past. Construction and the built environment are responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions, so I feel very lucky to work in such a rewarding role where the opportunity to make a positive impact is huge!"

Nicola Forest, Sustainability Advisor

Give us an overview of Cop26 – what were your key takeaways and highlights from the exhibition?

Being at the event in itself, in-person, was incredible. We’ve all seen how heavily it was advertised and spoken about afterwards, but actually being able to see it with my own eyes and hear from some of the world’s biggest sustainable trailblazers was just amazing.

If I had to choose one highlight, then I would say that it be from a talk I attended with one of the young professionals from sustainability consultancy, Cundall’s.

I found it so inspiring to hear from somebody relatable to myself, who will still have about 20% of her career left by 2050, when we will hopefully be seeing the fruits of our labour coming into fruition in a net zero carbon world. Especially as ISG, like so many other companies, aim to achieve this even sooner with a 2030 target.

It was an eye-opening reminder that we are the individuals who are going to be the key drivers for change in seeing a Net Zero Carbon world, and what could be more exciting, right?!

For me, all of the young professional speakers were a huge inspiration, and it was really great to see so many big companies and contractors investing in and listening to future talent.

What do you think are the greatest challenges within the sustainable field and how is ISG working through these challenges?

Things are very fast-paced in our industry and sustainability can be thrown to the wayside when projects are moving full-steam ahead. One thing we’re very conscious of in the sustainability team at ISG is supporting our project teams to think more consciously about the sustainable impact of our work and how we can do things differently and adapt our daily processes.

We’re lucky that sustainability isn’t seen as bolt on offering at ISG. Instead it’s incorporated throughout our design process and project management, so that everybody takes it seriously. And with large sustainability and social value teams, we have the support available to ensure we deliver on our pledges and growing ambitions.

"It was an eye-opening reminder that we are the individuals who are going to be the key drivers for change in seeing a Net Zero Carbon world, and what could be more exciting, right?!"

Nicola Forest, Sustainability Advisor

How do you see sustainability in the construction industry evolving in the next five years and what excites you most about the direction it’s heading in?

It’s amazing to see sustainability climbing to the forefront of the agenda in the built environment, and we’re continuously seeing it become more of a central focus for our clients. It’s becoming a really initiative lead discipline, which is so exciting. It makes every project different and allows you to be creative in the ways that you work. I hope that we see more clients willing to stretch the boundaries of the sustainability agenda.

Finally, what advice would you give to somebody who is looking to start a career in sustainability or sustainable construction?

You’re a leader for change, so come in with a brain that is ready to explode. Any initiative is a great initiative, and your creativity is your best asset!

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