Stepping onto the world’s stage, Kajal, Ollie, Poppy and Rosie have come far. Their audience? The United Nations.
New York, The United Nations, 19 September 2023.
Kajal, Ollie, Poppy and Rosie take centre stage.
An idea that birthed from a conversation with a tomato farmer, now presented in front of a global audience of CEOs, CFOs, and actor, film producer and screenwriter, Matt Damon.
The vision? Rethinking datacentres to reduce carbon footprint and redirect excess heat to those who need it most – especially pertinent considering the recent energy crisis, with many people unable to heat their homes. The idea was a perfect blend of Ollie and Poppy’s experience as sustainability advisors, and Kajal’s knowledge as a graduate social value advisor.
The journey wasn’t always easy, and the task was even harder. Just three minutes to present. Bid writer Rosie Maxwell’s skills were essential, enabling the team to concisely make a point that earned them the rank of fourth-best talk.
And the story doesn’t end there. The team’s actions have led to ongoing proposals for working implementations at ISG. What one UN attendee considered to be an idea “ahead of their time” might be closer than we think.
First steps to the SDG Summit 2023
When Poppy Cunningham first received an email about the UN Global Compact Innovator Accelerator programme, she knew she needed to get involved. Her role as sustainability advisor in ISG’s London construction team made her a natural fit, and it was her experience at a careers fair that was a catalyst for what was to come.
During the careers fair, Poppy networked with nearby stalls. Across from ISG’s stall was a tomato farm, which – as Poppy discovered – relied on a CHP to cover the cost of its bills. Combined heat and power (CHP) – a system that replaces traditional boilers and electricity generation – involves one unit producing both the heat and electricity for a facility. This enabled the tomato farm to remain profitable, despite growing operating costs.
This gave Poppy an idea.
Redirecting excess heat for sustainable and social benefits
When Ollie Kent graduated with a degree in Geography from the University of Brighton, he was determined to act on his passion for sustainability. Joining ISG’s datacentres team in the role of sustainability advisor just made sense. Like the rest of the team, once the first UN Global Compact email reached him, he was committed to taking part. It was Ollie who brought datacentres to the table.
Ollie explains: “Currently, most datacentres produce a vast amount of excess heat in their daily operations. This is extracted and pumped out into the atmosphere. We wanted to explore how we could harness this waste heat and convert it to reusable energy.”
When Kajal Parekh joined ISG through the graduate scheme, little did she know she would be presenting to the UN in front of a global audience of CEOs, CFOs, and Matt Damon. As a social value advisor, Kajal helped the team implement social value to the project. A new system could redirect excess heat from datacentres to local communities, powering facilities like leisure centres and hospitals. With the recent energy crisis on her and the team’s minds, it felt like the right idea at the right time.
The project didn’t come without challenges. For one, the right data wasn’t readily available. As a matter of fact, it practically didn’t exist at all. Fortunately, the team had help. Ollie explains: “This was also about the support of the whole business.” A year on from joining the UN Global Compact, ISG’s network was eager to help. For the team, the programme was a collective effort that went beyond just the cohort of four. Rosie comments: “There wasn’t a single ISG person who didn’t drop things to meet us within a week of first contact.” By bringing together the technical expertise of different individuals in the business, Kajal, Ollie, Poppy and Rosie managed to spearhead a potential new approach to combatting excess heat.
New York, UN Global Compact Leaders SDG Summit, 19 September 2023Rosie Maxwell has always worked in construction, and she’s always had a passion for social value. When she had the opportunity to join ISG as a bid writer focusing on environmental, social and governance (ESG), it felt like an ideal fit, and she quickly impressed her peers – being nominated for, and winning, the Rising Star Award at the 2023 #TeamISG Awards. Her knack for communicating with audiences proved invaluable for the team’s presentation, which needed to be informative and concise.
As Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, entered the room, followed by flashes of photography from journalists, reality dawned on Kajal, Ollie, Poppy, and Rosie. They were about to speak in front of the United Nations. Unwavering, the only UK-based team took to the stage – filled with confidence. Not least because of the strength of their idea and the support from ISG, including director of strategy implementation and innovation, Helen Gawor – the team’s motivational backbone. Helen believed in the team every step of the way: “The next generation is in safe hands. I have been so impressed with the team’s creativity, drive and knowledge throughout the whole process.”
The talk was flawless – receiving fourth place from a voting system during the SDG Summit. That’s despite being – as one audience member later described – “too early” and “ahead of their time.”
The future of datacentres’ excess heat
Those closest to the project team can’t give enough praise – and it’s no surprise. Each member of the team made their mark in and around ISG, and on the world’s stage. Peter Kelly comments: “I’ve been really impressed with Ollie, Kajal, Poppy and Rosie. Not just because of the challenge they have set themselves to overcome with an innovative approach, but with their passion, enthusiasm and positivity, which is so important to have in our next generation of changemakers if we are going to solve the climate crisis. It’s an honour for ISG to support these four amazing people to deliver on this programme, and I can’t wait to see the outcome, as no doubt it will have implications for how we approach our ESG ambitions going forward.”
Rosie, Ollie, Kajal and Poppy found something unique. ISG was quick to act, and the team spoke – and are speaking with – project leaders and clients across several pipeline projects to explore feasibility. In time, the team is hoping to see working implementations – helping datacentres save costs and give back to local communities.