Blog: Sustainability

Carbon reduction at PTP

Alan Monie 17 Mar 2023


I’ve been a bit of an eco-warrior since I got my first electric car in 2015, and I’ve been on a personal mission since then to reduce my carbon footprint. I realised I could do more for the environment if I could get Pen Test Partners (PTP) on board with some carbon reduction ideas too, so for the past few years we’ve been working with Carbon Footprint Ltd to see where we can improve.

Each year we complete an in-depth survey about our business which Carbon Footprint Ltd analyses to give us a breakdown of where our carbon emissions are.

Being an IT centric business it’s no surprise that our biggest areas are people working from home, driving to customer sites, electricity usage in our datacentres and offices, and air travel.

Our carbon reduction so far

We started with the obvious things like recycling in the office, minimising waste, and making sure we were using LED lightbulbs. But we wanted to go further… much further.

A few years ago, I suggested a company car scheme exclusively for electric vehicles. That’s now in place and has been a huge success due to the salary sacrifice scheme which allows people to offset the cost of an EV from their taxable income. That’s helped reduce our driving-based carbon emissions as well as moving more people from fossil fuel to EVs.

We’ve also installed EV charging points in the office. These are available for anyone who commutes in with an EV, to use for free.

Our IT team is in the process of moving our servers to a datacentre which purchases electricity from renewable sources. We are currently spread over multiple datacentres, but the move should be complete by the end of the summer.

Our office and lab spaces are now supplied by 100% renewable energy suppliers, but because of the way Carbon Footprint Ltd calculates CO2, these still count towards our CO2 emissions.

The solar saga

We realised that we couldn’t do much about the energy usage of over a hundred staff working from home, so we decided to try and produce as much clean electricity as we could by installing solar panels on the roof of our premises at Verney Junction.

For clarity, the solar panels we’re talking about are photovoltaic, not thermal.

We’ve rented our UK offices from a farmer for 10 years. It’s a great central location with transport links in Milton Keynes, so we’ve no plans to move. We’ve also grown from one office unit to three and converted one to a vehicle hacking lab.

We thought it would be simple to find a Microgeneration Certification Scheme certified installer and chuck up some solar panels, but we hit a few snags along the way. The UK was at the start of an energy crisis and there was an increased demand for solar panels.

Who wouldn’t want solar panels? They are a clean and cheap way to avoid buying expensive grid electricity, don’t require any maintenance, and will easily last 20 years. We did manage to get quotes in from three companies, but our landlord was, quite rightly, concerned about the weight of 30kW of solar panels on the roofs. After we looked at it, we realised it was over a tonne on one roof.

By the time we found a structural engineer, had the survey, waited for the calculation and go-ahead, the energy crisis, global supply chain issues, and inflation were all biting hard. So much so, that the price of panels was going up, and installers were fully booked and simply not returning calls.

So, we had to shop around and eventually found a supplier. We did have to wait several months for stock to arrive, but by the end of January 2023, we had a lorry load of panels delivered to site. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t plain sailing…

We needed to temporarily store the pallets of panels in our garage lab, but the concrete access area is only slightly wider than a lorry… so of course the lorry slipped off the concrete and got stuck in the mud, listing badly to one side. There was only one person for the rescue job, our farmer landlord. They arrived with their tractor and pulled the lorry free.

The solar installers worked hard and installed 30kW of panels on three roofs in three days. That bit was actually plain sailing, and we’re super impressed with the job they did.

The hope is that these panels will put close to 30,000 kWh onto the grid annually, which easily covers our usage in our buildings, and goes some way to offsetting the electricity use of our home workers.

We’re currently installing a battery in one of the buildings to model the impact that has on our solar self-usage. If it makes sense, we’ll install batteries in the other buildings too.

Of course none of this was free, but the £31k overall cost of the project was softened by a £5k government grant.

Carbon Neutral

PTP has been carbon neutral since 2020. We do use offsetting to achieve that status, but we’re also actively trying to reduce our direct emissions and developing policies with our carbon footprint firmly in mind.

Although there are well-publicised concerns about carbon offsetting, the projects PTP invests in are part of Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard and we’re working to avoid having to use them at all. Whilst we do create some carbon emissions, we hope the projects we invest in such as UK Tree Planting, help to reduce our impact on the planet in the meantime.

Generation so far

The panels were only commissioned in early February, but we still managed to generate over 1,000kWh of electricity that month. Because we like techie things, one of our people, Colin Kitchen, integrated the generation data into Teams so that everyone can view the live data. Our people have already been charging their cars on clean solar energy. Roll on the summer sun!