May 29, 2024

Chrissie Walsh Highlights Uponor Sustainability Efforts at Table of Experts Panel Discussion 

by Alex Gross

Chrissie Walsh, sustainability manager for Uponor North America, recently participated in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal’s Table of Experts sustainability discussion along with Dr. John Abraham, professor and program director of M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at University of St. Thomas. Eleanor Trenary, external affairs director at The Nature Conservancy, was the moderator of the discussion. During the conversation, Walsh highlighted the important work Uponor is doing to address climate change and promote greater sustainability in all aspects of the company’s business. 

The dialogue began around climate change on a global level, focusing on recent record-breaking heat and then shifted more locally, discussing the effects in Minnesota. Acceleration of warming is increasingly evident, and decarbonization efforts are imperative to address this challenge, as approximately 40% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the construction, use, and operation of buildings. 

Addressing how the Uponor product portfolio contributes to sustainability and decarbonization, Walsh said, “Uponor’s largest potential contribution to intentional energy efficiency is a radiant hydronic system, which can play an important role in decarbonizing both new constructions and retrofits. These systems can be designed for electrification, integrated with heat pumps, or even linked to geothermal sources. Additionally, integrating technologies like our AquaPort™, a self-contained unit that decentralizes domestic hot water heating within a building, further contributes to energy efficiency, water conservation, and sustainability through reduced piping material requirements.” 

Everyone in the discussion agreed that climate change is an undeniable concern. “While we may not be able to halt it completely, we can certainly slow its progression. Our focus now should be on adaptation. Forward-thinking companies and individuals are striving not only to reduce emissions but also to adapt efficiently and cost-effectively to a changing climate,” said Abraham, emphasizing that companies who offer cost-effective solutions are large drivers in the effort to effectively address climate change.  

Walsh echoed these sentiments, “Our mission at Uponor is to introduce products that empower our customers to live sustainably, comfortably, and safely while building resilience against the impacts of climate change. Specifically, our fire safety systems play a crucial role in regions facing heightened fire risks.” 

Later, the topic narrowed in on circularity, which considers the product and how it will be used during each portion of its lifecycle — an essential sustainable focus for businesses. “An example of an initiative we are working towards involves takeback programs,” said Walsh. “When a building is deconstructed or there’s scrap material on a jobsite, ideally, we would design infrastructure and process to retrieve it and maintain its value within a circular framework.” 

Circularity is most efficient and best implemented when it’s considered during the planning and development stages of a new product. “From a new product perspective, our goal is to infuse circular principles into every stage of product development, from design to end-of-use considerations," Walsh remarked. 

The experts then circled in on product lifecycle sustainability, which closely considers multiple elements throughout the product lifecycle that determine its overall environmental footprint. Walsh offered information about the life cycle of PEX piping. 

“Recently, Environmental Science and Technology published a paper on the consideration of replacing plastics with viable alternatives, and in this there’s a section comparing PEX to copper,” said Walsh. “While copper seems like an easy choice due to its recyclability, a closer examination reveals a different picture. PEX actually has a 3% reduced greenhouse gas emissions impact across the spectrum of product lifecycle. The paper highlights factors such as incremental heat loss (PEX outperforms copper due to its lower thermal conductivity) and the energy intensity during the manufacturing process. For PEX, recycling challenges factor into the viable circularity journey and potential emissions impact.” 

Throughout the discussion, Walsh highlighted the comprehensive efforts Uponor has made to address climate change. By offering hydronic radiant systems that can be designed for electrification and integrated with renewable energy sources, enacting circularity initiatives such as takeback programs that reduce waste and consider lifecycle sustainability throughout the product development, and providing PEX pipe that has a lower environmental footprint than copper when comparing heat loss and manufacturing energy use, Uponor is well positioned as a leader in sustainability practices and addressing real-time climate change.

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