Concrete Canoe Design Competition, Paddling Towards Sustainability: Redesigning Concrete Canoes for the Environment

Wong, Jason, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Foley, Rider, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Henry, Ryan, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Virginia

Increasing demands for construction and the surge in urbanization amplified the
environmental concerns associated with concrete, primarily due to the significant carbon
footprint and resource consumption associated with production. This research
investigated the environmental implications of concrete production and the potential
benefits of utilizing greener materials and techniques in concrete mix design.
Specifically, it focused on the 'Hoos on the Move concrete canoe project as a case
study to understand the feasibility and benefits of alternative materials and techniques
in creating a concrete canoe. The study also aimed to evaluate the social and technical
dimensions of sustainability and analyze the impact of incorporating these practices on
the construction industry.

The research was grounded in the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology,
and Society (STS). Through the lens of STS, this research was informed by Thomas
Seager's work, particularly Sustainable Engineering Science for Resolving Wicked
Problems (2011), which emphasized the integration of social and technical
considerations in addressing complex sustainability challenges. Seager defined 'wicked
problems' as issues that were inherently resistant to straightforward solutions due to
their multifaceted nature. The Concrete Canoe Competition, being an intricate and
interconnected challenge, embodied the characteristics of a wicked problem. To adhere
to the client's needs, our Capstone’s research was to find innovative solutions in
concrete canoe design to meet the annual requirements of the American Society of Civil
Engineers Concrete Canoe Competition. The hope was that the design would be
reproducible for 100 prototypes. By recognizing the complex nature of wicked problems,
this research identified innovative solutions that prioritize sustainability without
compromising structural integrity or performance. Understanding the trade-offs between
environmental sustainability and practical feasibility, the study recognized solutions that
prioritize sustainability without sacrificing functionality. It also examined the role of
interdisciplinary collaboration and the importance of diverse perspectives in finding
effective solutions to complex problems.

Through interviews with mix design captains and document analysis, insights into
current practices, challenges, and areas for improvement in sustainable concrete mix
design emerged. This research found that interdisciplinary collaboration and
comprehensive sustainability approaches led to superior concrete mixes and
competition placements, balancing performance with environmental stewardship. The
top 3 performing teams all emphasized the importance of the three pillars of
sustainability. The findings of this research have broad implications for the construction
industry and beyond. By identifying best practices and potential areas for improvement,
the study contributes to a deeper understanding of the social and environmental
implications of concrete production. By integrating sustainability into engineering
practices, the research aims to promote more environmentally responsible approaches
to construction and contribute to the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and
mitigate climate change.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
concrete canoe, sustainability, diversity, interdisciplinary

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Technical Advisor: Ryan Henry
STS Advisor: Rider Foley
Technical Team Members: Ethan Ames, Madison Cannon, Melody Cao, Leon Crawford, Kenneth Reyes

Issued Date: