Life cycle assessment (LCA) measures cradle-to-grave environmental impacts of a product. To assess impacts of an emerging technology, LCA should be coupled with additional methods that estimate how that technology might be deployed. The extent and manner that an emerging technology diffuses throughout a region shapes the magnitude and type of environmental impacts. Diffusion of innovation is an established field of research that analyzes the adoption of new innovations, and its principles can be used to construct scenario models that enhance LCA of emerging technologies. Integrating diffusion modeling techniques with an LCA of emerging technology can provide estimates for the extent of market penetration, the displacement of existing systems, and the rate of adoption. Two general perspectives of application are macro-level diffusion models that use a function of time to represent adoption, and microlevel diffusion models that simulate adoption through interactions of individuals. Incorporating diffusion of innovation concepts complement existing methods within LCA to inform proactive environmental management of emerging technologies.
CSS Publication Number:
Environmental Science and Technology
January 28, 2016
Sharp, Ben E. and Shelie A. Miller. (2016) "Potential for Integrating Diffusion of Innovation Principles into Life Cycle Assessment of Emerging Technologies." Environmental Science & Technology 50(6): 2771-2781.