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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Pollution Prevention 101: Technology Diffusion and P2

Resources for pollution prevention (P2) technical assistance providers. Geared particularly toward those new to the P2 field.


The information compiled here was originally collected in the Technology Diffusion Topic Hub in 2004. Topic Hubs were web-based guides to peer-reviewed pollution prevention information and expertise on specific subjects. They were developed by centers in the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx) network, which was funded by U.S. EPA until 2018. The narrative from the original topic hub, along with a new annotated bibliography, is available in Technology Diffusion and Pollution Prevention, which was published in August 2019.

Technology Diffusion, P2, and the ADOP2T Model

What is technology diffusion?

Under most circumstances, the success or failure of the widespread adoption of a technology associated with effectively addressing P2 problems is dependent on one or more of the activities summarized below:

  • Technology development - For problems that currently do not have satisfactory solutions. The technical aspects must be developed to a point such that the technology is simple, compatible and rugged enough to be used in real-world applications. Additionally, the technical advantages (economics, materials efficiency, etc.) must be well established. These activities are performed predominantly by researchers and entrepreneurs.

  • Technology transfer - For solutions that are not readily available on the open market. The technology must have moved beyond the laboratory testing and demonstration phases. It needs to be marketed to private sector entities willing to commercialize the technology. These activities are performed primarily by lawyers and business specialists such as venture capitalists.

  • Technology diffusion - For solutions that are commercially available but have not achieved widespread market penetration. Clients need technology education assistance to create technology awareness and promote understanding of technical principles. Uncertainty issues associated with how to implement the technology must be resolved. This is often accomplished through demonstrations and pilot trials. These activities are usually performed by sales people, technical assistance providers, and consultants.

Technology diffusion addresses the broader scope and approach of facilitating change or implementation of technologies that reduce raw material use and waste at industrial facilities, thus achieving pollution prevention (P2).

With this approach, change agents (individuals who assist companies with pollution prevention) combine traditional assistance methods with site-specific information, assistance information and on-site help with how to implement a particular technology. This includes technology demonstrations and on-site pilot trials. It is followed up with evaluations and outcomes along with recommendations and conclusions as to whether the technology may achieve the intended goal (reduce waste and save money) for the individual facility.

The ADOP2T model of technical assistance

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a unit of the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute, developed a model for promoting the diffusion of pollution prevention technologies. This model, known as Accelerated Diffusion of Pollution Prevention Technologies, or ADOP2T, is founded on time-tested innovation diffusion principles that have been applied to industries as diverse as agriculture and communications. Research conducted on innovation diffusion relative to P2 technologies has confirmed that these principles apply to P2 as well. The ADOP2T model has been successfully field-tested by ISTC for over 20 years.

How the ADOP2T Model Works

The process flow diagram shown in Figure 1 describes how to apply this model. TAPs begin by working with various stakeholders, including government agencies, trade associations and consultants, to identify the best P2 practices for a particular sector based on its current practices and interestsProcess flow diagram of the ADOP2T model.

Most decisions to adopt or reject an innovation are based on a subjective evaluation of the innovation grounded in input from peers who are perceived to be credible. For this reason, change agents involved in the P2 diffusion effort need to identify industry sector opinion leaders that the majority of individual businesses look to for innovation advice.

Some of these opinion leaders can be recruited to serve as mentors to companies that have not yet adopted innovative P2 practices. Demonstration sites can be established at the mentor facilities. Technical assistance providers and other stakeholders can then bring individuals from companies that have not yet adopted the best practices to the mentor facilities to view demonstrations of the innovations.

Using opinion leaders to facilitate adoption

Decades of research have shown that innovation diffusion campaigns are more likely to be successful if change agents identify and mobilize opinion leaders. Several states have undertaken P2 diffusion campaigns that target opinion leaders (see the "State and Regional Efforts" page).

This approach expedites the overall diffusion process and often reduces the number of clients that change agents need to work with to achieve widespread adoption of alternative practices and technologies that achieve P2. The primary drawback to focusing innovation campaigns on opinion leaders is that it may appear that change agents are providing assistance to organizations that do not appear to need it.

Often the organizations that need the innovations the least tend to be the first ones to adopt. Conversely, the organizations that need the assistance the most commonly do not have the resources or the confidence to risk on change, but opinion leaders or the actions of larger entities can motivate them.

Demonstrations and pilot trials

Some companies choose to implement incremental practices based solely on observations of these practices at the mentor facilities. However, demonstrations and pilot trials are generally needed in the case of practices that require more extensive process change and/or more sophisticated technology implementation.

Brief (several hours to several days) demonstrations of technologies can help reduce the perceived complexity associated with new technologies and encourage potential adopters to investigate the technology further. However, pilot trials (often lasting several weeks to several months) are frequently required to fully reduce the perceived complexity and resolve site-specific implementation issues. Pilot trials enable the adopters to resolve complexity and compatibility issues and determine if/how they can successfully implement the technology in their specific application. Uncertainty and risk are reduced during the pilot trials to a point where the adopters become comfortable with the anticipated performance, become familiar with how to operate the equipment involved, and proceed with implementation.

Change agents should focus on conducting pilot trials of innovative P2 practices at the facilities of potential adopters with technical and monetary support from the stakeholders. Demonstrations and pilot trials will enable potential adopters to reduce the uncertainty associated with the previously unfamiliar practices. These activities will also help resolve compatibility issues associated with the incorporation of the practices into adopters' existing operations and address the perceived technical complexity of the innovation.


Case Studies