In the past nine months we’ve all become familiar with how coronavirus spreads – how it’s passed between people, why it’s so infectious, how people vary in their susceptibility, and what role our social networks play. There are many analogies between these underlying mechanisms of virus transmission and the underlying mechanisms of innovation diffusion. In this talk, I present and discuss a range of new evidence on how digital goods and services spread through populations of adopters. I focus on a set of digital innovations in energy, homes, mobility and food that can help reduce carbon emissions if adopted at scale.
Drawing on the findings of a 4 year research project (silci.org) on the diffusion of these digital low-carbon innovations, I show how: (1) interpersonal contact and exchange is integral to the diffusion process; (2) the attributes of innovations shape their appeal to different consumer segments; (3) cosmopolitan and novelty-seeking innovation adopters have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from the mainstream; (4) the size, diversity, and structure of people’s social networks help define the roles they play in communicating new ideas. By understanding the mechanisms by which digital low-carbon innovations spread, we can also design measures for a post-coronavirus world to accelerate innovation diffusion in support of emission reduction goals.