Construction clients exert direct and indirect influences on the potential of construction projects to generate innovative solutions. Understanding their innovation adoption behaviour is thus crucial for the successful diffusion of new ideas. Although it is acknowledged that clients can support as well as suppress construction innovation, little is known about the circumstances that form their innovation adoption behaviour. On the basis of a client classification scheme and three cases of innovative construction projects in the Netherlands, the factors that constitute the adoption decision environment of professional public clients were investigated. A key finding is that professional public clients will adopt a new idea if they perceive that it performs better in meeting social requirements than traditional solutions, without compromising the client's social responsibilities. This perception is formed only if public professional clients rely on project-independent knowledge in order to cope with the project-dependent uncertainty. The diversity of construction clients in terms of needs, experiences and motivations largely influences the potential of construction innovations to be implemented. Moreover, innovating firms need to address the complex decision environment of construction clients more consciously.