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The top-runner approach

The top-runner approach is a product-related environmental policy approach which is aimed at market penetration of the most environmentally friendly or resource efficient and/or energy efficient technology within a certain product group.

The top-runner approach was first implemented in Japan. The best available product on the market is declared standard (e.g. water consumption of a washing machine for a 5kg load - 45 litres, energy consumption of a TV set) which has to be met by other products of the same group within a certain time span (e.g. 5 years). Products which do not achieve this can no longer be placed on the market.

The purpose of the top-runner approach is the promotion of technical progress on the market (of a particular country or region) and an accelerated penetration of particularly environmentally friendly products. External suppliers to the market are forced to meet the same standard which prevents the emergence of international distortions of competition to the detriment of domestic suppliers. The basic assumption of the approach is that there is a fundamental shift from standards based on average performance to high standards. The development of best technology products is meant as an incentive to create a competitive edge.

More than fifty countries have currently introduced minimum efficiency standards. Moreover, the top-runner approach foresees additional implementation instruments allowing for different policy models to prevail in practice. The EU, for instance, has a mix of instruments made up of minimum efficiency standards (Ecodesign Directive), mandatory energy consumption labelling and voluntary environmental labelling. As a supplementary measure these instruments also have a bearing on the requirements for public procurement. A study commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency concluded that this mix of instruments offers incentives for the promotion of particularly efficient products equal to the top-runner approach in Japan. Furthermore, the study presents approaches on how the top-runner system can be further developed at EU level (see further information).

Since 2007, when the key elements of an integrated energy and climate programme were adopted at Meseberg, the German government has been advocating a top-runner approach at EU level to increase the energy efficiency of products. The decisions of the Federal cabinet of 6 June 2011 on the transformation of our energy system focus the efforts for efficiency gains in products on the ambitious continuous development of the top-runner approach.

The Federal Environment and the Federal Economics Ministries published a joint concept paper (accessible PDF, 54 KB) which presents concrete proposals on how the top-runner approach can be further developed at EU level (see further information). The key elements had been set out by the Federal Environment Agency and the Federal Environment Ministry on the basis of the study and include the following elements:

  • Energy efficiency standards must, more than in the past, take the most efficient products of a group as reference.
  • Ecodesign implementing measures must strengthen the binding character of best available technologies (benchmarks), i.e. the most efficient products should not only display their given efficiency level but indicate it as the next intended minimum efficiency standard which will basically serve as benchmark for the new standard in case of a revision.
  • Energy consumption labelling must be swiftly implemented and extended to other product groups.
  • On 31 October 2011 these proposals were forwarded to the responsible EU Commissioners. They form the basis of the position Germany will maintain on the implementation and development of the EU framework directive on ecodesign and the energy consumption labelling.

The Federal Environment Ministry is in favour of using the top-runner approach not only to increase the energy efficiency of products but to apply the concept with the aim of continuously decreasing the general environmental impact of products.

Last update: 01.12.2013