Back in 2015, we first learned about + POOL, a wildly ambitious idea by four enterprising New Yorkers to make the City’s notoriously polluted Hudson River swimmable with the help of a floating, water-filtering pool. Co-founded by designers Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu of Family New York, and designers Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeffrey Franklin of PlayLab, + POOL is designed to act “like a giant strainer dropped into the river,” filtering the water that floats in through the walls of the pool, incrementally removing bacteria and contaminants to ensure nothing but clean, swimmable water that meets both city and state standards with no chemicals or additives. If all goes according to plan, the Olympic-size pool will filter over 500,000 gallons of river water daily, making a measurable contribution towards cleaning the city's waterways.
Fast-forward to now, and the project is moving forward; and, thanks to a partnership with Heineken and its Cities Project, is catching the attention of a much larger audience through a multi-faceted campaign that includes SwimInTheRiver.com — a website where interested New Yorkers can sign a petition to support the completion of + POOL — and a series of videos narrated by Neil Patrick Harris:
We are seeing a move away from traditional philanthropy as more corporations take a more hands-on role in bringing about positive change. This shift also sees companies increasingly choosing causes that align with their core business activities — Heineken’s Moderate Drinkers campaign is a great example of this. With this in mind, why did Heineken launch the Cities Project?
Raul Esquer Lopez: More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and large towns. Cities represent the life-blood of modern living and represent what it means to thrive in a sustainable manner. For Heineken®, we’re in 192 countries, and more cities than any other beer, globally. We like to say we’re born in Amsterdam, but raised by the world, and we’ve take a small piece of every city we’ve traveled to, to help inform who we are, and how we do business in the places we call home. It was with this in mind that we decided to launch the Cities Project by Heineken in 2015 to find a way to give back to the cultures, people and projects that were sparked in cities throughout the U.S.
Since launching the project, Heineken has supported multiple initiatives and programs, including James Murphy's "Subway Symphony" in New York, Leo Villareal's "Bay Lights" project in San Francisco, the Beautify Hollywood project in Los Angeles, and the kickoff of the renovation of Florida's Miami Marine Stadium.
It’s easy to understand Heineken’s interest in the cleaner water aspect of the + POOL partnership — how do SF’s Bay Lights, Miami’s Marina Stadium and creating a symphony in NYC’s subways help Heineken deliver on its environmental and social impact goals?
REL: The Cities Project affords us the chance to give back to the people and projects that make great cities even greater. While older generations tend to separate their philanthropic, personal and professional lives, millennials see these things as highly connected. It’s easy to write a check, throw up some billboards, and call it a campaign — but with the Cities Project, we want to make our passion go further, by investing in communications and building a sustainable foundation for cultural and environmental projects in the cities that matter most to us.
As part of this, we've partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Indiegogo to help stimulate community funding for a number of key existing assets that cities hold dear. Each initiative has been tailored to the specific needs of local communities and is focused on supporting citizen-led ideas which make a difference to the local community.
In New York, a focal point for local communities was the subway. In Atlanta, we are collaborating with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and ABV Agency and Gallery to revive the historic water tower in Sweet Auburn, a neighborhood reflective of Atlanta’s rich African American history. In Hawaii, we are looking to restore the Waikiki Natatorium — an ocean-water swim venue built to honor Hawaiian citizens who served in World War I and to celebrate Hawaii’s indigenous swimming traditions.
[After] Miami’s Marine Stadium was left devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the venue became a haven for Miami’s street artists, blossoming into a concrete tapestry of graffiti. We wanted to return this one of a kind stadium to its former glory, but without losing the art that had become its face.
These are just a few examples of some of the initiatives The Cities Project is partnering on to bring Heineken’s Brewing a Better World strategy to life.
What led to the partnership with + POOL? How do the project’s goals align with Heineken’s own?
REL: + POOL and Heineken share a lot of similarities. Both of us got our starts as small companies, with a goal to help people rethink how they can connect with others in some of their favorite moments. We heard about the campaign for years, and when the time was right, decided to find a way to support their cause of helping the people of New York City reshape how they interact with their city. It’s ambitious, grand and it will take time. But we love the passion of the folks at + POOL, and — total pun intended — have fully jumped in with them.
At HEINEKEN USA, we bring Brewing a Better World to life by Building Better Cities for the long term, as this is where we operate and our customers work, live and play. A key strand of this strategy is focused on promoting environmental sustainability, to make cities ‘greener’ by constantly improving recycling infrastructure for our packaging and growing more green spaces in which people can congregate.
By making the city greener by filtering out contaminants in NYC's East River and cleaning up a half-million gallons of water each day, + POOL is a key component of our Brewing a Better World strategy.
Beyond being the lead donor in the 2017 + POOL Council, can you elaborate on Heineken’s role in the partnership?
REL: We have also partnered with + POOL to help execute projects (both by funding them and helping present them) and making sure their goals are our goals.
Kara, as co-founder Archie Coates says in the video, your partnership with Heineken has exposed + POOL to a much larger audience. Are you seeking other brand partners? Or are you currently partnering with other organizations?
Kara Meyer: Yes, of course! It takes a village to do something like + POOL. We have a variety of partners and individuals who support the project in many different ways — from organizing a team to run in the NYC Marathon for + POOL, to hosting fundraising events, to collaborating on the execution of our educational programs about water quality.
Our partnership with Heineken has been one of the most in-depth partnerships we’ve had to date. They really have adopted our goals and there is a genuine desire among the Heineken team to ensure that the work we do together benefits the project. We need to raise a lot of money to build + POOL ($20 million), but in 2017, we knew what we needed most was to raise awareness and create a grassroots campaign that showed the City there is an active community of people that want access to their river; we needed the City to give us the tools to take the next step forward with + POOL. Together with Heineken, we told the story of + POOL to tens of thousands of people and launched an online petition that gathered the support of more than 10,000 individuals. Thus, we’re speaking to the City directly about next steps.
Other brands have certainly noticed and are following suit. We’re in conversations with other major brands that want to be more deeply involved and it’s great — because + POOL is for everybody. When marketing dollars can serve a dual purpose of helping better the world and market a product in an authentic way, everybody wins.
So far, SwimInTheRiver.com has landed 10,162 signatures — is that campaign ongoing or are their others?
KM: All of the names were sent to the Mayor’s office in Fall 2017, but yes, we are still collecting signatures of folks who want to swim in the river! SwimInTheRiver.com serves as a public statement for everyone who wants reclaim the river. If the goal of 100,000 pledges is met, Heineken will contribute $100,000 to the project's development. Additionally, if everyone who signed the petition also buys a tile in the future pool (thereby signing their name on the pool itself), we’ll have the $2 million we need to take + POOL to its next phase of development with the City!
What’s next in the process of making the first + POOL a reality? Which hurdles remain the largest?
KM: We are working with the City to identify a home for + POOL and to set up the right kind of partnership with the City and other stakeholders. We can’t do it alone — we need the City, landowners and a supportive community to get to that point. But now that our 10,162 petition signers have grabbed the City’s attention, it’s moving much faster! We’ve been through a few ups and downs with this because real estate in NYC is incredibly complicated. But once we find a home, we can move forward with site-specific design documents for City, State and Federal permitting for construction. By then, we’ll be able to share what the showers will look like, the access points for the pool, and more detailed designs of how the whole structure fits and works within the site, which is exciting.
Where is the partnership headed next?
KM: We’re excited to collaborate with Heineken again in the coming year. With additional support from the NEA, we plan to launch a public art installation together that demonstrates the quality of the water in the river and helps educate the public on the issues affecting it. I think many will be surprised to learn that the water is not that bad most the time. Heineken also plans to continue to help us share our story through their networks by hosting Happy Hours and other events around the city.
Can you share insights on the process and benefits of nonprofit/brand partnerships such as this? The key challenges, advantages and lessons learned? What does this approach offer that traditional corporate philanthropy does not?
REL: Our partnership model with + POOL has proven the merits of employing strategic and proactive giving that’s closely aligned with our corporate mission. Unlike more traditional corporate philanthropy models, our partnership has gone beyond just funding to become a symbiotic partnership model where both partners work together to align our objectives. This collaboration with + POOL to achieve mutual goals has taken our philanthropy partnership to the next level.
KM: What is most unique about our partnership with Heineken is the level of engagement and support. Heineken wants to support the development of + POOL because they see its value to their brand, but also understand that what it brings is distribution of the idea and raising awareness to a wide public. Heineken does not claim that it is building + POOL or cleaning the water or teaching about water quality. They’ve made a financial investment directly to the organization to ensure we can continue to serve our mission (a must!); but have also put their marketing dollars, team and ideas behind the project. In these ways, it's a true collaboration utilizing everyone’s individual strengths and expertise. Our world could use more of that.