The Dutch non-profit organisation Join the Pipe has set itself a major goal: the global provision of the human race with clean drinking water. To this end, Join the Pipe organises projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, designs and sells reusable bottles and tap water stations. Co-founder Geraldo Vallen about dandies in mountains of rubbish, attention-grabbing advertising placements at festivals and football clubs and about positive impacts on the corporate image.
Mr. Vallen, you founded Join the Pipe in 2009 and committed yourselves to build the “longest water pipeline in the world” and create a network of tap water drinkers. What made you come up with this idea?
Geraldo Vallen: As a filmmaker I have travelled all over the world and have experienced countries where the people live under very difficult conditions without access to fresh drinking water. In the rural areas of Africa, the children have a one to two-hour walk to school, where they are not provided with water and afterwards have to walk all the way home again. That means they don’t have anything to drink for around eight hours every day. However, if there is a water pump on-site, the children drink out of their unwashed hands and risk catching serious diseases. In the 21st century it must be possible for every child in the world to drink clean water out of its own bottle. Join the Pipe also aims to motivate as many people as possible to use tap water as an environmentally- friendly alternative to filling water into disposable bottles.
You operate globally here, are just as active in Europe as in Africa or Asia. Can you explain the concept more closely?
Geraldo Vallen: We design reusable plastic bottles and robust, waterproof tap water stations and in cooperation with water supply companies support associations and companies in distributing bottles and installing the stations. In Western countries, the focus lies on installing the stations in parks, at train stations and sportsgrounds or in front of stadiums to promote drinking tap water.
In rural areas of Africa, such as in Congo or Burkina Faso the people have to use collected rainwater or ground water that has been pumped to the surface instead of our clean, favourably-priced tap water. Here, we work together with local experts, who professionally install water pumps designed by us. Afterwards our water bottles are distributed to ensure the hygienic usage of the water pumps. The situation in the cities is relatively comparable across the continents: Tap water is available, but filling water into disposable bottles is often opted for instead of the simple, impeccable and more environmentally-friendly alternative – the result is huge mountains of waste. In the suburbs of large African cities, in the slums which the waste disposal vehicles don’t serve, the only “waste disposal” consists of a flow of rain, which carries the plastic soup out of the city and ultimately into the sea – a huge problem for mankind and the environment. Our task therefore in these regions is to instruct the people and in particular the young generation in the necessity to avoid waste by implementing reusable bottles and by providing them with these.
Can you describe your latest project in this area more precisely?
Geraldo Vallen: We recently organised a “City Clean Up“ in Nairobi: We distributed bin bags together with the government and the municipal administration among others at schools, which the children used to pick up waste in the vicinity of the school grounds, which was subsequently collected by the government. Each of the children was give one of our water bottles as a reward, which they can fill up at home and take to school with them. They were also supported by the so-called “sapeurs”, the dandies of the city – a group of the best-dressed men in Africa, who stand out in the grey slums with their colourful, fashionable suits and are symbolic for a more beautiful, cleaner Africa.
And how do you finance these campaigns?
Geraldo Vallen: Among others with the proceeds from the sales of our bottles in Europe: We design a new bottle model for every year and every new project, which companies and private people can purchase. We designed a model with an attractive diamond pattern, the Nairobi Bottle, for the “City Clean Up”. The buyer directly associates each bottle model with a certain project, which he has supported by purchasing it – each bottle and each design tells its own story.
Do you also offer branded models?
Geraldo Vallen: Of course – the bottles are customised with a print or embossing, furthermore a label can also be attached to the models. Around 50% of the bottles sold are embossed, i.e. a logo is embossed into the plastic during the production. Moreover, around 50% of our bottles are filled with water, packed as six-packs for the transport to the customer. These bottles are quasi a hybrid: They are reusable, already filled and as with soft drink bottles can be sold in refrigerated vending machines or in supermarkets. In this way, one achieves two things at the same time: One convinces a further person of the value of tap water and can at the same time advertise not selling water in disposable bottles, so one also boosts one’s own sustainability image.
As a non-profit organisation you need partner companies for the production, customising and filling – who do you work together with?
Geraldo Vallen: Join the Pipe is initially a small team of five persons based in the heart of Amsterdam, who are responsible for the press work and PR. We concentrate on the design of the bottles as well as on the visual and content-related design of the projects in order to generate interest and secure the funding for the implementation of the projects. We are also the epicentre of the network comprising of manufacturers, water supply companies and distributors. The bottles are 100% manufactured and stored in the Netherlands – we only work together with domestic companies. It doesn’t make a big difference financially whether we produce here or in Asia, but since we design the models here and often have logos embossed onto them, the transport from Asia would be too expensive. Furthermore, we cooperate with regional water suppliers, who build tap stations in Europe and administer the charitable projects in Africa and Asia. The companies work for us voluntarily, but at the same time do their own image good.
Which advertising options do you offer beyond the charitable projects in developing countries?
Geraldo Vallen: Events such as music festivals are one field of application for our products that are becoming increasingly popular. More and more festivals in the Netherlands no longer sell water in disposable bottles, implementing our system instead. We sell our self-made automatic tap bars and special bottles with an integrated RFID chip, on which the number of refills is saved. Festival visitors can for instance buy bottles with one, three, five or an unlimited amounts of refills at the bars – on refilling the bottles the chip is automatically scanned and the station recognises how often the bottle has already been filled. If the purchased credit has been used up, visitors can buy a new chip and don’t have to buy another bottle. What’s more, after the event the branded model makes a popular souvenir and is not simply disposed of on the grounds. Up until now the bottles have been mostly branded by the festivals, but in the future companies for instance in the automobile or telecommunications sector can position themselves with their logo on the bottles. As a result of the sponsoring the water could become cheaper for the visitors and at the same time allows the companies to address an interesting, design-oriented and hence difficult to reach target group.
And beyond the event sector?
The area schools and clubs is interesting for water providers: They either buy the tap stations themselves from us in order to install them at schools and sportsgrounds or they contact the local football club for example to engage in a sponsorship. In addition to the providers, the sponsoring companies and clubs also take this opportunity to attract attention by placing a logo on the tap stations and bottles. The Cruyff Courts – over 100 public football pitches equipped with tap stations – are an example in the Netherlands. These stations are donated by a lottery, which donates the money to the Cruyff Foundation and are imprinted with the lottery logo. The sponsors are often banks or insurance companies, for instance the people come home from the football game with an ING Diba bottle, a Rabobank or Deutsche Bank model. For the companies sponsoring tap stations and bottles for football clubs has two advantages: They show that they are supporting the local club and youth sports while at the same time being associated with Join the Pipe and the charitable projects in Africa and Asia. The clubs also profit from the tap stations, because less plastic waste occurs in the vicinity of the grounds.
In addition to this the names and addresses of the players from developing countries are communicated to us by the sponsored clubs, i.e. in the case of players from Ghana, Syria or Suriname. Each time the football club orders 250 bottles, we bring 250 bottles to the home club or village of the player. This allows us to stay on the ball and can secure that the bottles donated by the club actually arrive at the place they are needed. The players are personally motivated and the donators know that their money isn’t going to a large, anonymous organisation, but is directly doing good and definitely arrives at the right place. It is decisive to show and assure the people that the desperately needed water actually arrives– transparency is essential.
// Claudia Pfeifer spoke with Geraldo Vallen.
photos: Join the Pipe