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HOME | Through the Eyes of a Child: More Than JUST Water, a Vision and Hope for Our Home

HOME | Through the Eyes of a Child: More Than JUST Water, a Vision and Hope for Our Home

Photo: JUST Water

When I take my kids on hikes in the 6-million acre Adirondacks, or for a stroll alongside one of the dozens of (relatively) pristine lakes near our home in Upstate New York, we marvel at the natural wonder that surrounds us. Until the inevitable.

“Look, Mom. Litterbugs,” my 7-year-old son Miles intones, taking grim satisfaction in pointing out the trash ephemera, much of it plastic, that sprinkles even the most remote and unpolluted regions of our land. 

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous: even a child can see it. Scientists have discovered microplastics embedded in Arctic ice; every day, an estimated 8 million pieces of plastic pollution end up in our oceans. Scientists estimate that there are 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean, weighing a cumulative 269,000 tons.

Every minute, 1 million plastic bottles are purchased worldwide. Americans buy, on average, 50 billion water bottles a year, which breaks down to 13 bottles per month per person. Only 23% of plastic bottles are recycled in the U.S. 

The problem can seem so incredibly overwhelming and complex, it seems easier to just put on blinders. That’s where Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, comes in.

Photo: JUST Water

Jaden had traveled all over the world with his parents, and, like many children who see trash in beautiful places, he never got cynical enough to just turn away. 

“I knew that it was going to be really hard to create, like, a new soda. And I knew that the recipe for water all over the world is pretty much the same and it was going to be a lot easier to create a new water bottle company than a soda company,” Smith recently told Fast Company. “And that’s what I wanted to do, and I was like, 12 years old.”


Press play to watch Jaden Smith speak about JUST Water

At 12 years of age, he saw the problem, and had the courage and creativity to come up with a simple way to combat it...and his astronomically successful parents had the bank, foresight, and network of connections to agree to fund it.

In 2015, JUST Water was born in Glens Falls, New York, where it pays six times more than any other water user in the city; in the next three years, JUST estimates that they will have created more than $1 million in new and much needed revenue in Glens Falls.

Photo: JUST Water

With their resources and contacts, the Smiths could have picked pretty much any town to settle in. Why Glens Falls? Like many other mysterious business founding stories, the reason is surprisingly simple: the family’s first call, when they got serious about founding a company, was to good friend and Glens Falls native Drew Fitzgerald, who agreed to incubate and launch the project. (In addition to co-founding JUST Water, Fitzgerald co-founded SDG Engine, a two-sided digital marketplace to connect entrepreneurs and stakeholders who want to invest in sustainably minded-companies, in addition to serving on multiple advisory boards and as the Creative Director for the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT). 

When Jaden tasted the water from Glens Falls, which he described as “crisp and natural,” and he realized how much a large-scale industrial project could benefit from the small upstate community, he was in. 

While the town has an abundant source of water, much of the infrastructure is in dire need of repair, and 500 million gallons of water is being lost through cracks in the municipal water system annually. The revenue stream JUST created is addressing those challenges; leaks are being fixed, and the city’s watershed level will rise as the net loss dwindles. 

The packaging of the water bottle, it goes without saying, is as sustainable as anything on the market, having been made from 82% renewable resources. 

Just four years later, JUST boasts three bottling facilities in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, and sells the (mostly) paper bottles in 10 countries, with a deal to launch in the United Arab Emirates and Japan. In addition to “plain” water, JUST offers organic infusions like lemon, tangerine, blackberry, mint, and cherry. All told, JUST has surpassed the sought-after $100 million valuation.

Photo: JUST Water

But unlike many newly minted and very young entrepreneurs, Jaden doesn’t seem jaded by JUST’s success. If anything, he seems ever-more dedicated to doing the right thing. 

JUST became a Certified B Corp (just over 3,000 companies make the cut; all sign on to balance the needs of their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment with every decision they make) and helped clean up the water in Flint, Michigan by sending filtration systems to families grappling with lead in their pipes. Jaden is also making sure that JUST stays on top of the latest waves in green technology, and updates packaging to make it just a teeny bit more sustainable.

JUST Water. It’s so simple, so seemingly obvious, so good. It’s also a useful reminder for parents: no matter how young a child is, if they have a seemingly naïve vision for making the world a better, homier place, listen. They might be onto something.