Understanding the Universe

An exclusive interview with JUST Water CEO Grace Jeon and Jaden Smith

An exclusive interview with JUST Water CEO Grace Jeon and Jaden Smith


Do you know where your water comes from?

This is a question that many have asked for years, and became increasingly relevant in the wake of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis.

While many have asked this question, a group of 73, like-minded, advocates for sustainability ranging from notables such as Jaden Smith, Queen Latifah, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith to impact investors like Chris Kelly, Arunas Chesonis from MIT and strategic advisors like Matthew Nordan, Sarah Kearny, and Jeffrey Grossman from the clean-tech and material sciences space, have sought to provide and answer.

They are all founders of JUST, a company focused on creating social and environmental impact through business.

It is through the company that they hope to create products that promote both community improvement and the environment.

In line with their mission, they have launched JUST Water, 100% spring water in a paper based bottle that is made up of 82% of renewable resources.

The idea for the company arose when Jaden was just ten years old.

“Miguel, my dad, [and, I] were talking and saying how there is so much plastic in the ocean, pollution, and plastic in the street that the CO2 emissions are going crazy from all the oil manufacturing it takes to make these bottles,” he said.

“I [thought] we really need to come up with a different solution. We really need to be apart of this movement. We really need to change the world because it’s just too much and it needs to be corrected. It’s something that needs to be taken head on by us,”

In this exclusive interview we spoke with JUST Water CEO Grace Jeon and Smith about the company and the importance of renewable resources.

Q: How is JUST water different from other bottled water companies?
Jeon: Other companies develop bottled water for the sole purpose of selling bottled water. It’s a pure commercial space, whereas in our situation, we started off with the idea of what if we could promote and create further impact both in our environment and community through everyday goods?

[We thought,] what if we brought this idea of sustainability and conscious consumption to the everyday masses and let’s do it in a category thats huge.

What other category than bottled water that has almost 80% health household penetration? What better category than bottled water that actually can use help? There is growing consumer sentiment about the amount of plastics that are being discarded.

This is at the same time while they are switching away from the sugary stuff and moving over to healthier bottled water options. As they are consuming more water,  they are starting to become more guilt-ridden about the plastics that they are discarding.

Within that context, we thought wouldn’t it be great if we introduced our first product within the platform of JUST goods, introduced a first product which is JUST water, and through that JUST water, what if we created a better packaging made out of renewable resources?

Beyond that, what if that company was built on a completely different ethos on having impact on the community in how we operate so that everyone has a chance to benefit from this business, from the community ultimately through the consumer.

It really is a complete shift in the way that businesses are created, how the businesses look at the entire supply chain and value chain so that everybody has a chance to participate and benefit from this mode, and last but not least, so the earth has a chance to benefit because of the suitable package that JUST water is in.

Q: Do you think that it is important that people are conscious consumers?
Smith: I feel like being a conscious consumer is really important. I promised that I wouldn’t drive until I could drive a fuel emissions vehicle because the CO2 emissions are so so out of hand.

If you’ve seen Al Gore’s Ted Talk this year, it’s just gone through the roof. Coal plants are being shut down. We need to attack it in a different way and come from a different angle.

My thing is always the ocean. I choose to be a conscious consumer because I love the ocean so much. It’s very dear to me and when I see plastic floating around the ocean it just makes me so upset. I know that plastic turns into microplastics, that gets inside of the fish, and that’s the fish that we eat, and that gets back inside of us.

Really, above us protecting the ocean, it’s us protecting our own bodies, our children, and mother Earth that we live on. That’s why it is so important to me to be a conscious consumer. I want their to be a world for my kids and [their] down the line. I want them to be able to go outside without them having to wear gas masks because the CO2 emissions are too high on planet earth.

Q: What was the thought behind the design of the bottle?
Jeon: The bottle itself is made out of 52% of paper. 30% is made out of a plant based plastic derived from sugar cane. The impact of that is that it is made out of 82% of renewable materials. If you were to compare that to traditional plastics, we have up to 74% of carbon emission savings as opposed to other traditional plastics.

You could imagine what type of impact we could have if we were to convert all the plastics to JUST water bottles. That would have a tremendous impact on greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Q: Why the philosophy “Better For Everyone?” 
Jeon: From day one, we started with the idea of conscious consumption for the masses so that everyone can participate. It’s about inclusiveness. When we talk about our mantra we have to make sure everybody benefits in the process of us not only making JUST water but also selling JUST water.

We partnered with the city of Glenn Falls to bring a new revenue source into a town that desperately needed a new revenue source. We purchased an abandoned building and put it back on the tax roll. Every touch point should have a positive benefit form JUST water being made and sold.

Q: Why is water important to you?
Smith: 70% of the human body is made up of water. I feel like it’s important to planet Earth and human beings as an entire race. We need water. That’s why the water crisis is such a difficult thing to attack because we all need to take in so much water [everyday.] That is why there is so much plastic in the ocean. It’s because of the way we are ingesting this water. We need it to survive and this is why it’s been a huge passion for me ever since I was 10.

Q: As a water company, what are you thoughts on Flint?
Jeon: It’s a devastating situation. You’ve probably read that Flint is not unique and that there are so many other communities throughout the U.S. where the water infrastructure is aging. Some of these pipes are 100 years old depending on how long the community has been in existence. These pipes age, start to deteriorate, and have issues.

It’s a shame what happened with the infrastructure and its a shame what happened with the community in Flint. We donated water and tried to donate additional water. The unfortunate situation was that Flint and many of these small communities aren’t set up to take in large quantities of water.

No one can take in truck loads of water, so we started thinking if we can’t deliver water to them, then what’s a different way we can be helpful.

We’ve been working on a prototype like a large water filtration kiosk that you would put throughout these communities. The families can go and fill up whatever vessels they have with good clean drinking water. We’re in the process of designing this prototype and testing it locally.

Once it goes through the whole data process we will then be able to release it to communities like Flint or the next community when they are in a state of [emergency].

Q: Why is JUST the better choice?
Smith:I feel like JUST is a better choice because 82% [of the bottle is ] made from renewable resources, which is totally unheard of when you are talking about the water bottle industry. I feel like it’s better for our kids, grandparents, and for all of the people of generations to come.

[It’s better] to be with a bottle of water of choice that is so much less plastic. 70% less CO2 emissions than the average bottle of water. I just feel like from producing it, to bottling it, to drinking it, so that consumers can get it to the stores, it’s all so much better with less CO2 emissions and less plastic.

We need to have more conscious consumers driving Teslas and drinking water with 82% renewable resources made from it instead of 100% petroleum based plastic bottles of water.

I feel like this is the way the world needs to go and it will grow on a natural scale because humans want the planet that we live on to last and they want their own bodies to last.

Q: What’s next for the company? Tell me about the JUST movement.
Jeon: We hope that what we’ve done in Glenn Falls, we can replicate that in other communities so that we can have an impact and create new revenue models and apply that revenue to their aging infrastructure.

That starts with water, but we hope to do that in other categories that are broken where we need to look at other supply chains and that everybody is treated fairly.

We hope that JUST goods will stand for a number of products where there is a better way of doing business and delivering that product to the audience.

Q: What advice would you give to others looking to achieve peak mindfulness and wellness?
Smith: If you are trying to be healthy  and you’re trying to help the environment, follow that exactly and drinking water is extremely important if you’re talking about wellness and health.

Like Grace said, we are huge advocates of people drinking tap water or any type of clean resource of water that you can get. We’re not just saying you should drink our water all the time. It’s only when you are on the go and you don’t have tap water with you, or when you don’t have water with you, we would say you should take a look at JUST water because 82% of it is renewable resources. Iit can be a lot better for the environment and yourself as the food chain goes circles in circles because of the plastic in the ocean, the fish eating the plastic, and us eating the fish.

At the end of the day, it’s us making a health choice. It’s an environmental choice but it’s also a health choice because the plastic that we put into the ocean gets back into us. Whether we’re swimming in the ocean, eating fish, or just enjoying that sea breeze on the beach, we will be affected by it in all of those different ways.

I feel like using this type of bottle that has a really [good] message and is truly one of the most eco friendly bottles on earth, I feel like that is a true health choice as well as an environmental choice.


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