Even if he was just a tween at the time, Jaden Smith wanted to make a difference. After seeing plastic water bottles littering the ocean and the planet, he decided to create a company that replaced all those single-use plastic bottles with something more sustainable. “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 tells Fast Company in a phone call from Helsinki where he had just landed. “And that’s what I wanted to do, and I was like, 12 years old.”
With the help of his parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, in 2015, he founded JUST Water, selling responsibly sourced water from upstate New York that is packaged in a bottle made of 82% renewable resources. The timing could not have been better as consumers become increasingly aware of the impact of single-use plastics on the planet. JUST Water quickly became known as a better alternative to, say, Nestle’s bottled water.
Fast forward four years, JUST has three bottling facilities in the U.S., U.K., and Australia and sells its distinctive mostly-paper water bottles in 10 countries and is currently sold in over 15,000 retail locations in North America. JUST is expanding to the United Arab Emirates soon, is launching in 21,000 stores in Japan even sooner, and is sending more of its signature Tetra Top Midi cartons of water to line the shelves of Target, Publix, and CVS, as well as signing a deal to be IKEA Australia’s exclusive water provider for the next two years—all of which helped the still young water company earn its new $100 million valuation.
“We doubled our business last year, we tripled the business this year, and are on track to almost triple it again next year,” says JUST Water CEO Ira Laufer who credits the company’s exponential growth to increased consumer awareness 0f plastic’s environmental problem, good timing with the global push to stop plastic water bottles, and “a very aggressive growth strategy.”
While the company has grown very rapidly—and shows no signs of slowing—it is staying true to Smith’s early vision of a sustainable water company that is good for the planet, a mission that clearly resonates with consumers. Two years after it was founded, JUST Water became a certified B Corp, maintaining and upholding rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. They sent a water filtration system to Flint, Michigan, that can clean up to 10 gallons of water at once for families, and Smith has been running his free vegan food truck for the homeless as another way to give back. They also just teamed up with Allbirds to create a sustainable line of sneakers with 100% of the proceeds going to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Amazon Forest Fund.
It is also working with TetraPak and local governments to ensure that its packaging is, in fact, recyclable and also continuing to upgrade the packaging, so that a greater share is made out of recycled material. “We’ve been able to continue making our packaging out of even more and more material as the lifespan of the company keeps on going,” says Smith, who will be discussing JUST’s future at the upcoming Web Summit. “It’s like how the iPhone is updated almost every year, we try to update [the packaging] almost every year.”
While the company has grown quickly, Smith recognizes that some day JUST and its carbon footprint could become too big to stay true to its environmental roots. “It can get to that point where it says, you know, ‘Hey, this isn’t a part of our original mission anymore.’ And, yes, I do believe that we could get there. But right now, we are growing in a really cool, in a really hip way in the world. But our competitors are, like so much bigger than us. It’s crazy,” Smith says. “I do feel like if we did get to a point where we were like much bigger than our competitors, it would be an environmental issue. But that’s a long way off.”