Lady at JUST plant
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How “Cardboard Water” Is Saving The Environment & Reviving a Local Community

May 13, 2016Posted by Helaina Hovitz

The plastic water bottle is one of the most hated yet widely consumed commodities of the 21st century.

An effort years in the making has officially reached its goal of using 82% renewable materials for its sustainably sourced, economically efficient, environmentally friendly box—er, bottle—of water.

In hopes of replacing the dreaded plastic bottle, JUST water’s paper-based “bottle” is made up of renewable resources from a “responsibly managed” forests managed by the Forest Stewardship Council, which means the chain of custody is traceable and the forestry practices are sustainable. From the beginning, the team set out to develop a package with a lower carbon footprint and was recyclable. Instead of plastic made from fossil fuels like petroleum, the plastic content in the cap and shoulder of the bottle are made from sugarcane – a highly water-efficient plant that grows plentifully.

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Another (adorable) day at the Just Water Plant!

Kicking off production on April 22, the JUST water bottle is now made with 82% renewable resources that come directly from plant-based materials, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 74% compared to a range of PET plastic bottles.

When Glens Falls, New York native and JUST co-founder Drew FitzGerald was working as lead creative designer in Los Angeles for big-name brands, he found that, in 2008, installing social and environmental initiatives was seen as  “nice to haves” or “one offs,” rather than attitudes that could shift various corporate cultures.

“There seemed to be a culture of gloom, a feeling that individuals were helpless to actually do anything significant to effect social and environmental impact,” FitzGerald said. “Anyone in leadership roles, both in the public and private sector, weren’t doing anything about it. Brands with so much influence were tone deaf to the social and environmental needs of the changing world their customers live in.”

NBA star Christopher Lee of the Memphis Grizzlies enjoys a refreshing water break.

NBA star Courtney Lee (formerly of of the Memphis Grizzlies) enjoys a refreshing water break.

That changed as he become more engrained in the culture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he worked with a team of like-minded innovators to address what they collectively saw as growing problem: energy, food and water.

“There was a lack of thoughtful innovation when it came down to addressing the idea of impact in the commercial water industry, so we looked at bottled water as a great area to start, not only for its ubiquity, but also its complexity,” he said.

The team felt that its complexity was “clouded” from the everyday bottled water consumer, who presumably didn’t know about the deeper constructs of how the water in their hand got to them.

“I knew that we could somehow find a package that replaced its traditional fossil fuel components with ones that are more renewable—but at what cost?” he said. “With the right experts in place, we could push the industry to evolve and adapt through revised packaging, newer responsible water models, and community impact all at the same time.”

The team began looking for a community beneficiary for their water purchase, rather than a private landowner, and wanted part of the money the town received to go towards repairing its own water infrastructure. After a long search, they ended up right back at FitzGerald’s hometown of Glens Falls, where, as part of a fair trade agreement, the town gets six times the residential rate for access to their aging watershed and just three percent of its “excess water.”

The town gets 3 billion gallons of water each year through rain and snow, and they use 1.3 billion. More than half is excess that flows back into the rivers.

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The facility was created in a vacant church that JUST purchased from the Salvation Army, who was looking to sell. Since the company signed its 99-year agreement with the town, its economy has gotten a significant boost.

Almost 40% of the city’s business district buildings were vacant, so the JUST team bought a vacant church from the Salvation Army and made it a state of the art water facility, returning significant property back to the city’s tax rolls helping with much needed income. The facility was a huge drain on the S.A. financially, so “everybody won.”

CEO Grace Jeon continued to explain that the small town has been struggling with how to increase their revenue stream—no pun intended— to offset these aging water pipes and infrastructure. They repurposed an abandoned building—a church—after reviewing 40 locations, and set up their production facility.

Drew and Grace

Co-Founder Drew FitzGerald and CEO Grace Jeon are very happy about what they’ve created.

The water retails for 99¢ at Whole Foods, Kroger, and other retailers for a 16.9 ounce bottle.

The name is deliberate, implying that the water is “just,” in that they are conscious of the impact they have on the earth and considerate of their consumers.

“Overall, JUST is a movement. It’s a larger vehicle as a company to support big solutions to newer, early stage clean technology within energy, energy storage, energy poverty, water scarcity, and environmental engineering,” FitzGerald said. “The impacts from these innovations can have massive effects on practically an issue in the world.”

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