water3 founder, Damien Stone

Kultivate Winners' Series: water3, the social enterprise

ShortPress

Australians love their bottled water – so much so – we spent a massive $600 million on the stuff in 2015. If you think there’s opportunity there for a successful new business, you’d be right – but it won’t be what you think it is. Not when you realise these sales equate to 118,000 tonnes of plastic water bottles – and not when you’re told 30 per cent of these end up littering our oceans.   

Anyone spot the opportunity for a social enterprise here? Damien Stone did.

With over twenty years’ experience working with some of the world’s biggest brands including Lion Nathan, Coca-Cola and Schweppes, Stone launched the Brisbane-based eco start-up, water3.

Water3 has one clear objective: to eradicate single-use plastic water bottles through innovation. How? By introducing a national network of cashless spring water kiosks which use state-of-the-art refillable water3 bottles – bottles that store customer credit. Over the next three years this network is expected to grow to over 12,000. But let’s remember, this is a business but also a true social enterprise. Revenue will be used to fund local clean up initiatives such as the Whitsundays Eco Barge, Airlie Beach, Turtle Rescue Centre, and many more.

Stone speaks to ShortPress about his journey so far:

Describe the ‘moment of inspiration’ that led you to start water3?

“It’s been a long journey since my first 'a-ha' moment.

“Whilst travelling through Singapore I was stunned at the immense amount of waste created by single use plastic water bottles. Upon arriving back home I realised the issue of plastic pollution was not only affecting countries overseas, but rather that plastic was becoming a global epidemic. At the time there was little being done in the way of education, or even awareness about plastic pollution in Australia, so I was inspired to launch water3 in my very own backyard.

“As Australians, many of us enjoy an active, outdoors lifestyle so I think that it is important that we act as guardians of our environment to eradicate plastic, and preserve our way of life. Integrating eco products like water3 into the social conscience of our communities is one of the first steps to creating positive change and reducing environmental impact.”

What’s the toughest challenge you’ve experienced?

I think all entrepreneurs are challenged in the initial stages of developing their business. With start-ups there‘s always an element of the unknown.

“In the beginning we attracted our fair share of detractors, with people having doubted our ability to secure placements, our ability to change the behaviours of consumers, launching without proof of concept, and our machine design.

“Forming a solid investor base, developing a well founded product, and surrounding myself with the right team has been instrumental for me in expanding the Water3 brand and launching our product to market.”

Do you have any myths to dispel about entrepreneurialism?

I think a lot of people underestimate the time it takes to develop and launch a business from start to finish. There are so many factors that change, or are dependent on other parties, it’s impossible to gauge how long you are committed to a certain project.

“Being an entrepreneur really is a hard slog – not for the faint hearted. You face many challenges along the way and you have to really battle through and show a sense of dedication and belief in your product to come out the other side.  

What’s been the biggest surprise on your journey so far?

“There have been many surprises along the way but I would have to say that the most “shocking” thing I have realised over the past 4 years is how toxic our relationship with plastic truely is. The process of building water3 has helped me identify how I can be a better, more conscious consumer, and reflect this in my business.”

If you had to start over again, what would you do differently?

“Nothing! Every experience is a learning experience. Sure there have been times when I wish I had done things a little differently, but if I had, I wouldn't be where I am now – with the knowledge that I have.”

What motivates you – daily?

“You only have to take a step outside to see that plastic pollution is still a growing problem. Reading headlines like-  ‘In the US alone people consume enough plastic water bottles each year to wrap around the earth 190 times,’ and ‘are microplastics in your salmon fillet?’- are enough to make me realise that we all need to take action before it’s too late.   

“In years to come I still want to be able to go to the beach, eat a nice plate of barramundi, and enjoy the outdoors without worrying about the effects of plastic pollution. Without nature there is no human race so that in itself is a pretty strong motivator.”

How do you feel when you think of the future?

“When I think of the future I have mixed emotions; I’ve met so many passionate and genuinely good people on this journey that I have high hopes for the future. But when I see how government and big business refuse to prioritize our environment, negativity creeps in and makes me question how we can overcome such obstacles. If we don't take positive action to end single use plastic, and educate people on more conscious ways of living, then we are looking at a very bleak future for our planet.”

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