Catherine Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers

Senior Fellow, Environmental Justice & Civic Engagement

Catherine Coleman Flowers is the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ) which seeks the implementation of best practices to address the reduction of health and economic disparities, improve access to clean air, water, and soil in marginalized rural communities by influencing policy, inspiring innovation, catalyzing relevant research, and amplifying the voices of community leaders. This is done within the context of climate change and through the lens of environmental justice.

A member of the Board of Directors for the Climate Reality Project, she is employed as the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative and serves as a Senior Fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. Her goal is to find solutions to raw sewage that exist in rural communities throughout the United States. Catherine is also an internationally recognized advocate for the human right to water and sanitation and works to make the UN Sustainable Development Agenda accountable to front-line communities. Her journey is chronicled in her book entitled Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, which will be published by the New Press this November. Catherine was recently awarded a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship grant for her work as an Environmental Health Advocate.

Catherine’s Videos


The Accidental Environmentalist: Catherine Flowers: A mosquito bite decades ago leads Catherine Coleman Flowers on her life’s journey.  A day in the life of an environmental justice activist to solve problems at the intersection of poverty, climate change, and politics from the Alabama Black Belt to Washington, D.C. 

America Will Be – Uniting a Movement: Kairos Center & the Poor People’s Campaign document the people coming together for clean water & to eradicate poverty, from Standing Rock and beyond.

HBO’s VICE News Reporting: Catherine Advocates For Alabama Residents Exposed To Hookworm.

Ms. Catherine Flowers, Rural Development Manager, Delivers Testimony on #InvestingInWater. As Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, Catherine delivers a testimony on investing in water.



Catherine Coleman Flowers’ First Book 

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret – available November 2020  Learn More

The “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America, with a foreword by the renowned author of Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson)

“When you combine the ecological expertise of Rachel Carson, the dogged determination of Erin Brockovich, and the lifelong passion for equality of John Lewis, you get Catherine Flowers. Catherine’s story and her work in Lowndes County should motivate all of us to ensure that environmental injustice will no longer be America’s dirty secret.” – John Kerry, 68th U.S. Secretary of State

Q&A with Catherine

What is “environmental justice”?

Environmental justice means fighting for the equitable distribution of technology and resources with a preference to those who need them the most, and promoting the protection of the earth, its eco-systems, and giving all access to clean water, clean air, and surroundings free of toxic chemicals.

Where does CEE focus its efforts on EJ?

CEE combines environmental justice with caring for the earth. The educational programs provide information and clarity on how we can balance our faith with justice for mankind and the earth. What kind of things do you work on? I focus on researching and improving water and sanitation in poor rural communities. I also coordinate climate training efforts and facilitate partnerships with people and organizations that seek climate justice.

How can faith leaders become more involved in EJ work?

Faith leaders can get involved in EJ work by first accessing the EJ issues in their communities or by providing support to those around the nation that are fighting for climate and environmental justice.

You do a lot of work in rural communities on water. Why do you care so much about this issue?

I am a country girl who grew up in a rural setting. I have experienced firsthand problems with wastewater treatment that can lead to environmental degradation and health issues. I care because I have witnessed the neglect of poor rural communities’ needs when it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, and I have seen the tragic results. It is a point of deep shame for our nation–the richest in the world–where children are playing around and living among raw sewage. Now, we are seeing climate change act as a multiplier for the problem, tremendously increasing the likelihood that diseases will infect people living in those conditions. Therefore I am passionate about finding a solution that is sustainable and affordable that also takes into account the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

From the Blog

NY Times Book Review of ‘Waste’

Excerpt from The New York Times online. Originally published Nov 17, 2020. Read the complete review here. ———————————— Flowers brings an invigorating sense of purpose to the page. “Waste” is written with warmth, grace and clarity. Its straightforward faith in the possibility of building a better world, from the ground… Read more

Catherine Coleman Flowers, NY Times Opinion

Mold, Possums and Pools of Sewage: No One Should Have to Live Like This Before she died of Covid-19, Pamela Rush opened her home to show the world what poverty looks like. Originally Published Nov. 14, 2020 Ms. Flowers is the author of the forthcoming “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against… Read more

Sewage is still ‘America’s dirty secret’ – Catherine Flowers is fighting to change that -The Verge

By Justine [email protected]  Nov 13, 2020, 4:26pm EST The Verge Doctors couldn’t diagnose the rash spreading across Catherine Flowers’ legs and body. But the activist thought it had to do with the day she wore a dress during a visit to a family whose yard featured “a hole in the ground… Read more

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret out November 17th

November 17, 2020 – Official Release Date Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Coleman Flowers With a foreword by Bryan Stevenson Where to Purchase About The MacArthur grant–winning “Erin Brockovich of Sewage” tells the riveting story of the environmental justice movement that is firing up rural America,… Read more

MacArthur ‘Genius’ Brings National Attention To Local Fight Against Sewage Failures

As heard on Morning Edition and originally published by NPR October 21, 2020 Heard on Morning Edition EMMA BOWMAN If Catherine Flowers ever received a calling to take on a career in environmental activism, it likely came in the form of mosquito bites. In 2009, Flowers was doing economic development work… Read more

Catherine Flowers among those participating in “Your Vote, Your World” on October 24th

  What’s at stake in the 2020 election? EVERYTHING.   With just 10 days to go before the most important election in generations, Your Vote, Your World brings together activists, artists, musicians, and cultural icons for a LIVE digital rally to explore what’s at stake and how we will make our voices… Read more

Climate Activism – Catherine Flowers, Rev. Yearwood, Varshini Prakash & Mustafa Ali

Introducing the Bloomberg Green Festival September 14 – 18, 2020 The Bloomberg Green Festival 2020 was a 5-day immersive experience featuring global voices and proprietary insight. The Bloomberg Green Festival was organized to be a true thought leadership experience operating at the crossroads of sustainability, design, culture, food, technology, science,… Read more

Make Good Trouble with Catherine Flowers

REGISTER VOTERS The right to vote is critical for an effective and fair democracy that works for all of us. For $1.50 per person, you can help fight voter suppression in states that need it most, like Georgia. We’re partnering with Register2Vote, a non-profit and non-partisan, voting rights organization, to mail… Read more