Catherine Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers

Advisory Board Member & Former Senior Fellow, Environmental Justice & Civic Engagement (2015 – 2021)

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

White House Announces Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members including Catherine Coleman Flowers

MARCH 29, 2021 • STATEMENTS AND RELEASES Today, the White House announced the members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The advisory council will provide advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address… Read more

Water, Sanitation and Inequality in the US – Catherine Coleman Flowers project with The Guardian

Help us Investigate Sanitation Inequality in the US March 9, 2021 Categories: Public Programs & Events We know that access to sanitation – just like access to clean air and water – is so often divided along race and class lines. But while there’s never been more awareness that environmental racism… Read more

Catherine Flowers and her fight for environmental justice in Alabama

In parts of the American south, many homes don’t have access to working waste treatment – something activist Catherine Flowers is fighting to change  How to listen to podcasts: everything you need to know Presented by Rachel Humphreys with Catherine Flowers; produced by Joshan Chana, Rhi Storer, and Pulama Kaufman; executive producers Nicole… Read more

The Stench of American Neglect

by Caroline Fraser for The New York Review In her new book, the activist Catherine Coleman Flowers chronicles her efforts to expose criminally deficient sanitation in her home county of Lowndes, Alabama and around the US. February 25, 2021 issue In 1941 Walker Evans, a photographer, and James Agee, a… Read more

Bridging the rural divide

OPINION | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT – THE HILL Catherine Coleman Flowers   The deep divide between rural and urban communities is a polarization that has been exemplified by coronavirus, climate change and economic despair. It is estimated that approximately 60 million people live in rural America. Most of the landmass of the… Read more

How to Fix the Climate

Catherine Coleman Flowers offers a response to the Boston Review Forum on ‘How to Fix the Climate’. “The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted. We must prioritize exposed, fence-line, frontline, and vulnerable communities.” Living in Alabama, a state bordered by the Gulf Coast, it is hard… Read more

Battling America’s ‘dirty secret’

Climate change raises the risk from failing sewage systems. So Catherine Coleman Flowers is working for a new way to deal with waste. Originally published DECEMBER 17, 2020 by Sarah Kaplan for the Washington Post – Climate Solutions. LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. — To Catherine Coleman Flowers, this is “holy ground”: the… Read more

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