Just Environments

Just Environments invests in collaborations between communities, students, and scholars based on research and data justice principles in order to explore solutions and practices to promote environmental justice.

The events of the past two years, from the COVID-19 pandemic to rising economic inequality to police brutality, have drawn unprecedented levels of interest from students, faculty, and staff at Duke University concerning issues of racial and social justice. As Duke begins a university-wide climate change initiative, many have called for increased attention on just transitions in energy, environmental justice, and climate justice. But many analytic approaches and policy-making processes for mainstream environmental problems focus on results and not the need for a just process itself.

Just Environments believes that the ways in which we study environmental justice are as important as the outcomes we achieve.

In the Just Environments Program, scholars, students, community co-researchers work together to understand the structural sources of environmental and climate injustices, thereby challenging the deeply held assumptions that perpetuate them. In taking this approach, we seek to avoid the long-standing trend of academic research that does not include community partners or incorporate corrective actions to redress and resolve environmental injustices. Employing the best practices from environmental justice studies and from the lived experiences of our partners, Just Environments collaborates with communities in ways that recognizes their depth of knowledge and implicit understanding. Without immediately privileging academic expertise, we recognize the right of community members with the greatest stake in the process to frame the problem and identify acceptable solutions.

Just Environments is a joint project of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and the Kenan Institute for Ethics. It formalizes long-standing community-engaged environmental and climate justice collaborations between the two institutes and impacted communities.

Just Environments also serves as a hub for scholars, students, staff, community co-researchers, and other external collaborators interested in working at the intersections of research and data justice and environmental and climate justice. It connects Duke’s schools and departments, community partners and other external collaborators, including the government and the private sector.


Kay Jowers is director of Just Environments at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Her work focuses on analyzing state regulatory and policy approaches to addressing environmental issues and engages with environmental equity, ethics, and justice in particular. She co-directs the Environmental Justice Lab, a collaboration with the Duke Economics Department.

Research Associate

Anne Driscoll

Anne Driscoll is a Research Associate at the Duke Environmental Justice Lab. In the past she’s been a Research Analyst at the Stanford Center on Food Security and the Environment’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab, a fellow at the University of Chicago Data Science for Social Good Program, and a Data Analyst at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

While getting her BS at Duke (T’18), she worked on using open data to identify disproportionate toxicity burden in minority communities across the US and making those conclusions publicly accessible.


Projects and Activities

The Duke Environmental Justice Lab, coordinated by the Duke Economics Department and the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, facilitates multi-disciplinary computational research using a variety of social science methods to explore environmental inequality and environmental justice topics. The Lab includes undergraduate, MA and PhD student researchers who collaborate with external community partners, and scholars across Duke and UNC to co-produce actionable and policy-relevant research. 

Just Environments offers courses in environmental and climate justice, including the FOCUS course on Environmental Justice, Nationalism, and Institutions (ETHICS 190FS) and Ethics in Environmental Decision-Making (ETHICS 288S) once a year.

  • ETHICS 190FS uses organizational, institutional and social movement theory to examine the dynamics of contentions politics around environmental justice and government agencies’ failures to adequately incorporate justice in their practices.
  • ETHICS 288S, started as part of the PLANET Project, takes on a timely policy issue working alongside the decision makers and affected communities to surface complex ethical issues related to justice, with the goal of promoting more just and informed decision making. Past course topics have included the sourcing of Duke’s carbon offsets from biogas collected from factory farms in Eastern NC and the extractive nature of climate-related natural disaster research.