Conservation Education – A Conversation with Baylor University’s Office of Sustainability

We sat down with Baylor University’s Director of Sustainability and Special Projects, Smith Getterman, to discuss conservation at the collegiate level and sustainability in the Lone Star State.

Baylor Sustainability Student Advisory Board

TxN: What is your name and role at Baylor University?

Getterman: Smith Getterman, Director of Sustainability and Special Projects

TxN: What does Baylor University do and what is Baylor University’s mission?

Getterman: Baylor provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship.

The mission of Baylor University is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.


TxN: How have you engaged Baylor’s leadership to prioritize sustainability as an integral part of your community and mission?

Getterman: Within my first 3 years of working at Baylor, I managed to accomplish a university-wide sustainability policy that goes to all departments throughout Baylor. This policy was implemented before sustainability was on a lot of people’s radar – around 2011. To achieve this, I did a combination of reaching out to leadership directly and working up the chain of command to communicate the importance and implementation of this policy. Eventually, guiding documents went along with these policies, creating overall goals and principles for the entire University – including “judicious stewardship” of all resources, initially, a phrase reserved for finance, was updated to include sustainability and natural resources alike.

TxN: What does conservation or sustainability mean to Baylor University?

Getterman: In accordance with its Christian mission and vision, Baylor University strives to be a community that fulfills its calling as stewards of God’s gift of creation. We see our call to be good stewards of our resources as an integral part of our greater call to love our neighbors. For us, they are one in the same; you can’t love your neighbor as we are charged to without judicious stewardship. When we talk about caring for God’s creation, we are talking about caring for all of what God created…which is everything and everyone. Being good stewards of our resources is an outward expression of our inward faith. It’s a reflection of our care and interest in the well-being of our local, state, national, and global neighbors.

TxN: Do you have recommendations for other universities to create an institutional culture of sustainability like you have?

Getterman: I have a long history with Baylor prior to my current role. I went to Baylor for undergraduate and graduate school, so I utilized my knowledge from formerly being in the student body to create change. The thing that I really had the most success with was looking at what campus traditions were already there, connecting with the people who are responsible for the traditions, then inserting myself into those traditions with sustainable practices.

For instance, when I first started at Baylor, to spread sustainability awareness and action, I [the Office of Sustainability] would give donations to student-run events if the organization leading that event could somehow implement sustainability into their event. For example, there is a well-known fraternity at Baylor called Brothers Under Christ (BYX). They have a big annual event that over one thousand people attend – called the Island Party. This event includes Christian concerts, games, rides, food, and drink refreshments. About eight years ago, the leaders of BYX came to the Office of Sustainability prior to their Island Party looking to get donations to go towards Island Party operations. In response, I asked who else was sponsoring – it turned out Chick-fil-A was their other primary sponsor, so I said that I would match Chick-fil-A’s donation if BYX could get them to either not use Styrofoam at the event or only remotely donate to the event with no concessions on-site. As a result, BYX successfully worked sustainability into their Island Party when Chick-fil-A agreed to utilize alternative non-Styrofoam materials at the event. Following that, our office urged Chick-fil-A to also utilize Styrofoam alternatives in their campus operations. Again, Chick-fil-A agreed, helping make Baylor a Styrofoam-free campus!

Over the last 10 years, the Office of Sustainability has become an established institution at Baylor. Similar to other universities, one of the routes we’ve established sustainability is through guest lectures; however, I talk about it through a faith-based framework. Most of the students and professors I have spoken to have not considered caring about the environment through the lens of faith. Sustainability to them has always been political or a “hippie thing.” I try to make them think differently about caring for our environment as it is God’s creation.

TxN: What are examples of conservation or sustainability practices that Baylor University does or implements?

Getterman: If it’s an initiative that involves any aspect of environmental stewardship, you can bet that we are doing it or have at least tried it. We have a comprehensive recycling program, with over 700 recycling locations on campus, recycle during all major university events including at all of our Athletics facilities and games, during Move In and Move Out, and other university-wide events; all of this has led to what is now an annual average of over five hundred tons of recycling, a significant decrease in our landfill usage, and, by 2020, an overall increase of our diversion rate to 30% in just five years.

We also offer a comprehensive Energy Awareness Program featuring initiatives like our Last Out, Lights Out campaign and energy reduction competitions within our residence halls.

We have groups on campus that work towards reducing our food waste, both from campus events and our residential dining locations, by capturing cooked but unserved food and redistributing it either to our campus community through our Hunger Free Baylor initiative or to nearby charities like Salvation Army.

So, you can see that we do a lot of different things, many of which are being done at our peer institutions across the state and the country.

But what makes Baylor stand out, however, is our continual focus on Christ and how what we do is not just about caring for the environment, but about loving our neighbor. We firmly believe that we are being the best witnesses for the love of Christ when we care about our judicious use of the resources we have been given to steward.

“The biggest impact colleges and universities can have in being good stewards of the environment is not found in the initiatives we engage but instead in the people we educate.”


TxN: How do you make the case for each sustainability project?

Getterman: There are always going to be road blocks when trying to implement a new project. That’s just the nature of higher education. Every university is different, so you have to look for what works for you. Start with something small you can succeed at and build off that. Don’t try to do everything at once. Sustainability is long-term and doesn’t happen overnight.

TxN: What is your dream sustainability initiative at Baylor?

Getterman: I would love to implement a comprehensive and widely-supported alternative transportation system at Baylor. A program that would not only support but also make it easy for people to utilize alternative forms of transportation to get to class, like walking and biking. An example that comes to mind would be UC Davis, a campus that encourages alternative transportation through bike roundabouts at their campus. I’d also love to implement a seamless composting program and an expansive solar program.

TxN: What part do organizations like Baylor University have to play in conservation in Texas and beyond?

Getterman: The biggest impact colleges and universities can have in being good stewards of the environment is not found in the initiatives we engage but instead in the people we educate. Though it might seem obvious to some, institutions like ours should be focused on the education of its people, the preparation of our community, for a life beyond our campus borders. For Christians in particular, it is imperative we begin to see these issues through the lens of the gospel and the Christ-given mission to love our neighbors.

One way we engage students to be good stewards of the environment is through the sustainability student advisory board. I started it two years into my role in the Office of Sustainability as a Sustainability Committee. The committee was a mix of mostly professors and two students. After some time, we wanted additional student involvement, so we asked the two students on the committee to recruit more members. Looking for diverse representation, they recruited a varied group of students from different majors and backgrounds to ensure we facilitate differing value sets and ideas. That committee became the student advisory board and grew from 8 to now 33 members in 2019. We have every major imaginable, from business to fashion merchandising, all interested in varying areas of sustainability. All of the members must apply to be on the board, meet a certain GPA requirement, and actively participate in meetings to cultivate an effective and impactful board.

TxN: What is one recommendation on conservation or sustainability that you wish more people knew about or would practice?

Getterman: This is not an us versus them conversation. What works for my organization, or for me personally, may not work for you and yours. Any work being done is good work; it’s time we begin to recognize that. Don’t be afraid to get started if you haven’t and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Your small thing can be a big thing for your community, which, in turn will be a big thing for this state.

TxN: What projects do you have on the horizon for sustainability at Baylor in 2020?

Getterman: We are currently wrapping up our 2020 sustainability goals. In 2020, we are working to increase efficiencies as much as we can including, increasing our waste diversion rate, increasing our use of locally sourced ingredients, and reducing our emissions for 2020 and beyond. We’re also planning for another year of creatively engaging the Baylor community and getting people to care for God’s creation.

“Don’t try to do everything at once. Sustainability is long-term and doesn’t happen overnight.”


TxN: What makes Baylor University Texan by Nature?

Getterman: Founded in 1845 in Independence, now nestled along the banks of the Brazos River, Baylor’s Texas roots run as deep as the thousands of old oaks and elms we have scattered around our campus. Here, we take pride in the natural beauty God has gifted our campus, doing what we can to make it a beacon of light the entire state can be proud of, for generations to come.

TxN: What’s your favorite thing about Texas?

Getterman: Trick question because no real Texan can pick just one thing. As someone that is from Central Texas (Waco), married to someone from the Panhandle (Memphis), lived in the Hill Country (Austin), and now lives in Central Texas again, I can tell you that most anywhere you go, it’s not just the people and not just the places that make this state great: It’s always both.

Learn more about Baylor’s sustainability practices here.

See more conservation interviews on our blog page.