GV professor recognized statewide for energy conservation

Courtesy: Professor Roy Cole

Courtesy: Professor Roy Cole

Elyse Greenwood

Grand Valley State University Professor Roy Cole has played an essential role in furthering the Laker Effect by sharing his passion for sustainability both at home and in the classroom. 

Last September, Cole, a professor of Geography and Sustainable Planning at GVSU, was one of three finalists in Michigan for the Governor’s Energy Excellence Award. This award honors organizations and individuals statewide for their commitment to responsible energy production and consumption. Unbeknownst to him, Cole was nominated for the “Best Residential Projects” category in acknowledgement of the extensive work he had undertaken to conserve energy in his home.  

Currently, Cole has accomplished reducing his home energy use by 50 percent through projects like re-roofing the house, buying a high efficiency furnace and five solar panels, switching all light fixtures to LED and even buying an electric car. This process has been an ongoing goal for Cole and his wife. 

“My wife, Mary, and I were improving our house we bought when the kids moved away,” Cole said. “It was smaller, and we wanted to make it more livable. So we got a high efficiency furnace, had some blown in insulation, and re-roofed it. My wife and I have always been interested in conserving energy. Not just for the money, but it makes the house more comfortable.” 

Cole’s dedication to sustainability is nothing new. While he has been a conservationist since college, his experience serving with the Peace Corps in West Africa emphasized the seriousness of the issue and left a lasting impact. 

“I always look for opportunities to conserve over and beyond what people ordinarily do,” Cole said. “I lived in small villages in West Africa for over four years. I lived right on the edge of using hardly any energy at all-eating food cooked on open fires, no electricity, kerosene lamps. It was very different from the American lifestyle. When I returned to the United States and high consumerism after those years, I was struck by the cultural difference. That had an impact on my behavior.”

Not only has Cole taken personal action to conserve energy, but he has also shared his passion in the classroom. Through courses such as GPY 235 – Geography for a Changing World – Cole teaches students the importance of sustainable energy and natural resource use. Cole’s enthusiasm for the subject has impacted his students and inspired them to also take action. 

“Dr. Cole has been a great influence on me in terms of my views on sustainability,” said Aaron Kates, a GVSU Geography and Sustainable Planning alumni. “It started in the classroom, where he taught me about climate change and the increase in drought conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa, and other environmental disasters throughout the world like the draining of the Aral Sea. From there, I saw how he did practical things to lower his carbon footprint.”

Cole’s influence, however, also impacted Kates outside the classroom as well. 

“A couple of years ago, he told me about his attic insulation project,” Kates said. “My wife and I followed suit and got that done to our roof. Now our sights are set on solar, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and other improvements. It will be a few years before we can have our own electric car, but we’ll get there. Seeing him do it helps us to know that it can actually be done. It’s not just theoretical.”

Cole’s next steps to increase sustainability include working on the drip irrigation system he recently developed for his garden with hopes to hook it up to solar power.  With the positive impact that is being made on students, west Michigan and the environment, Cole is doing his part for the GVSU Laker Effect.