How green is Exeter?

15 facts about the school’s sustainability efforts today.

Nicole Pellaton
April 1, 2022
Exeter campus seen from above with green leaf superimposed

In May 1927, the Academy’s first Nature Club formed, offering Saturday morning nature walks every other week. “For admission to the Nature Club,” The Exonian reported that spring, “a student must describe 25 trees, 25 flowers or 30 birds,” with faculty members serving as “examiners” of these findings.

The club is one example among many of the school community’s long-held interest in the environment and, increasingly in recent decades, the conservation and protection of natural resources. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and consider more urgently the global impact of our individual actions on the planet, we look at some of the work happening on campus — oftentimes behind the scenes — to limit our footprint. No list could capture everyone’s efforts, and there is of course still much more to do to achieve greater carbon emissions reductions and increased community-wide education. But here are 15 ways the Academy is already moving in the right direction.

53% waste diversion
Between compost, recycling and donated goods, Exeter diverted 270 tons of its total 648 tons of refuse (for the period July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019), an emissions equivalent of taking 228 cars off the road or planting 248 acres of pine trees.
497,201 visits to dining hall each year
Dining Services is on the attack against food waste. The staff monitors all waste (including weighing kitchen refuse such as produce peels and meat fats) and closely tracks each dish served: portions prepared, consumed and uneaten. This detailed auditing cuts waste in two ways: informed buying minimizes food prep discards, and revised portion estimates reflect actual need, helping to eliminate leftovers. Since 2015, the school has avoided more than 84 tons of food waste by changing purchasing, prep and serving methods. In emissions terms, that’s the equivalent of keeping 546 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere or saving 57,800 gallons of gasoline. It’s also a $226,000 cost savings.

Reduced emissions associated with electricity use on campus (scope 2)

Construction of the 1,552-panel solar array on the William Boyce Thompson Field House and ongoing programs to reduce demand (smart lighting, high-efficiency appliances) have helped Exeter control electricity use while expanding its built footprint. Since 2014, emissions associated with the electricity bought for use in campus buildings have been offset through the purchase of national wind Renewable Energy Certificates. Electricity used in the faculty houses that border campus is not offset, and represents 6% of the school’s total usage. Exeter is researching ways to further reduce scope 2 emissions, including metering all campus buildings; performing building audits and energy retrofits; increasing on-campus solar; and investing in solar power purchase agreements.

32,000 pounds of fish

That number reflects the amount consumed in the Academy’s dining halls in the past five years. It’s all part of a plan to move away from environmentally wasteful foods to responsible foods. Dining Services follows the Menus of Change initiative, which focuses on healthy, plant-forward eating and environmental stewardship. Benefits of adopting this program, founded by The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, are reduced consumption of foods with significant environmental impact; better quality through organics and locally sourced items; and purchasing from vendors who share our commitment to the environment. Exeter’s fisheries partners protect the waters for future fishing through the types of fish they catch and by following sustainability practices. Other food is sourced from local suppliers whenever possible: 75 percent of produce in season; 100 percent of dairy, eggs and flour year-round.

44.7% reduction in scope 1 emissions (natural gas and fuel)
Exeter’s campus is heated by 2-plus miles of underground pipe, originally laid in the 1930s, that deliver steam to the majority of the school’s buildings. Renovations completed in 2013, including replacement of nearly 40 percent of the system, and the elimination of number 6 fuel oil in favor of natural gas in 2009, are major contributors to the reduction in scope 1 emissions from 2005 to today. Number 6 fuel oil is the dirtiest grade of fuel oil (when burned it emits soot pollution, high carbon dioxide levels and sulfur).
5,432 RedBike rides
Ground transportation represents a small portion of Exeter’s emissions exposure, but it may be the most accessible source of real-world problem-solving for Exonians. The student-designed RedBikes project hit campus In 2019. For the 43 days of fall term during which they were available to the Academy community, 20 RedBikes sprinted from the athletics complex to academic buildings, dining halls and dorms. They logged an average of 126 rides per day with more than 300 regular bikers. A smartphone app locks the bikes when parked and tracks their locations.

Six vehicle charging stations

Electric chargers in the Thompson Field House parking garage were installed to be able to service six vehicles simultaneously.

Two tons of donated goods

Sheets, clothes, books, lights, you name it. If they’re unwanted, these useful items are collected on move-out days for regular year and Exeter Summer students. They get a second life through Goodwill of Northern New England.

70% of emissions come from campus buildings
Heating and cooling buildings have the biggest environmental impact. Exeter is investigating alternative, environmentally friendly fuels for the central plant that heats the majority of campus buildings. High on the list is Renewable Fuel Oil, a liquid made by vaporizing sawdust. The Academy continues to research solutions for smaller emissions sources: employee commuting (10 percent); and student commuting, fertilizer and refrigerants (each representing less than 2 percent).
That’s the number of students who have taken Green Umbrella Learning Lab, one of four sustainability-focused courses and an incubator for environmental projects. Out of this class have emerged RedBikes, reusable pizza boxes, a clothing exchange program, and cardboard box breakdown stations designed to highlight the impacts of online shopping. Exeter offers an additional 15 sustainability-inclusive courses and is planning to integrate the topic into more.
1280 acres of natural habitat
Exonians benefit from an eco-learning lab composed of streams, fields, forests and wetlands. Students are increasingly spending time on these acres, both independently and as part of coursework. Updates include construction of a bird blind and planned improvements to the trails (bog bridging and boardwalks, improved signage).

134 geothermal wells

The 49 geothermal wells installed under the Academy Building lawn in 2012 have improved energy efficiency in Phillips Hall by as much as 30 percent. Space under the lawn is reserved for additional wells that will service the Academy Building when it undergoes renovation. In 2015, the Downer Family Fitness Center opened in the athletics complex, with heating and cooling supplied by 15 geothermal wells. Sixty geothermal wells were also installed near the baseball diamond in 2018 to heat and cool the Goel Center for Theater and Dance. The first use of geothermal energy came in 2007 and 2008, when the Academy constructed four faculty houses with 10 geothermal wells.

Environmentally responsible construction practices

Minimizing environmental impact is a priority in each campus construction project and has been at the forefront since Exeter opened the Phelps Academy Center in 2006 (since renamed the Elizabeth Phillips Academy Center). EPAC was constructed using the principles of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Exeter’s efforts resulted in Silver LEED certification for EPAC. Since then, the school has gained four LEED Golds (Thompson Field House, three faculty houses) and anticipates a fifth LEED Gold for the David E. and Stacey L. Goel Center for Theater and Dance. Facilities Management staff are currently reviewing additional green building certification standards that will allow the Academy to adapt responsibly to every situation.

146 tons of compost last year
Exeter collects compost from dining facilities (Elm Street, Wetherell and Grill), special event meals (including graduation and reunions) and 17 dorms. This waste goes to an anaerobic digester in Maine that converts the methane gas released from the composted food into electricity, further reducing our carbon footprint. Byproducts of the digestion process are used for animal bedding, soil enhancement and liquid fertilizer. Trying hard to imagine what 146 tons looks like? Think: one blue whale.
1.12 GWh (gigawatt hours)
That’s the lifetime energy creation from the 1,552 solar panels atop Thompson Field House. It’s also the daily electricity usage of New York City. On sunny cloudless days, the energy produced by the panels can top out at 3,500 kilowatt-hours. The array generates about 3 percent of the Academy’s electricity and is projected to save the school $2 million over the system’s lifetime of 25-plus years.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.