Exeter launches sustainability and climate action plan

Academy's ambitious goals include zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Patrick Garrity
April 24, 2023

Exeter’s campus of tomorrow is a place powered by the sun and heated by the earth. Its community is schooled on the latest sustainability principles, its equipment and vehicles all run on electricity, and its smokestacks cast little but shadows.

That is the vision Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 revealed Monday in sharing the Academy’s first sustainability and climate action plan, “a road map for a community-wide commitment to action” with a refreshed environmental mission statement and a comprehensive vision to realize it.

Standing in a darkened Assembly Hall, Principal Rawson shared highlights from the 23-page document that is formally titled Building From Strength Toward a Zero Carbon Future. “This is the cover page of our sustainability and climate action plan. You will see that we are ‘building from strength’. Exeter has a strong record of environmental stewardship going back many years, and we are aiming high going forward. We are imagining a zero carbon future for our school.”

Principal Rawson’s announcement kicked off the school’s annual Climate Action Day. Now in its ninth year, Climate Action Day is intended to raise awareness of climate change, teach students about their natural world and reflect on environmentalism as an integral part of human existence.

The new environmental mission statement, revising an original from 2004, says:

Phillips Exeter Academy is committed to fostering a culture of sustainability in our community. Through our academic programs, we educate our students about the principles of sustainability and the threat of climate change and cultivate their capacity to take action. Through our operations, we will continue to manage our natural resources and campus facilities responsibly, reduce our environmental impact, and minimize our contributions to climate change.

The plan’s three overarching goals call on the school to:

  • Ensure that every student graduates from Exeter with a fundamental understanding of the principles of sustainability and the issues posed by climate change.
  • Reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 75 percent (from a 2005 baseline) by 2031 and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • Integrate principles of sustainability into all Exeter programs and operations.

The plan dedicates a chapter to each goal — headlined Education; Emissions and Energy; and Sustainability Integration, respectively. The chapters lay out where the school currently stands in each area and how it intends to achieve the stated goal. The text is the product of more than a year of work led by Principal Rawson and the Environmental Stewardship Committee, led by Warren Biggins, manager of sustainability and natural resources since 2019, and Andrew McTammany ’04, an instructor in science and the school’s sustainability education coordinator. The document was completed last month, but the desire for bold vision on the subject is long-standing.

“The Academy has been thinking about sustainability for a long time,” said Biggins. The newly published plan establishes Exeter as a leader among secondary institutions, he said. “On the college and university level, it's pretty much par for the course at this time. At the high school level, it's going to be early, and it's going to be really, really ambitious.”

Principal Rawson told the students Monday the plan is in part theirs to realize.

“I hope when you get the opportunity to read our plan that you find the climate action plan both exciting and inspiring,” he said. “We face serious sustainability challenges on a global scale. We read about the climate crisis almost every day. We have a responsibility as a school to aim high, and we have responsibilities as individuals to decide how we act.

“We seek to educate and empower you to become future environmental leaders in whatever ways and in whatever disciplines and career paths you choose.”