We study the exact square chromatic number of subcubic planar graphs. An exact square coloring of a graph G is a vertex-coloring in which any two vertices at distance exactly 2 receive distinct colors. The smallest number of colors used in such a coloring of G is its exact square chromatic number, denoted χ[♯2](G). This notion is related to other types of distance-based colorings, as well as to injective coloring. Indeed, for triangle-free graphs, exact square coloring and injective coloring coincide. We prove tight bounds on special subclasses of planar graphs: subcubic bipartite planar graphs and subcubic K4-minor-free graphs have exact square chromatic number at most 4. We then turn our attention to the class of fullerene graphs, which are cubic planar graphs with face sizes 5 and 6. We characterize fullerene graphs with exact square chromatic number 3. Furthermore, supporting a conjecture of Chen, Hahn, Raspaud and Wang (that all subcubic planar graphs are injectively 5-colorable) we prove that any induced subgraph of a fullerene graph has exact square chromatic number at most 5. This is done by first proving that a minimum counterexample has to be on at most 80 vertices and then computationally verifying the claim for all such graphs. © 2021 Elsevier B.V.