In an era of worries about climate change and highly volatile energy prices, “sustainability” is on everyone’s lips. The School of Medicine is doing its part, and sometimes all it takes are some hand-me-down jeans.

Denim discarded in the jean manufacturing process, which now helps insulate the C wing of Sterling Hall of Medicine (SHM), is one of many recycled materials that are lightening Yale’s carbon footprint. The building’s recently renovated lab casework, ceiling tiles and wall insulation also come from recycled material, such as wheat straw board and soy-based spray foam. In total, the sustainability campaign squeezes more light from the sun, diverts trash from landfills and conserves water and heat.

Yale’s overall sustainability strategy began with the student-initiated Yale Green Plan in 1998. In 2002, the university’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Management proposed a set of environmental principles, and in 2005 President Richard C. Levin committed the university to reducing greenhouse gases to 43 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

Implementing sustainable laboratory renovations that could be benchmarked and measured by a national standard was not a simple process. Success is measured in this realm by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, but the organization had not yet set standards for lab renovations. “LEED was designed for new buildings or full-building renovations but not laboratories nor smaller scaled renovations of the kind we do here at the medical school,” says Virginia Chapman, director of construction and renovation for the School of Medicine’s facilities office.

The work on the third floor of SHM’s C wing created a yardstick in 2006 when it became what is believed to be the first laboratory renovation project in the nation to gain LEED gold certification for its sustainable features. Among those features, says Robert Skolozdra, an associate at the architectural firm Svigals & Partners, which designed the renovations, are sensors that switch lights on only when a person is in the room. “Daylight harvesting”—adding exterior and interior windows—maximizes available light. The project eased the strain on landfills by recycling 85 percent of construction and demolition debris. Lab faucets have reduced their output from 2 to 1.5 gallons per minute and dual-flush toilets and urinals have been installed; water use is down 35 percent overall.

Adding such features to previously planned renovations costs more—they account for between 1 and 2 percent of the $8.2 million price tag of the Sterling renovations that were completed in 2006—but Yale can’t afford not to go this route, says Chapman. “We’re saving the university money as a byproduct of reducing carbon emissions,” she says. Using the lessons learned from the C wing, the SHM’s I wing first floor renovation also received LEED gold certification. Still to come, Chapman adds, are renovations to the second and third floors of Sterling’s I wing, the Brady Memorial Laboratory, the Hunter Building, the sixth and seventh floors of the Laboratory for Epidemiology and Public Health and the Laboratory for Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, all of which will incorporate green features. The School of Medicine is also seeking LEED gold certification for the newly built research building at 10 Amistad St., which opened in 2007.