The Yale School of Medicine’s sustainability campaign is ambitious and costs a little extra, but it’s perfectly willing to accept hand-me-down jeans—in fact, that’s part of the point.

Denim discarded in the jean manufacturing process, which now helps insulate the Sterling Hall of Medicine’s C wing, is one of many recycled materials that are lightening the university’s carbon footprint. The building’s recently renovated lab casework, ceiling tiles and wall insulation also come from such recycled materials 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.

Adding such features to previously planned renovations costs more—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 do it, said Virginia Chapman, director of construction and renovation for the School of Medicine’s facilities office. “We’re saving the university money as a by-product of reducing carbon emissions,” she said. Still to come, Chapman added, 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.

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 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Implementing a sustainable laboratory renovation that could be benchmarked and measured by a national standard would not come easily. Success is measured by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), but the organization had not set standards for lab renovations. “LEED was designed for new buildings or full-building renovations but not laboratories nor smaller-scale renovations of the kind we do here at the medical school,” Chapman said.

The work on the third floor of the C wing created a yardstick in 2006 when it became the first laboratory renovation project in the United States to gain LEED gold certification for its sustainable features. Among those features, said 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 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 low-flush toilets and urinals have been installed. Water use is now down 35 percent overall.

As green renovations continue at the medical school, officials know that the older buildings will pose a challenge, but The Anlyan Center, which opened in 2003, is also “a big energy user,” Chapman said. When it was designed, “other concerns outweighed concerns for the environment.” The building is undergoing an energy audit to determine how to address the high energy use, she said.