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Valli Chapjian shows off the first annual Sustainability Leader Award, which she won at Pharma Forum 2022.

Sustainable Meeting Guidance from the Front Lines

AstraZeneca’s Valli Chapjian is pushing her global events team to build effective meetings for internal clients and HCPs, while moving closer to a zero-carbon footprint with each one. The target date: 2030.

Before the 18th annual Pharma Forum conference wrapped up in September in Bethesda, Md., a new professional recognition made its debut. The first annual Pharma Forum Sustainability Leader Award went to Valli Chapjian, director of global meetings and events for AstraZeneca.

“As the recipient of the first edition of this award, I am very excited to see this important issue receive top priority by one of our industry events,” says Chapjian. Since arriving at AstraZeneca in late 2019, she has been instrumental in shaping the meetings-related elements of the company’s Ambition Zero Carbon Program. Launched in 2020, the program is focused on energy use, waste, and emissions from company offices and fleets as well as the business activities of the firm’s suppliers and other business partners. (See image)

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“I am so proud to work on our Ambition Zero Carbon Program to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from our global operations, and to halve our entire value chain’s carbon footprint by 2030,” she says.

A Platform for Progress
Given that Chapjian also played a central role in the development of a strategic meeting management (SMM) program at AstraZeneca over the past few years, her team has a platform to promote environmental best practices for meetings taking place throughout the organization. “The global meetings and events function is an enterprise-wide approach that brings consistency to sourcing, logistics, budgeting, and planning for HCP-facing events, customer events, and internal events,” she says. “It covers all the planning milestones,” including environmental targets and the related data capture before, during, and after meetings.

We’re involved in each event’s strategic sourcing—the partnerships between the vendors and the internal stakeholders—and we also have oversight for execution, compliance, the financial process, and reporting,” she adds. Because of this, Chapjian’s team can stay on top of environmental considerations as each event is being planned. Further, she notes that “the biggest driver of the SMM initiative is having the ability to capture and analyze data from all events,” which aids the overall sustainability effort and informs future changes to the approach.

Specifically, “we developed a ‘Global Sustainability Guidance for Meetings’ manual that’s focused on five different areas: air travel and transfers, venues, materials, food and beverage, and set-up. To achieve our net-zero targets, AstraZeneca is investing in high-quality carbon-offsetting projects for our air-travel emissions. Further, we know that simple changes to travel plans can make a difference, such as participants using trains for shorter-distance travel and meeting owners selecting off-site dinners within walking distance of the host venue. And during the venue-sourcing process, we ask a lot of questions about the venue’s environmental program. What is each department doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle?”

In addition, “we do everything we can to go paperless, like using meeting apps and digital signage. We source local food as much as possible. We consider energy-savings opportunities on site. Sustainability comes in many forms and sizes.

One critical factor: Executive buy-in. “Cost doesn’t drive decisions as it did in the past; sustainability does,” Chapjian says. For AstraZeneca’s planners as well as others in the pharma and life-science field, she feels that “we have a corporate and social responsibility to do the right thing. That means we must be entrepreneurial in how we operate while also educating and influencing [internal and external] stakeholders to make sustainable choices. Let’s not be a passenger on the train—let’s drive it.”

At the upcoming Pharma Forum 2023 conference, set for March 19 to 22 in New York City, the second annual Sustainability Leader Award will be presented to another planner in the pharmaceutical and life-sciences industry. If you know of a planner who is making significant progress with environmental sustainability across her organization’s meetings function, its event suppliers, and its travel partners, please visit the Pharma Forum 2023 awards web page and nominate that planner for recognition.

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