Case Study: Reducing the Environmental Impact of Pharmaceutical Advisory Boards

The Problem

With in-person meetings resuming after the end of COVID-19-related restrictions, many of our clients have been eager to get back to these meetings, thinking that’s what their Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) want.

Traditionally, external pharmaceutical meetings such as national advisory boards are held at upscale hotels in large cities, no more than once or twice a year. Despite their infrequency, in-person advisory boards are associated with substantial travel-related greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a large environmental footprint from things like printed agendas and collateral materials, catering (including transportation) of food and drinks, accommodation, audio-visual (AV) rentals, and much more. There are also inherent risks associated with any meeting that requires a long commute, especially when air travel is involved. The changing climate is causing more extreme weather events, from flash floods to ice storms and “snowpocalypses,” putting travelers at risk of delayed or canceled flights. Last but not least, for smaller biopharma companies especially, the high cost of organizing a single in-person advisory board can make ongoing insight-gathering difficult.

Earlier this year, one of our clients–a Canadian Medical Affairs team from a mid-sized pharmaceutical company–asked their dedicated Impetus team to help them organize an advisory board meeting with 19 physician advisors from across the country (+ 3 client representatives and their Impetus Account Director and Medical Writer). While they were originally planning an in-person meeting, they were mindful of their advisors’ preferences and wanted to find a solution that would optimize insight-gathering and participant engagement while offering the advisors superior flexibility.

The Solution

After reviewing their budget, weighing the pros and cons of in-person vs. virtual meetings, and asking their advisors for their preferences, the client opted for a series of virtual meetings in lieu of a single full-day in-person meeting. This included two asynchronous pre-meeting touchpoints, a 2.5-h web meeting, and a post-meeting asynchronous touchpoint to debrief and address any unanswered questions.

Virtual advisory board meeting on the Impetus InSite Platform

The Results

Substantially reduced travel-related emissions

Compared to hosting an in-person advisory board meeting in a major metropolitan city, as the client would have done in the past, virtualizing the advisory board meeting resulted in estimated transport-related CO2e savings of over 12 metric tons, including:

  • 11.7 metric tons in flight emissions (15 domestic return flights)
  • 0.45 metric tons in ground transport emissions (9 individual round trips from local participants/client representatives/Impetus representatives’ homes to the meeting venue; 15 round trips from out-of-town participants’ homes to the nearest local airport and 15 round trips from the destination airport to the downtown meeting venue/hotel).

In addition to the travel-related emissions, potential emissions and waste associated with hotel rooms, meal catering, venue rental, and printed materials were eliminated by virtualizing the advisory board meeting.

Major cost-savings

The flow-through cost-savings of running a series of four virtual meetings compared to a single in-person meeting of the same size were estimated to be approximately $37,000, including:

  • Flights: $9,500
  • Advisor honoraria for travel time: $12,000
  • Taxi rides, parking fees, and mileage: $1500
  • Hotel rooms: $5500
  • Meeting room & AV rental: $4000
  • Food & drinks: $3500
  • Meeting materials: $700
  • Carbon offsets (flights only): $300

Ongoing advisor engagement and high satisfaction

Replacing their annual in-person meeting with quarterly virtual touchpoints allowed the client to engage their advisors on an ongoing, regular basis, resulting in a steady stream of insights and the ability to dive deeper into key issues that were identified in the first meetings. Likewise, the client was able to update the advisors on their progress, creating authentic relationships in the process.

While three advisors mentioned that they would have liked to meet their colleagues face-to-face as well, all 19 advisors agreed that the virtual format was flexible and convenient and that the platform was very user-friendly. The average participant satisfaction rating across all four touchpoints was 4.8/5.0. It was also noted by almost three-quarters of the advisors (n=14) that the lower environmental impact was a key benefit of virtual meetings.

As a result of this successful project, and considering the advisors’ feedback and preferences, the client has booked another four virtual touchpoints over the next 12 months.

Learn More

A year ago, we published a similar case study focusing on a large internal event with 375 participants. Check it out here.

We also have an infographic outlining similar examples. Access it here.

About Impetus Digital

Impetus Digital partners with life science organizations to virtualize their in-person meetings and events through our best-in-class InSite Touchpoints™ and InSite Events™ offerings, delivered with white-glove service and 360° coverage and care. Leveraging our large portfolio of cutting-edge online collaboration tools, clients can seamlessly gather insights from, and collaborate with, internal and external stakeholders. To find out more about Impetus Digital, visit our website, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, or book a demo at