Suraj Vanniarachchy joined Macquarie’s Global Carbon team in 2022. With a background in forestry and more than 13 years’ experience in international carbon project development, he brings a wealth of unique expertise. Suraj tells us about his background, what he has been focused on since arriving at Macquarie, and what lies ahead.
Born and educated in Sri Lanka, Suraj Vanniarachchy followed his inherent passion for nature to obtain a degree in forestry and environmental science.
“Growing up in Sri Lanka meant that my childhood was surrounded by greenery and the ocean.” He describes how his parents would often take him to jungles, nature parks and beaches at weekends, where he gained a deep appreciation for nature’s beauty and fragility. “This stayed with me when deciding my future path – most people studying similar subjects wanted to be either a physician or chemist, but I chose forestry.”
Evidently, Suraj was a non-conformist from a young age and the seeds were sown for a career that would always draw him back to nature.
Suraj was involved ‘on-the-ground’ when carbon trading first took off and recalls when his uncle made the initial career suggestion: “He called me and said, look, there’s this new thing called carbon trading, it’s very new to Sri Lanka, there’s this consulting company, and I think you should apply.”
This was the catalyst that led Suraj to enjoy a fulfilling career in carbon project development, taking him across the globe and leading him to become a member of multiple climate advisory groups and committees. These include foremost international organisations and bodies such as Verra, Plan Vivo, Fair Carbon and The INBAR (International Bamboo and Rattan Organization) Task Force on Sustainable Bamboo Management.
Contributing to efforts to tackle the climate change crisis through the responsible growth of the voluntary carbon markets is what drives Suraj, and what ultimately led him to join Macquarie.
At Macquarie, we know that carbon credits and carbon finance are not the only solutions; they are methods that must be used in conjunction with measures such as emissions reductions to achieve internal climate change efficiencies and move to environmentally accountable practices.”
Suraj is one of very few individuals who has worked across the entire carbon offset value chain, from being a project developer to now stepping into a key role at Macquarie to help quantify and assess the risks related to ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS) project investments. “The investment side is really where you can make a change. I always see the solution encompassing three parties: Governments that have the land, communities that can implement practices, and investors that can provide the financial means. Without the right investors, there is a key missing piece.”
When Suraj was a developer, his greatest challenge was finding the right investment. Now, there is sufficient capital but a limited number of credible projects. “The markets have changed the tide and my main challenge, being on the investment side, is identifying the right partner, project and location.”
With its combination of traders, originators, salespeople and technical people, the Global Carbon team within Macquarie’s Commodities and Global Markets group is diverse and innovative.
“We don’t just provide investment for a project; we have the unique internal capacity to back and design projects ourselves. This allows us to go beyond being a financial institution to providing a truly integrated carbon solution.”
Throughout Suraj’s career, he has been drawn to community-based forestry projects and blue carbon, which involves coastal and marine ecosystems, and working with vulnerable communities.
“When working with certain communities, you have to understand that often their most immediate needs are basic: food, water, shelter, education. You need to take the time to blend in, sit with them, and understand their problems first before developing an understanding of carbon.”
Suraj recalls fondly working on a blue carbon project in Myanmar where he worked with communities to protect the coastal zone, safeguarding them from rising sea levels and natural disasters, such as tsunamis. He believes it was the world’s first project to generate carbon credits that were traded in the market, where carbon finance also provided them with the unique opportunity to earn a new income.
Now at Macquarie, Suraj continues to look at diverse community-led projects globally. His daily schedule can see him communicating with many geographically dispersed colleagues.
“I am not bound by conventional working times,” he points out. “The company’s responsive and adaptable approach to flexible working enables me to balance my work and personal life effectively.”
Coming from an environmental background, Suraj has also had to grapple with new methodologies and terminology. The support of his new team at Macquarie has been invaluable, “I‘ve learned how to look at projects from the investor side, from the perspective of commercial viability,” he explains.
“I am learning a new language while, equally, I am supporting colleagues with new terminology in relation to carbon. It’s a very interesting dynamic.”
“Macquarie is encouraging of non-traditional career routes into the company and offers practical and productive support for those that have more unconventional career paths.”
Suraj considers his advice to others thinking of pivoting their career: "Never be afraid to change your career if you are not passionate about it.”
What drives me at Macquarie is passion. Every day I go home and I’m not sad, I’m not worried about what I’m doing, and that’s because I’m passionate and aligned with my purpose.”
He feels he has made the right choice by joining Macquarie and was impressed immediately by the breadth and depth of his team’s expertise. An affiliation to Macquarie’s Chief Executive Officer, Shemara Wikramanayake, who is of Sri Lankan heritage, has also given him a deep sense of pride.
Suraj reflects on the future of the voluntary carbon markets and the role both him and Macquarie will play in driving its responsible growth: “We recognise that it’s about connecting with multiple stakeholders to develop projects and methodologies that will deliver a meaningful and lasting impact.”