While teaching English in Qinghai province in China, Andrea Snavely was struck by the relationship between the ice-topped mountains and the Tibetan communities that thrived in their foothills. Community members told her that those mountains had been covered in glaciers just a few decades ago. Now the ice was almost gone, and clothing that had been traditional for hundreds of years left them overheated.
This eye-opening experience changed the trajectory of her career. She learned Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese as part of her graduate work in East Asian regional studies at Harvard, following a BA in International Relations from Stanford. But after stints at a New York nonprofit focused on Tibetan communities in China and as a journalist for a Chinese English publication, she wanted to make an impact differently
Andrea considered a switch to environmental studies before deciding to look at the issues through the lens of finance. After earning an MBA from London Business School, Andrea spent six years as an investment banker at HSBC focused on financial markets.
Yet her unease about the state of our climate increased — especially after her first child was born. Once her student debt was paid, she wanted to get back to her roots as an advocate for social and environmental issues. When the opportunity arose to work at Terraformation, it felt right.
As Terraformation’s Finance Manager, Andrea creates models of forest carbon projects to examine the cash flow and carbon returns. She’s also responsible for evaluating the commercial element of new initiatives and making decisions based on their value, both to Terraformation and to the planet.
It’s a topic she cares about deeply. As she observes, “Biodiversity loss has been identified as one of the top five global catastrophic risks threatening humankind, yet financial incentives for restoring diversity are rare to nonexistent.” She wants to change that.
The biggest bottleneck to many restoration projects is financing. Right now, this lack of funding is hindering the global effort to plant one trillion trees within a decade. To reach the scale we need, solving the financing problem is key.
Part of the issue, she believes, is the lack of understanding among traditional financiers about how environmentalists or foresters think. More cross-functional work on both the commercial and academic sides can help solve this problem, bringing together the many types of people who care about forming the climate solutions we all need.
Working in investment banking, Andrea says, is very helpful in learning how to take large, complicated problems and solve them with precision and efficiency. The combination of an investment banker’s training and an NGO worker’s heart is unusual and valuable. “It’s very rare to have a banker who understands both sides of things,” she says. But without that advantage, “that’s how a lot of things get missed.”
Another problem is the lack of transparency surrounding carbon offsets. Everyone wants high-quality carbon credits, but nobody is sure of what they are. Terraformation’s approach of planting biodiverse native forests and ensuring that the forests are managed properly will bring much-needed clarity to the market.
Andrea is most excited about bringing to investors the biodiverse carbon credits these forests will produce. Helping investors understand the added value of these high-quality projects is an important task, and she is enthusiastic about the work ahead. “I like bridging the gap between the disciplines, feeling like I’m part of a solution,” she says.
At Terraformation, she notes, there is a unique diversity of experts from many fields. But above all, it is Terraformation’s in-house forestry expertise sets the company apart from others that offer carbon projects.
And Andrea feels a personal stake in the solution. Tibet is described by glaciologists as the “third pole” — holding the world’s largest store of freshwater outside the Arctic poles. By making it easier for companies to invest in biodiverse forests, we can bring ecosystem renewal that also preserves long-established communities and traditional ways of life — in Tibet and beyond.