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UvA Alumni Portrait: Senior Strategist Pieter Krans at ICF, largest climate change consultancy

Updated: May 25, 2022

Pieter Krans is a Senior Business Strategist at ICF, the largest climate change consultancy in the world. ICF works with companies and governments to plan, design, and implement sustainable projects.

Graduated from the UvA in 2009 with a Bachelor of Laws and then in 2010 with a Master of Commercial Law, Pieters’ interests in being part of the climate change movement has been triggered with the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. He worked for the Senate of the Dutch Parliament, for the Dutch Central Bank, and then for Transmark Renewables in Amsterdam. Later to specialize himself in the domain of climate change he has completed a dual Master degree at IE Business School and Yale. His interdisciplinary background has helped him better understand the complex issue of climate change and enable him to work in New York for ICF.

In this interview, he explains to us his career path, tells us how different the US-NL working environment is, and some career advice. If you want to find out more, read the whole interview!

General Questions

Chelsea: Could you briefly introduce yourself, in particular, talk to us about what ICF does and what your job entails?

I’m Pieter Krans. I am Dutch and I live in New York. I did my bachelor’s at UvA and eight years later, I started a two years dual degree at IE Business school in Madrid.

Then I started working at ICF, a consulting firm that mainly focuses on climate change. We do a lot of different things ranging from decarbonization as in we help states, federal governments, municipalities decarbonize. We do that through tooling but also through underground advice. At the same time, we do not only focus on decarbonization but also climate adaptation. So we work with companies, governments that need to adapt to climate change and we look for how they should adapt and we advise them on that. ICF has in total around 7,000 consultants and 2,500 of them focus on climate change.

Chelsea: Have you always been interested in being part of the climate movement? And how has led you to pursue a career in the field of sustainability?

No, it came when I was studying.

The documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ especially triggered my interest in sustainability. After that I became a part of a few projects, as a student, surrounding climate change. But at that time, the idea of sustainability had only just arisen and so it was not as big of a study field as it is now. I didn’t really feel as if I was able to study sustainability more as a student for that reason.

However, after I graduated, I worked as a political staff member in the Dutch Senate where I worked on sustainable alternatives. In that way I was already orienting myself around sustainability. After that, I worked at the Dutch Central Bank, two years later I worked for an investing company called Transmark Renewables, which also required sustainable feedback. Therefore, I definitely already surrounded myself with sustainability before working at ICF.

Education and Career related Questions

Rebecca: In which way did the University of Amsterdam help you get to where you are now?

With regards to finding a job, UvA didn't directly help with that. But that is also something that I didn't really expect from UvA to begin with. Either way UvA couldn’t really help me because I wasn’t happy with the Master’s track that I chose since I decided to do my masters in Commercial Law practice. As you can see, I decided not to become a lawyer. So, the UvA couldn't help me there, but I've got a lot of friends who did become lawyers out there and UvA did prove to help them.

On the other hand, from a knowledge perspective and when I compare UvA to other international universities, like a business school or Yale university, then UvA’s level of education is really high.

Chelsea: We saw that you have held a position as an Investment Manager at Transmark Renewables, could you explain a bit more about what you did there?

Yes! I was working on various investments at Transmark Renewables, which at the time, their main investment was in geothermal energy in Chile, in Turkey and in the Netherlands.

One project that I was working on, at the time, was a company that invented an engine running on liquid air. So the air liquefies at minus 190 degrees or so and it becomes liquid, then if you warm it up it expands, and you can propel an engine with it. We invested in this and I took part in the negotiating terms for the investment.

Overall, with the board, I went to a lot of shareholder meetings to see how the investments progressed. It was fun, and it was also quite challenging at the same time.

Chelsea: Why did you decide to move and to work in New York?

Honestly speaking, I didn't expect to go to the United States but since I decided to do a double degree at IE, which is a year in Madrid and a year in Yale (near New York), I was just coincidentally in the US. The reason for having chosen Yale is because it allowed me to take climate change and sustainability-related study courses. In other words, I could really focus on my interests in the US. After that ICF came along and I applied, got the job and, well, that’s how I ended up staying in the US.

Chelsea: Do you think New York is a better place to work than Amsterdam? What is different between those working environments?

I don’t believe that New York is a better working place than Amsterdam. Most American companies are notoriously known for not having a work-life balance.

Whereas Dutch people also like to work but I think overall the Netherlands is more known for work-life balance. At ICF, in comparison to other American companies, it is quite unique in the sense that it really has a good work-life balance.

Chelsea: So from those two experiences, do you think the Netherlands or the US has a better way to approach sustainability related issues?

From a business perspective, people look up to the US as it is where the most big companies come from but I think the one area where Europe is more ahead is sustainability. From a more policy perspective, Europe is way more advanced such as with the Fit for 55 package that has been proposed by the European Commission is way more advanced than anything in the US.

Although ICF is the greatest company I've worked for, we are very advanced with sustainability.

Job-specific Questions

Chelsea: There are several sectors in which a consulting firm could specialize. Why did you choose one that focuses on climate and sustainability? Is there a specific reason why you chose ICF?

Yes, very specific. ICF is the biggest climate consultant in the world and has really specific knowledge on climate change. We have some strategic consultants like in McKinsey or Deloitte, but we do not focus only on the strategic component. We mainly focus on solving the climate problem itself and that is what I really enjoy about ICF.

Chelsea: What changed between being a Climate Innovation Fellow and Senior Business Strategist, Climate and Sustainability at ICF? What kind of new challenges have you had to face?

The biggest change was the division. I look at what our clients want from my services in the climate and sustainability business and then I translate that into our service offering. I am like the middleman and that was a bit of a new role. On the one hand, I would do a lot of subject matter, and on the other hand, I do a lot of business work. It's a combination of those two that I really enjoy and it is, in that way, my dream job.

Rebecca: How do you think as a Senior Business Strategist developing strategies that reach business goals and improve profit for a company is useful in the fight for sustainability?

A lot of the people that I work with predominantly have PhDs in electrical engineering. Meaning, in comparison to the people that I work with, my main focus is solving problems on the grid by bringing in more of a business perspective.

So, I think this is where I add most value. In other words, how can we commercialize sustainability (in an ethical manner and not e.g. greenwashing) in order to make sustainable alternatives more interesting for our customers. By bringing our services better to the market, customers will actually use the service more and clients will become more sustainable. Which should be our end goal to begin with.

Closing Question

Rebecca: What advice would you give to students that want to have an impact in terms of sustainability and don't know where to start or what to do next?

My advice is to just start!

I must say that if you just graduated from university, I think that it is absolutely important for your job to already be oriented around the industry that you ultimately want to end up in. It is not about your first job but in what industry your first job is. In other words, if you know that you want to work in sustainability, make sure that you get a job in something that is related. So make sure to be in the industry that you want to work in, by doing so you will gain the knowledge and experience that you need to be successful in the industry.

I also think there are a lot of Masters that are focused around climate change and sustainability. If you can already build a profile around yourself, for example helping the Green Office or taking on internships then you are already on your way. In that way, you already have a label on you and this will open a lot of doors, I believe.

Also, make sure that your skills align with the skills that are required in the industry that you want to work in. For instance if you want to work in climate change then Greenhouse Gas Accounting is one skill that could be useful or at least have some knowledge about it.

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