Interning at West Elm

Tara McHugh
During the summer of 2019, Tara McHugh (MBA '20) interned at West Elm, through NYU Stern's MBA Sustainability and Human Rights Fellowship. Read on to learn more about her time there:

Tell me about your summer internship experience. Where did you work and what types of projects did you work on?

This past summer I was an MBA fellow on the Social Consciousness & Innovation team at West Elm.  The team works to support company commitments around supply chain transparency, worker well-being, small business & artisan empowerment, raw material sourcing, and sustainability. My two focus areas for the summer were around marketing and reporting. I worked to evaluate the team's marketing communication efforts by mapping the current strategy across channels and presented ideas for pathways moving forward. I also helped to evaluate West Elm’s current reporting on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I focused on social compliance disclosures and presented my findings to senior executives. This involved analyzing CSR reports and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) ratings of industry peers to provide actionable suggestions for West Elm as they transition to an ESG reporting framework. 

How did sustainable business practices play a role in your internship?

Sustainability was present throughout all aspects of my summer at West Elm. From internal corporate practices, such as using all reusable mugs in the kitchen, to working with Fair Trade USA to ensure ethical practices at factories throughout the supply chain. It really helped to shape how I think about sustainability and what that means to different industries, companies, and teams.  
What were your top three learnings from your internship?
During my summer at West Elm I learned 1) the importance of cross-departmental communication 2) the meaning of having an embedded sustainability strategy 3) the importance of public company reporting on sustainability efforts. Having streamlined cross-departmental communication is vital to operational efficiency and meeting set goals. While I was evaluating West Elm’s current marketing strategy, it was clear that sustainability was embedded into the company fabric and culture. From internal operations to public commitments about raw material sourcing, sustainability was at the core of the decision making processes. When reading CSR reports, I also realized the importance of having a standard and clear framework for companies to report on their sustainability efforts. However, all of this wouldn’t be able to be accomplished without working together on a passionate and driven team.

Did your summer internship experience change your thoughts about your career trajectory moving forward?

Yes, my summer at West Elm definitely helped to inform my career path moving forward. It gave me insight into how companies are looking at sustainability on the ground level, from internal business operations to every point along their supply chain. It made me more passionate about working to create ESG reporting standards for companies and a rating framework for investors. Standardizing the industry will allow capital to be directed towards companies that are creating positive impact while also producing a positive return.

My summer experience at West Elm helped me to pursue a targeted job search. I will be working
as a Senior Associate at Sustainalytics, a global leader in ESG and Corporate Governance
research and ratings, starting this Fall 2019.