My sustainability internship quest: Marketing with Ecolab

By: Janice Endresen
Natalie interning for Ecolab from home. In front of her is a table, laptop, notebook, and an Ecolab water bottle.

Natalie Gonzalez, MBA ’22, interning for Ecolab from her home office.

By Natalie Gonzalez, Two-Year MBA ’22

Recruiting for an internship started quickly during my first semester as a students at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, and with the help of my Johnson and Cornell Consortium family, I learned how to navigate new, exciting waters. As a sustainability-focused MBA candidate, it was important for me to choose an internship with a company that values the earth and people as much as it does business. Sustainability is more important than ever for successful businesses and is integrated across a variety of functions, but there aren’t many internships that have sustainability-focused roles. For my journey, I had to dig deep and reach out to better understand my career goals and chart my path forward.

The search begins

Prior to Johnson, I worked in the nonprofit space and had experience in wildlife conservation. I knew I wanted to make a big pivot, but I was also committed to taking the Sustainable Global Enterprise curriculum and focusing on sustainability for recruiting. Before I even arrived at Johnson, I had to prepare for the Consortium’s Orientation Program (OP) conference in June. I spoke to multiple students and advisors to refine my pitch so that it was not only honest about my sustainability goals, but also earnest in my interests in different functions.

It was at OP that I was first introduced to Ecolab. I hadn’t heard of Ecolab before and on paper, it sounded like it was all about selling cleaning supplies to other businesses. Through conversations with Cornell and Consortium alumni, I quickly learned that Ecolab’s business is integral to helping other major companies reach their own sustainability goals while at the same time making the world cleaner, safer, and healthier. Ecolab was looking for marketers, and although my interest was piqued, I was given time until the fall to continue their interview process. I was still uncertain about how to recruit according to my interests and goals and was grateful to begin at Johnson and truly kick off my MBA.

Career Work Group for the win

At Johnson, I knew I would have access to amazing advisors and core classes that would prepare me for my internship search. Clubs like Sustainable Global Enterprise Club and the Cornell Johnson Marketing Association also provided a lot of content and virtual interactions to further prepare me for recruiting. What I didn’t realize was how important my Career Management Center Career Workgroup (CWG) would be. It was invaluable to have dedicated, structured time every week to connect with experienced second-year MBA students who had recruited for sustainability-focused positions and fellow classmates who were also sustainability-minded. I had done a lot of research on my own, but my CWG leaders’ experiences provided a clearer context of what MBA recruiting is like, especially in a virtual world. Advice from my CWG was instrumental in framing my approach to choosing my MBA internship. During one CWG meeting, we discussed a matrix that explored how different sustainability-focused MBA careers could look.

With the help of t a sustainable MBA careers matrix that compares traditional and sustainability-oriented organizations and job roles, I reflected a lot on my own values and career goals and ultimately redirected my recruiting efforts to match my new understanding. Companies that were at the top of my list were suddenly at the bottom; others I thought were too “out there” got more thoughtful consideration.

Making my own path in sustainability

My biggest realization was that I didn’t need a sustainability role right out of the gate to make a successful pivot. It was far more important for me to respect the company that I work for, be proud of the work I was doing, and gain the experience and skills I value most. I was no longer worried about finding the “perfect sustainability internship” but about finding the right internship for my sustainability career goals.

Once I organized my list, it was clear that marketing at Ecolab was a great fit. I want to market products that make a positive difference on the environment and in people’s lives. Working on a cross-functional team is also key to growing skills that will prepare me to be a director one day, driving sustainability across an entire company. With my refined outlook, I turned to my CWG again to prepare for my final interview with Ecolab. I was nervous about my non-traditional background, but I knew the Johnson community and program had prepared me well. I took that confidence (and marketing case prep) into my final interview and landed the offer. Despite some last-minute debating (I like to be thorough!), I leaned into what I learned at Johnson so far, and my incredible support network, and accepted the offer!

A (mostly) virtual summer with Ecolab

At Ecolab, I was assigned to the food and beverage division to conduct a growth analysis focused on dry cleaning and sanitation methods. It was nothing I had ever imagined I would work on but I really enjoyed learning about this entirely new-to-me industry. As a business-to-business (B-to-B) company, Ecolab supports customers in many different industries to meet their health, safety, and water needs. For my project, some customers need to keep facilities as dry as possible to avoid contamination. While Ecolab provides chemistry-based solutions, I was tasked with exploring how well the portfolio is performing and alternative methods that could be added to grow dry cleaning and sanitation. A long way from my field research days on elephants, I had to gather a lot of specific information on:

  • Cleaning, sanitizing and, disinfecting
  • Different application methods for different facilities and products
  • Market research for dry-ice blasting, steam cleaning, UV disinfection, and ultrasonic cleaning
  • Ecolab dry cleaning and sanitation products and sales

Ten weeks flew by! I was proud of the work I accomplished in such a short time. Ecolab plays such an important role in getting food safely to market and I’m glad I could learn about it. Although most of my time was virtual, I did get to join one Ecolab manager on a field call to Byrne Dairy in nearby Cortland, NY! Overall, I’m grateful my journey led me to Ecolab and I’m confident that my career in sustainable business has only just begun.

Learn more about CSGE

About Natalie Gonzalez, MBA ’22 (Two-Year MBA)

headshot of Natalie Gonzalez

Natalie Gonzalez is a class of 2022 Two-Year MBA candidate and a Consortium Fellow at Johnson. Prior to business school, she was a community engagement and strategic partnerships associate at River LA. At Johnson, Gonzalez explored the intersection of business strategy and sustainability through the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion. Originally from Pico Rivera, CA, Gonzalez studied natural resources at Cornell University and also lived in England, where she studied conservation project management at the University of Kent.