Waste Not

Lani Aviado is passionate about reducing the environmental footprint of business

Have you ever thought of living off the grid in Hawaii as a battery tester in a home that produces more energy than it consumes? That’s the dream of Lani Aviado (MBA 2008)—after she’s done solving the world’s waste issues (or at least those of a number of large corporations), that is.

For Aviado, a senior manager at the environmental consulting firm Ecova, the path to this dream is circuitous. She was a single mother when she graduated from Seattle University with a communications degree and embarked on a decade-long stint in non-profits, among them World Vision, the King County Rape Crisis Center and the Asian Consulting Referral Service. “I’ve always been passionate about supporting those in need,” she says.

When deciding to take her career to the next level, a mentor advised her to choose an MBA over an MPA (Master of Public Administration) to expand her options. It worked almost immediately. During the first quarter of her Foster Evening MBA Program, T-Mobile hired her as a project manager.

Going corporate

Her eventual layoff from T-Mobile, though painful, led her to Ecova (then called Ecos IQ). The company had been created to manage utility bills for large companies. “We began by helping them find savings through bill consolidation or other means,” Aviado says. “Pretty soon, we were making suggestions on how they could save even more by converting to other types of energy.”

Eventually, the company evolved into an environmental management firm.

In 2010, she joined the utilities division and ran the retail marketing team. She was later promoted to senior manager before taking a couple of “wonderful and isolating” years to work for Microsoft in Germany. Back at Ecova, Aviado became a senior manager in the waste solutions division, where she manages 60+ employees and a $3 million budget.

The Foster MBA, she says, helped her approach business problems differently: “The seasoning in leadership that it provided is more than I expected from an evening program. That’s a reflection on my classmates—the experience and prospective they brought.”

Sustainable leadership

Aviado exudes passion about sustainability and the environment that is positively contagious. You get the feeling she is doing exactly what she was meant to do. She believes that Ecova’s leadership in partnering with large corporations to achieve business goals around sustainability is bringing the field of environmental consulting to a tipping point. More firms in the market mean more companies reducing their environmental impact.

When asked what else she wants to accomplish, Aviado is quick to answer: “I want to run this company someday—or one like it. I value having a seat at the table.”

She has other motivations, too. “I want to show other women in the organization that there’s a path to the top, that it’s possible to get there if you really want it,” she adds.

Lifelong learning

In service to her own professional and personal ambitions, Aviado is a voracious lifelong learner. She even adopts a new hobby every year. One year it was cultivating orchids. Another year it was learning everything about football and becoming a serious Seahawks fan.

This year her theme is “face your fears.” So far, this challenge has manifested itself in the frightening acts of bungee jumping, skydiving and a stay in a haunted house. Learning to ski and play the cello remain on her bucket list.

And so does that distant dream of a halcyon existence in Hawaii in an eco-home that is beyond sustainable. It would make a fitting conclusion to a life spent fighting waste.

-by Sarah Massey