While practicing environmental law at a big Bay Street firm, Laura Zizzo realized it wasn’t going to allow her to make the change she wanted. This pushed the School of Environment Resources and Sustainability (SERS) grad to start her own law firm at 27 – the first law firm focused on climate change in Canada.
Today Zizzo’s new company, Zizzo Strategy, finally allows her the freedom to focus on climate change she’s been looking for.
From traditional law to consulting
Zizzo’s first business, a law firm that eventually grew to be Zizzo Allan DeMarco LLP started in her basement where much energy and effort was spent building a client base of environmentally conscious businesses, government and NGOs. Zizzo believes that to make big changes you have to look to governing systems and make change there. “For me, understanding law and policy and how those drivers can help move things forward and how we can help is important,” says Zizzo, “I think that understanding is helpful in framing how to help the environmental shift going forward.” However, in an effort to get her law firm off the ground Zizzo was opportunistic about the type of work she took on, straddling the worlds of consulting and law to tackle climate-related challenges .
Zizzo Strategy was a natural evolution from her law firm, which was beginning to compete with consulting firms. “Zizzo Strategy works with both private and public-sector clients to identify risks and opportunities surrounding climate-related issues,” Zizzo says. “We also have engineers and accountants on staff so it's really an interdisciplinary professional service offering.” In addition, Zizzo already had an established client base and profile, allowing her to jump start the new service offerings for clients looking for climate-related consulting.
Environment encourages creative thinking
Zizzo cites her experience at The Faculty of Environment at Waterloo as fundamental to her thinking when starting both businesses. “I say this all the time. The systemic thinking that was taught at the Faculty of Environment and the interdisciplinary nature of ERS (now SERS) was totally fundamental to the way that I'm thinking now, and the ability for me to do the job I'm doing now,” says Zizzo.
“I used to ask Steve Murphy, ‘do you mind if I rewrite the questions on your exam because I think I can give you a more interesting answer?’ Some professors would be totally against that, but the environment at Waterloo, Environmental Studies in particular, was encouraging of thinking like that, he probably gave me better marks because of it!”
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
“Being able to chart your own course is really exciting. It's challenging because you don't have a steady paycheck in the same way as a traditional job, but you have the freedom to find what the best use of your talents are. If you work hard enough, you will find a way to be successful, and the freedom is worth it. Right now I'm spending the summer at the family cottage, working remotely with no boss to tell me where I should be. These types of benefits are really freeing and can allow me to do what I want to do from wherever I want, which is amazing.”