California Ain’t Dreamin’ No More: Bonnie Reiss on Courage, Commitment and Doing the Right Thing

Industrial PRIME | August 25, 2015

California Ain’t Dreamin’ No More: Bonnie Reiss on Courage, Commitment and Doing the Right Thing

Industrial PRIME | August 25, 2015

Time well spent can be hard to define. But if you dedicate your life to helping others and protecting the environment, it is safe to say your time has certainly not been wasted.


Industrial PRIME has come so far from home that if we went any further we would already be on our way back. Having worried enough over our mommies now so far away, we decide to get a grip on ourselves and seize the moment at hand.

We are going to have lunch with a person who has been there and done it all, but who still keeps asking herself the question, “Could I still give more?”

She has worked for the greater good with some of the most successful people in Hollywood, contributed to several non-profit organizations, and been the trusted go-to guy of the Governor of California himself.

The moment that just a minute ago felt so unreal is finally here. We are facing the Pacific Ocean at the balcony of a neat Malibu restaurant, and our lunch date is sitting right in front of us. The next thing we hear is, “Okay, shoot!”


Fulfilling Your Purpose

Meet Bonnie Reiss.

During our 16-hour flight from Helsinki to Los Angeles, we had time to delve deep into Reiss’s impressive résumé. It dates back all the way until the late-70s and does not seem to be reaching closure anytime soon.

We are curious about the driving force that has guided Reiss through all the challenges over the years and that is still leaving her with a thirst for doing even more.

“Well, I have always been self-reflective,” Reiss begins, “thinking, what path should I take? Am I using my skills and time in a way that most fulfils my purpose on this earth, so that when my time one day comes to an end, I am not going to ask myself whether I should have done more.”

Reiss’s work has certainly had a big purpose. Born and raised in New York City, she attended college in Miami and later law school in Washington D.C. In 1988, having worked as an entertainment lawyer and gotten involved with caring people in the entertainment community, Reiss had the idea for creating the Earth Communications Office (ECO), a non-profit media component for the global environmental movement.

“I remember thinking that just like actors, the earth also needed someone to be its communications office,” she recalls. “That was a time when most people didn’t even know what climate change meant!”

Reiss decided to leave the private sector and the practice of law and devote her talents full-time for running ECO and fighting for global environmental issues.




“They will say, ‘We cannot afford this, because it’ll hurt business, economic growth, and jobs.’ However, California is a perfect example of just the opposite.”





Between a Rock and a Hard Place

With nearly 39 million inhabitants, California is the most populous state in the United States. Consequently, it is also one of the country’s largest users of energy. But at the same time, the per capita energy consumption of this determined state is one of the lowest among the US states.

Reiss has witnessed California’s endeavours to become a more environmentally sustainable state from perhaps closer than anyone else. How on earth has California managed to drive such development when the rest of the US is struggling? What could California teach the rest of the world?

“Let me begin by saying there will always be powerful people and businesses trying to stop policies from being implemented,” Reiss states. “They will say, ‘We cannot afford this, because it’ll hurt business, economic growth, and jobs.’ However, California is a perfect example of just the opposite.”

“Arnold is out there,” she emphasizes, “with facts and figures showing how California is actually leading in the US in addressing climate change, reducing emissions, and supporting renewable energy, while at the same time outpacing the rest of the country in terms of economic growth and jobs!”

“In my opinion, that is the most important lesson: addressing climate change does not have to rule out economic growth.”

Could this also be a question of putting people over politics?

“That is exactly what it is!” Reiss says. “Many of our elected officials aren’t willing to risk their jobs to do the right thing. Because on one hand, you have these powerful interests that are ready to spend a lot of money to see you lose if you try to get re-elected. And on the other hand, if you are in the US Senate and say you’re going to vote against your party, your own party leaders will threaten you. It’s very likely that you are going to get hit if you step on the wrong people’s toes.”

“That said, addressing climate change is a question of putting people over politics, but above all it is a question of courage and commitment.”

Reiss knows that if the right policies are put in place, enormous job and economic opportunities will emerge: there will be growth in new industries, building products that not only address climate change, but also allow the economy to thrive. “Arnold has proved it.”

Some readers may still be wondering who is this “Arnold” Reiss keeps referring to.

During her law studies, Reiss obtained a position on the staff of US Senator Edward Kennedy. When Kennedy ran for President in 1980, she took a year off to accept a position on his campaign staff. That year she became close friends with Kennedy’s niece Maria Shriver, who had recently started dating her future husband Arnold Schwarzenegger.

After the campaign, each of them moved to Los Angeles. The trio remained close friends, and what they all have accomplished since then, be that on their own or working together, is history.




“A lot of those achievements have made a difference in people’s lives.”




Making a Difference with the “Governator”

Reiss has a long history of creating and being involved in non-profit organizations. Between 1984 and 1988, for instance, she helped create the Hollywood Women’s Political Action Committee that supported candidates for US Congress committed to protecting the environment, education, civil rights, as well as women and children.

In 1993, she teamed up with Schwarzenegger to found National After School Foundation, with a mission to create after-school programs to keep children safe and help them achieve in school and life.



Arnold and BonnieReiss and Schwarzenegger have been fighting together for various causes for over twenty years. Their friendship dates back even further. (Image: USCSI)



Ten years later, Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California.

When asked which of her achievements she is most proud of, Reiss goes for her years serving as Senior Advisor to Schwarzenegger when he was Governor (2003–2011). During those years, California took leadership and showed the rest of the US how addressing climate change and other environmental issues should be done.

Passing the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, a State Law requiring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources throughout the state, was supported by initiatives such as the Million Solar Roofs Program. The state is now a recognized leader in the field of renewable energy, with a target to obtain a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

“Serving as Senior Advisor to Arnold was a priceless, irreplaceable experience,” Reiss says. “All those policy initiatives and decisions of legislation, enacting policies that address climate change, ushering in clean, renewable energy…”

Reiss pauses and takes a long look at the beautiful ocean.

“A lot of those achievements have made a difference in people’s lives.”

The hard work has not ended. In 2013, two years after the end of Schwarzenegger’s term, Reiss was appointed Global Director of USC Schwarzenegger Institute, another organization fighting for the greater good.

Named after its founder, USC Schwarzenegger Institute is committed to advancing post-partisanship, where leaders put people over political parties and work together to find the best ideas and solutions to benefit the people they serve, with climate change the key policy focus.

Before her appointment, Reiss had served as Senior Advisor for Schwarzenegger all the way until the completion of his second term in 2011. As the term was coming to an end, both were looking ahead, trying to figure out what to do next.

“Just because Arnold’s term was going to end,” Reiss explains, “he didn’t feel he was going to stop working for all the policies he cared about. He told me he was thinking of teaming up with University of Southern California and create the institute. I didn’t want all that hard work I was part of in his administration to end either, so I was in.”

Founding your own institute in order to be able to continue your work sounds like an uncommon thing for a Governor to do?

“Yes, but then Arnold is an uncommon human being,” Reiss points out.

Industrial PRIME agrees.

It seems epic actions take epic people to lead the way. Truly, Reiss and Schwarzenegger are one epic team working for the greater good.



Bonnie ReissReiss is pleased with California’s achievements and the state becoming the leader in the US in addressing climate change and other environmental issues. However, she still worries about the future of our planet. “But I’m always hopeful!”




”We plan, God laughs.”




Believe in Yourself and Don’t Fear Failure

Our asking whether her career has always followed a strict plan makes Reiss laugh. She points out that she grew up in a family with a motto, ”We plan, God laughs.”

”That means you are not supposed to get too caught up in your plans,” she explains, ”because maybe God has another vision for you. So it’s always good to be open.”

And open she has certainly been. Her having always followed her own path might just be the secret to why she has practically no regrets at all about her career.

“I have always been willing to be flexible and adapt,” she says. “If at some point in your career you begin to feel there might be another path better suited or more meant for you, you should follow that feeling. I think living your life like that is what will leave you the least regrets.”

This is the kind of advice that Reiss often gives to children and students when she visits schools: follow your feelings, and you will be able to commit to something in a way Reiss has.

“I always tell them, ‘Look ahead. What do you want people to say after you’re gone?’ When you think ahead like that, you’ll want to live a life where people say you helped make the world a better place. There are many paths to follow, and each of us has to find that path ourselves. Believe in yourself, and be willing to risk failure. Because there is not a single successful person on this planet that hasn’t failed and fallen down along their way to success.”

Amen to that.


Text and images by Industrial PRIME


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