Talking Trust Building and Effecting Change with the COO of LoaCom
This article was originally published Monday, January 14, 2019 on the Santa Barbara Independent by ROGER DURLING.
“Fundamentally, my life’s mission is to build networks and connections that safeguard our planet and our nature,” Eric Cardenas tells me unfalteringly. “There are so many issues we’re facing and the business community is in a prime position to be agents of change, to protect people and the environment. There’s no business on a dead planet.”
Eric is the chief operating officer of LoaCom, a consulting company that offers marketing and communications services for “Better World Companies.” The latter is their own terminology for companies that incorporate sustainability and community-building principles into their business model and encourage others to do the same.
The team at Loa, which stands for “laws of attraction,” is working with many nonprofits and foundations as well as forward-thinking and progressive brands, from the Center for Good Food Purchasing to the sustainable skincare company All Good. “We’re trying to carve out a space where we’re aligning ourselves with companies that think the way we do, and start to build a network for change,” explains Eric.
LoaCom’s founder Dave Fortson pulled Eric into the company in 2011. They’d been good friends since attending UCSB in 1993, and together they ran environmental organizations and worked on community building and activism on campus and in Isla Vista. “We learned to work hard together and play hard together,” Eric shares warmly. “I started dabbling in student organizing. Leveraging networks to build movement became a calling and a passion. David and I were good at it and had fun doing it. We built trust to effect change.”
After graduation, Eric joined the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and worked as the director of the Central Coast Environmental Health Project. He worked with farm workers, educating them about health risks associated with pesticide use. “I wasn’t doing advocacy,” says Eric, who also got to know a lot of farm owners during that time. “I was educating. I built trust. It was an interesting role for me and EDC. It taught me about seeing all sides.” It could have been a tenuous situation, but Eric made it work by reaching out to all sides of the agricultural community. He later founded the Santa Barbara Ag Futures Alliance and was with the EDC for nearly a decade.
Then Eric joined the Orfalea Foundation, where he served as the S’Cool Food Initiative’s agriculture and infrastructure manager, responsible for developing farm-to-cafeteria programs for Santa Barbara’s school districts. He managed grants while establishing connections between school personnel and the agricultural community. “We connected kitchens with the surrounding farmers,” says Eric, explaining his challenge was “how do we get the healthiest freshest foods into the schools?”
Eric was born in Torrance into a Mexican-American family. His dad was born in Texas while his mom came from Mexico, and his first language was Spanish. He was raised in Mission Viejo — “a very white community,” he says — and his family worked to integrate themselves. “While doing so, there was a bit of a loss of culture,” Eric admits.
After attending a private Catholic high school, Eric chose to attend UCSB for its idyllic setting, surf, and people. “It wasn’t until college that I got exposed to diversity,” he states. “And eventually, working with farmers, I came full circle.”
In 2010, Cardenas organized Stand in the Sand, a gathering on West Beach to respond to the Deepwater Horizon spill. In 2015, after the Refugio Oil spill, Eric led Stand in the Sand 2, a similar response but under the auspices of LoaCom.
Eric enjoys biking to work and living downtown with his wife, Michelle, whose family owns SOhO. Eric used to play in a band called the Messengers, and that’s how he met most of Michelle’s family members before getting to know her.
Eric Cardenas answers the Proust Questionnaire.
On what occasion do you lie?
When my wife is in her first trimester (which she is no longer).
What is your current state of mind?
I’m in a bit of red alert mode mixed with hopeful optimism. When you read the news, all you hear about is climate chaos, gun violence, increasing social ills, and the constant idiocies of the Trump administration, all of which are very real and extremely difficult to process and respond to. But on the day to day, there are also so many good things happening — people doing good things to and for each other. This gives me hope.
Who do you most admire?
Bob Marley. He used music as his weapon in the fight against injustice, inequality, the ‘isms and the ‘skisms, rising from the ghetto into superstardom with the odds of poverty stacked against him. Who Jah bless, no one curse.
What do you like most about your job?
That I work with clients who truly and fundamentally believe that their business can have a positive impact on people and planet. Aside from this, I’m living a real life “choose your own adventure,” constantly shifting and adjusting our business model looking for the right balance of projects, clients, campaigns, employees, etc. The pursuit and the hustle make it fun.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Snuggling with my wife and cat under a thick comforter on a rainy Saturday morning. Garlic bread factors in there somewhere too.
What is your greatest fear?
That the state of the planet we’re leaving future generations is beyond repair, and that they’ll have to struggle to survive in a way we can’t really fathom.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I tend to keep it pretty simple. Any disposable income I have generally goes to good food, good drink, and good music with good friends. I spend more on those than on anything else, with an occasional vacation or road trip mixed in. And massage. I love getting massages.
What is the quality you most like in people?
People who put kindness into action. I like seeing a stranger hold the door open for another person or picking something up off the ground and handing it to the person who dropped it. I like when people make eye contact and smile at each other. I like people being nice. We need more niceness.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Is bad driving a quality? Because I definitely don’t like that.
What do you most value in friends?
The ability to have fun and get silly. In my friends circle, there’s no shortage of costume boxes stashed in garages, theme parties, beach days, happy hours, game nights, and the like. Everyone’s working their asses off to make a living and/or raise a family in this town, but my friends have found a way to have fun in the process. I don’t see this ever changing, which makes my heart smile.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My raspy voice.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
According to my co-workers? “It’s all about the process.” According to my wife? “I’m just saying…”
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be better at guitar. I’ve played for a long time and have written tons of songs, but my stuff is pretty basic. I’d love to be able to read music, finger pick, solo, and understand music theory. Strangely, as I was writing my answers to these questions, I saw an email from Dan Zimmerman come in offering guitar lessons. I think it’s a sign.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I am who I am, and i’m happy with that.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Trusting in life’s process long enough to finally find and marry the woman of my dreams. I’m not sure how I got so lucky.
Where would you most like to live?
I’m pretty sure i’m already living there. Santa Barbara is real nice.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have this amazing hand quilted tapestry I purchased in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, 20 years ago. It’s a depiction of the Maya calendar of the sun, but instead of it being a circle design on stone as is most common, it’s on fabric and hangs five feet long. It’s such a beautiful piece that when the woman selling it tried to bargain me down, I bargained her back up.
Who makes you laugh the most?
Schmidt from New Girl. That dude is hilarious.
What is your motto?
“LOA that shit!” It’s a phrase my friends and I use when we want to set the Law of Attraction in motion, whether that be in seeking out new clients, building relationships, looking for tickets to a sold out show, or searching for a parking spot in jammed lot. If you believe, you can make it happen.
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