High Tech, High Touch, High Reverence: Hawaii Life’s Conservation And Legacy Lands Practice

Hawaii Life’s appointment of a Director, Conservation and Legacy Lands was formally announced to the public in April 2018, but the decision to make this bold move — and consequently my first draft of a “business plan” — began months before. That means I am already on my third version of setting goals for our specialized area of real estate practice, informed by the opportunities and conversations around conservation in Hawai’i that have emerged since we declared the initiative two years ago.

If you are reading this and have not seen the video introducing Hawaii Life’s Conservation and Legacy Lands practice, here is a link to it as the video is worth several thousand words:

High Tech, High Touch, High Reverence: Hawaii Life Conservation and Legacy Land’s Approach to Real Estate

In the video, Hawaii Life’s founder and principal broker Matt Beall talks about making the conservation consideration part of everything we do in real estate, as a core value or practice in the company. This is important because my first thought was that we had three separate categories of real estate practice: new development, resale, and now conservation. I quickly realized that was exactly the wrong way to look at applying a conservation lens and ethic to real estate in Hawaii.

When I joined Hawaii Life almost eleven years ago, people thought of us as a high tech real estate company. But we knew the strength in what we did was the combination of our grasp of how our clients and customers wanted to use technology, combined with our agents’ grasp of the subtleties of their local markets. We ran some ads with the phrase “Google doesn’t live here. We do.”

In other words, you might say Hawaii Life’s MO was an example of what John Naisbitt called “High Tech, High Touch” in the 1982 bestselling book Megatrends. But that did not capture all of what was core to our DNA. You will see on our website the first statement in the “HLMO” is “We are Hawai‘i Life and so we have an obligation to understand this place, the culture and people.” 


To understand means to have reverence for this place, the culture and people. Not to appropriate the culture or interpret the place and people through a framework of our values, but rather to let the place, the culture, and the people that have drawn us here as malihini teach us, expand our understanding of the intimate connection between people and place. I believe we have a longing that goes beyond the “touch” of personal human contact, a longing to be touched by places that evoke a sense of reverence in us.

So that is my first goal as Director of Conservation and Legacy Lands for Hawaii Life: to preserve in all our dealings that sense of reverence for place.

The Practicalities of Conservation, Legacy Lands, and Sustainable Island Life

At the end of the video you hear Tim Richards, sixth-generation kama’aina, rancher, and currently a member of the Hawaii County Council, talk about “preservation with purpose.” Acquiring lands for preservation, or placing conservation easements to protect ecological, cultural, or agricultural resources, is only the first step.

Beyond the conservation consideration is the stewardship consideration. Both the land trusts which hold the properties or easements, and smaller non-profits with a stewardship mission, need volunteer support and funds for their work. A second goal of the Hawaii Life Conservation and Legacy Landʻs initiative is to engage our clients, customers, and agents in stewardship and creating a sustainable island lifestyle.

Koaekea - stewardship

Explore volunteer opportunities at the Rimlands of Waipiʻo Valley with non-profit steward Pōhāhā i Ka Lani 

Here are a few of the “good news” stories I came across recently that illustrate the dedication involved in stewardship.

  • Oahu’s North Shore Community Land Trust reports: “In 2019 we doubled our volunteer numbers from the year before, hosting 800 volunteers at Kalaeokaunaʻoa for 2,500 volunteer hours. Volunteers planted 4,800 native plants and removed over 21,000 pounds of invasive species along with 3,000 pounds of marine debris.” The Land Trust hosts monthly work days at this and other locations on the 4,000 acres protected.
  • At year-end 2019, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust has protected over 21,000 acres across the state. I’m looking forward to their annual Buy Back the Beach event on Maui at the end of the month as a way to help HILT raise funds for operating programs and network with other conservation-minded individuals.
  • The non-profit Pōhāhā i Ka Lani received one of the first stewardship grants under the Hawaii County PONCʻs maintenance fund for land protected at Koaʻekea on the rim of Waipiʻo Valley. This non-profit stewards two other sites deep in the Valley, offering groups an opportunity to learn about the history and culture, while caring for the land. To volunteer or donate to their stewardship activities, check out their Facebook page, or contact them directly.

Whether you own property in Hawaii or are a regular visitor, considering volunteering with one of these organizations, or attending one of their fundraising events, or just donating to support the cause of keeping special places special. I would be happy to let you know of opportunities wherever you are across the islands.

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January 15, 2020

Speaking out of both sides of your mouth. You can’t proclaim to want to protect Hawai’i lands while simultaneously promoting mass development projects such as Ho’opili and Koa Ridge. Projects like these primarily overrun our natural resources and burden our infrastructure. They encourage more transplants to move to Hawai’i, thereby adding to the demand for homes which drives out true locals without whom there are no customs, traditions, and the Aloha Spirit which makes Hawai’i unique. Hawai’i is becoming more commodified, gentrified, and urbanized, in large part due to the lack of meaningfully protecting Hawai’i lands. People talk about conservation, but what they often mean is conserving only the land that can’t make them a lot of money anyway – hardly accessible places like on ridges or cliff sides or far away from town. “But if we can build on it, let’s do it! Who cares about conservation?!”

Further, Hawai’i Life’s HGTV show has a direct role in contributing to bringing more non-locals here. Former small homegrown towns like Kailua have become unrecognizable because of the “move to Hawai’i, buy a house, it’s forever a beach vacation” life you deliberately schlep.

So Hawai’i Life can talk all it wants about “conservation” and come up with all these PR-friendly initiatives to make it seem like they really care about Hawai’i. But you’re just as bad as anyone else who willingly sells Hawai’i to the highest bidder. You might live here but you still have that “take over everything” mainland mentality.

Beth Robinson

January 15, 2020

Thank you, Opal, for reading and taking the time to express your deeply felt response. You might be surprised to know I agree with much of what you have written. The company, Hawaii Life, did not write this, I personally did, so I cannot speak for the company, the TV show, or anyone but myself. For me this is not a PR-friendly initiative but something I have given countless hours of volunteer time to over many years, doing what I can to support members of the Kohala community in protecting some of the most significant places to the community – not marginal places, but those nominated as most needing of protection. I feel honored that I am affiliated with a company that encourages me to do this work and spread the knowledge of the mechanisms for conservation in the sense you describe as “meaningfully protecting Hawaiʻi lands”…and most importantly, as I tried to do from my own perspective in this post, and as you have done in your response, engage our agents in thinking about the ways in which we hurt or help and being open to dialogue with those whose land this is. Mahalo piha.

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